Literature Events in Manchester and the North

Sarah-Clare Conlon, Literature Editor

If you missed Emma Jane Unsworth launch her much-anticipated, critically acclaimed and already best-selling third novel Adults at Waterstones earlier in the year, you can catch the author of Animals (the film version is just out on DVD) at the first Words Weekend at The Lowry at the end of March. The three-day festival showcases 60 very varied events, including a music and words night with Grief Is the Thing With Feathers and Lanny author Max Porter, The Water Cure’s Sophie Mackintosh having dystopic visions with Jane Rogers, and dialect-drawn Poems From the Edge of Extinction with avant gardist Chris McCabe.

Words Weekend also welcomes former Hacienda DJ Dave Haslam – to be seen in March launching the third of his Art Decades books, Searching For Love: Courtney Love in Liverpool, 1982, first at a sold-out event at Blackwell’s and then at the second Leeds Lit Fest – and Okechukwu Nzelu, also to be found talking new novels with Sarah Butler on 19 March at No70, the same venue for the launch of poet and Man Met lecturer Jean Sprackland’s latest collection, These Silent Mansions, on 27 February. Both No70 events start at 6pm, both are free.

Also free is Peter Barlow’s Cigarette, back at Waterstones on 22 February with four readers in the shape of Mau Baiocco, Tessa Berring, Peter Hughes and Nell Osborne, the latter of No Matter fame, and, the same day, but at The Whitworth, Poets & Players, featuring JO Morgan, Maria Stepanova and Sasha Dugdale, with music by Phil France (miss that, and they’re back on 21 March with David Wheatley, Mary Jean Chan, Isaiah Hull and Jane Burn). Regulars rounding off the month include Verbose on 24 February, with a line-up including Emily Oldfield, and Bad Language on 26 February, putting on a special tribute to much-missed open micer and arts aficionado Quiet Man Dave from headliners Kate Feld and Tania Hershman. Meanwhile, an old favourite that’s been missing since the closure of 3MT drops into the Northern Quarter’s Rose & Monkey on the evening of 27 February, as feminist poetry makes a suitable re-entrance with Blue x Stirred.

International Mother Language Day on 21 February is marked in the Rainy City over three days, with events and activities taking place at Central Library (including The Poetry Exchange, and also hosting an evening with Jess Kidd, on 26 February) and beyond, while the team at the UNESCO City of Literature is taking shape – and exciting things are promised, including the inaugural Festival Of Libraries in June… before then, World Book Day takes place on 5 March (with Read Manchester organising a Share a Story Live event at the HSBC UK National Cycling Centre), while 8 March sees International Women’s Day – head to the Pankhurst Centre to join author Helen Antrobus and cover designer Jane Bowyer as they launch First In The Fight, about the inspirational women who helped to make Manchester the radical city it is today.

Nearby Elizabeth Gaskell’s House hosts a secondhand book sale on 8 March (the next is 12 April), worth perusing alongside a look at the Ruskin exhibition; while John Rylands Library is home to a special exhibition running for six months from March all about Carcanet Press. On 9 March, you can hear from two Carcanet poets Vahni Capildeo and Peter Gizzi (whose work just featured in the Guardian’s Poem of the Week) alongside Anthony Caleshu – the latest in the Literature Live programme at Martin Harris Centre for Music & Drama. The next Literature Live brings together Scottish talent Frances Leviston and Kirsty Logan on 23 March, and the same night sees Carol Ann Duffy & Friends back at the Royal Exchange, this time with guest poets Ella Duffy and Andrew McMillan.

There’s a new library in town to complement the oldest public library in the English-speaking world, Chetham’s, and the most polite, the Portico Library. Alternatively, buy your books with the help of our Guide To Bookshops In Manchester, and don’t forget to Read More: scroll down for Hilary Mantel in April and our More in Literature stories, including the weekly Poetry Walk at The Reader’s recently revamped Mansion House in Liverpool’s Calderstones Park. Fancy more poetry out of town? Catch three leading contemporary female poets at the Bluecoat in Liverpool and Kate Tempest at the first-ever Aerial Festival in the Lake District’s Ambleside. And get more tips for trips with our literary guides to LiverpoolLeeds, Sheffield and Cumbria.

