Literature Events in Manchester and the North

Sarah-Clare Conlon, Literature Editor

Following the cancellation or postponement of activities and festivals due to the ongoing Coronavirus (COVID-19) situation, some keen event organisers have launched an online version of Live Literature Land. Verbose were among the first in Manchester, taking the monthly night into the ether at the start of May with Tania Hershman on headline duties and a line-up of open mic acts (a second episode is chalked up for 19 June – more here soon); Punk In Drublic followed suit and Liverpool regulars A Lovely Word and Leeds-based Word Club have been doing something similar.

The format seems to work, with Word Central the latest to hit our living rooms while the libraries remain firmly closed, hosting, first, Gordon Zola and upcoming on 11 June, Shirley May, the force behind the Young Identity collective, recently spotted alongside Tony Walsh on the the United We Stream performance platform with Our City Speaks, which you can now view here. Word Central collaborator Flapjack Press has also been running a night every Monday via Zoom, offering sweet treats in the form of six poets each week, and word on the street is Bad Language will be back soon with an online literary quiz.

The Scots Makar, Jackie Kay, is now offering “a wee bit of company from our living rooms to your living rooms” with, in her words, “an old-fashioned, rich but heady mix of poetry and music” on Thursday nights at 7pm (and available afterwards via YouTube). In Makar To Makar, you’ll find her chatting to another poet every week and inviting songs from one of three resident singers; in the fourth episode, she welcomes along Imtiaz Darker, Chester Literature Festival Guest Director and Artist in Residence. Meanwhile on the airwaves you can listen to the English Poet Laureate, Simon Armitage, as he welcomes guests such as Kate Tempest into his garden shed for chats about creativity and inspiration (Wednesdays on BBC Radio 4 and available via the Sounds app).

Carcanet Press, too, has been holding online book launches, so keep an eye out for those (most recently, Evan Jones’s new collection, Later Emperors), while Comma Press has been gifting us its Morphologies Masterclasses, creative writing workshops, podcast episodes and blog posts a-go-go. Commonword have been running free interactive creative writing workshops with Maya Chowdhry and are looking for your Verses Against The Virus, while Manchester Writing School head honcho, and former Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy has commissioned poets to respond to the crisis through her WRITE where we are NOW project.

Check out on the new website for Manchester City of Literature, who, in partnership with Commonword, host the first instalment of The Hook, “exploring the work of the late Mancunian poet Diké Omeje, with a stellar panel of Peter Kalu, Shirley May, Mike Garry, Cheryl Martin and Segun Lee-French”. More here. Future topics include Elizabeth Gaskell and Anthony Burgess.

Festival wise, the third Altrincham Word Fest has been rescheduled to run 20 September until 4 October, while the 15th Manchester Literature Festival is due to take place from Friday 2 to Sunday 18 October 2020: “We are currently working hard on a diverse and exciting programme of fiction, poetry, culture, imaginative writing and events for young readers! We aim to announce a few headline events over the next few months and launch the full Festival programme in August 2020.” The Big Book Weekend still has episodes online, showing events that would have taken place at Liverpool’s WoW Festival, among others, while the Northern Short Story Festival (part of Leeds Big Bookend) celebrated its fifth birthday this year with a Virtual Mini Festival on Saturday 30 May, and has plenty of online resources, such as interviews with Hebden Bridge-based indie Bluenose. This year, we can also travel – virtually, of course – to York Festival Of Ideas.

We’ll try and update the Literature Guide to reflect all the new activity (so do keep us posted if you have anything in the pipeline!), and don’t forget to check out book-buying opportunities direct from the indies and not just Ama*on. There are quite a few offers to take advantage of – whether you’re self-isolating, shielding or simply slowing down a bit, it might be an opportunity to increase your reading repertoire and stock up your home library.

As doors start to reopen in coming months, rest assured the fabulous exhibition all about Manchester’s independent poetry publisher Carcanet will await you at The John Rylands Library while the newest library in town is just around the corner in Spinningfields. There are online talks from “one of the most unusual libraries in the world”, the Working Class Movement Library, a plethora of Polite Literature activities during The Portico Library lockdown and a new From Home page courtesy “the oldest public library in the English speaking world”, Chetham’s Library. And while most of our favourite literary venues can’t have visitors, their websites can – Elizabeth Gaskell’s House is running online reads and the International Anthony Burgess Foundation has a virtual exhibition and other visual and aural goodies to enrich your lockdown experience.

We are so grateful to National Lottery players, The National Lottery, DCMS and Arts Council England for supporting our freelance writers during this crisis. This means that, although venues remain shut and campaigns cancelled, our writers can be reengaged to help arts organisations and artists across the North of England share their online content with our culture-hungry readers.

Don’t forget to Read More: scroll down for our More in Literature stories, check out our Guide To Bookshops In Manchester, and get more tips for trips, as lockdown loosens, with our literary guides to LiverpoolLeeds, Sheffield and Cumbria.

Here are our picks

  • 1. Morphologies Masterclasses online with Comma Press

    Author Stuart Evers.
    Author Stuart Evers.

    Morphologies Masterclasses, online, 30 June 2020, free entry - Find Out More

    Throughout June, join in to free fortnightly livestreamed masterclasses, complete with writing prompts, given by a contemporary short story writer on the work of a classic counterpart: Sean O’Brien on Edgar Allan Poe, Stuart Evers on Sherwood Anderson, and Frank Cottrell-Boyce on Anton Chekhov.

  • 2. Makar to Makar with Jackie Kay

    Makar to Makar with Jackie Kay. Photo by Jon Parker Lee, MLF.
    Poet Jackie Kay. Photograph by John Parker Lee.

    Makar to Makar with Jackie Kay, online, Until 27 August 2020, free entry - Visit now

    Weekly online “chat show” hosted by the Scots Makar, or poet laureate, Jackie Kay talking to another guest “makar” or maker every episode about their work and influences, with readings of both new and old poems, and music from one of three resident singers.

  • 3. A Lovely Word Is… Online

    Spoken word performer Lyndsay Price.

    A Lovely Word Online, online, 2 July 2020, free entry - Find Out More

    Everyman Theatre Liverpool’s monthly open mic poetry and spoken word event has gone digital, with World Poetry Slam Champion and acclaimed performer Harry Baker headlining on Thursday 4 June, and Liverpool-based spoken word artist Lyndsay Price on Thursday 2 July.

  • 4. York Festival Of Ideas Online

    Poet Vahni Capildeo.

    York Festival of Ideas Online, online, Until 14 June 2020, free entry - Visit now

    Taking place 2 to 14 June, this year’s York Festival Of Ideas heads online, with some live literature events featuring Vahni Capildeo and Mary Jean Chan, plus various interesting (and free!) interactive creative writing workshops well worth checking out.

  • 5. Word Central online

    Poet Shirley May.

    Word Central, online, 11 June–20 August 2020, free entry - Find Out More

    In association with Flapjack Press and Manchester Libraries, Word Central Open Mic Poetry and Spoken Word heads online fortnightly, with a sign-up-in-advance open mic and a guest poet at each