Here are our picks

  • 1. Sarah Butler and Okechukwu Nzelu at Manchester Met

    Author Sarah Butler.
    Author Sarah Butler.

    Writers at Manchester Met: Two Great Manchester Novelists at Number 70 Oxford Street, Manchester, 19 March 2020, free entry - Find Out More

    Hear from two of the city’s most exciting and important novelists at the latest Writers at Manchester Met event: Sarah Butler, whose third novel, Jack & Bet, is just out, and Okechukwu Nzelu, the author of critically acclaimed debut The Private Joys Of Nnenna Maloney.

  • 2. Frances Leviston and Kirsty Logan at Martin Harris Centre

    Author Kirsty Logan.

    Literature Live: Frances Leviston and Kirsty Logan at Martin Harris Centre for Music & Drama, Manchester, 23 March 2020, free entry - Find Out More

    Multi-award-winning poet Frances Leviston launches her debut collection of stories and welcomes critically acclaimed novelist and short fiction writer Kirsty Logan to the Live Literature series, organised by the Centre for New Writing in partnership with Creative Manchester.

  • 3. Carol Ann Duffy, Ella Duffy and Andrew McMillan at Royal Exchange

    Poet Andrew McMillan. Photo Ursula Soltys.
    Poet Andrew McMillan. Photo Ursula Soltys.

    Carol Ann Duffy and Friends: Ella Duffy and Andrew McMillan at Royal Exchange Theatre, City Centre, 23 March 2020, from £6 - Book now

    Following the success of 16 sell-out seasons of the popular Carol Ann Duffy & Friends evening, the former Poet Laureate is back to introduce a new crop of student writers, plus guest poets Andrew McMillan and Ella Duffy, and a bit of live music to boot.

  • 4. Words Weekend at The Lowry

    Words Weekend at The Lowry Author Emma Jane Unsworth.
    Author Emma Jane Unsworth.

    Words Weekend at The Lowry, Manchester, 27–29 March 2020, from £10 - Book now

    The first-ever jam-packed Words Weekend lands at The Lowry, spanning three days from Friday 27 to Sunday 29 March and serving up over 60 special events, from household names the likes of Helen “Bridget Jones” Fielding and David “Cloud Atlas” Mitchell to Manchester faves including Emma Jane Unsworth and Gerry Potter Poet.

  • 5. Aerial presents: Kate Tempest at St Mary’s Church

    Poet and performer Kate Tempest.
    Poet and performer Kate Tempest.

    Aerial presents: Kate Tempest Telling Poems, 28 March 2020, from £17 - Book now

    With performances described as “spellbinding”, spoken word artist and award-winning poet Kate Tempest brings her latest show, Telling Poems, to the brand-new Aerial Festival in Cumbria.

  • 6. Secondhand book sale at Elizabeth Gaskell’s House

    Elizabeth Gaskell's House garden. Photo by Chris Tucker
    Elizabeth Gaskell's House. Photo by Chris Tucker.

    Secondhand book sale at Elizabeth Gaskell's House at Elizabeth Gaskell’s House, Manchester, 12 April 2020, from £5 - Find Out More

    Mrs Gaskell would be proud – a regular book-buying opportunity literally on her doorstep. Peruse the secondhand tomes then perambulate around the rather pleasant RHS award-winning gardens and soak up the atmosphere of the North & South author’s Plymouth Grove villa. Check out the Ruskin exhibition too – on until July 2020. The next book sale is 8 March, then 12 April…

  • 7. Hilary Mantel at RNCM

    Author Hilary Mantel. Photo by Els Zweerink copy
    Author Hilary Mantel. Photo by Els Zweerink.

    An Evening with Hilary Mantel Hosted by Kamila Shamsie at Royal Northern College of Music (RNCM), Manchester, 19 April 2020, from £16 - Book now

    Spend An Evening with Hilary Mantel (or 80 minutes, at least) at this Manchester Literature Festival Bookend event as author Kamila Shamsie talks historical fiction and The Mirror & The Light, the concluding book in the Man Booker Prize-winning Tudor Trilogy.

More in Literature

Activity Until 25 February 2020, from £17

Tours of Elizabeth Gaskell’s House and The Pankhurst Centre

Visit the homes of two influential Mancunian women in one day. Volunteer led tours of Elizabeth Gaskell and Emmeline Pankhurst’s former homes are an ideal way to learn the stories of these two influential figures.

Literature Until 5 February 2025, FREE

The Little Library in Spinningfields

Take your pick from The Little Library’s carefully curated collection of classics and new releases, adding a recently read book of your own as a replacement.

Literature 8 March 2020 12:00 pm, FREE

Northern Fiction Alliance Roadshow at Leeds Lit Fest

Featuring leading independent publishers from across the region, the Northern Fiction Alliance Roadshow provides a chance to chat to them and pick up some great reads.

Festivals 26–29 March 2020, from £12

Aerial Festival

Aerial is a new festival of contemporary music, literature and performance, taking place in and around the Lake District town of Ambleside.

Literature 27 March 2020 6:00 pm, from £10

Why Women Read Fiction with Helen Taylor, Beth O’Leary and Catherine Isaac at The Lowry

Join Helen Taylor, Beth O’Leary and Catherine Isaac as they explore why women are the main buyers and readers of fiction, members of book clubs and attendees at literary festivals.

Literature 27–28 March 2020, from £35

Sir Ranulph Fiennes at The Lowry

Named by the Guinness Book of Records as ‘the world’s greatest living explorer’, in Living Dangerously, Sir Randolph Fiennes offers a personal journey through his life, from his early years to the present day.

Literature 27 March 2020 7:30 pm, from £5

Gerry Potter and Friends at The Lowry

Join Manchester and Liverpool’s favourite son Gerry Potter alongside his friends Chanje Kunda and Dave Viney for an outspoken evening of performance poetry.

Literature 27 March 2020 8:00 pm, from £15

Max Porter with Sam Genders (TUNNG) at The Lowry

Award-winning author Max Porter and musician Sam Genders join Words Weekend for an exclusive commission of music and words.

Literature 28 March 2020 11:00 am, from £12.5

Kwame Alexander at The Lowry

What Kwame doesn’t know about engaging the young adult audience is just not worth knowing. The rock star of YA fiction, Kwame Alexander travels the US in a huge tour bus with his name on the side.

Culture Guides


We advise booking early this month as cinemas fill up with brand new award winners and offbeat classics.

Phoebe Davies: Points of Rupture at Site Gallery in Sheffield


Art and women’s wrestling, Ancient Akkadian gravesites and invented artefacts – check out this month’s pick of exhibitions from across the north.

Half term fun - Young girl sat next to the tiger as part of the The Tiger who came to tea and the adventures of mog the forgetful cat exhibition


Check out our top picks for Families this month. Whether it’s art, music, theatre, science, crafts or insects (!) you’re after, we’ve got you covered…


Lost in the middle distance between Christmas and spring, this funny old time of year has a saving grace: So. Many. Gigs.

Theatre in Manchester


Stage adaptations of cult film classics, award-winning verbatim performance and charming slapstick. You’ll find all this and more in our guide to the best theatre in Manchester and the North.

Classical Music in Manchester and the North

We preview the standout classical music events and venues in Manchester.

Food and Drink in Manchester and the North

It’s time to find the best restaurants for the weeks ahead. Here’s our guide to the best Food and Drink in Manchester and the North

Tours and Activities

Expect thrills, informative discussion, politically charged tours and wobbly towns in this month’s guide of Tours and Activities.

Things to do right now

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Cinema 25–27 February 2020,

Jessica Hausner at HOME

Cinema Until 27 February 2020,

Little Joe at HOME

Cinema Until 27 February 2020, from £7.50

Lovely Rita at HOME

Cinema Until 27 February 2020, from £7.50

End of Century at HOME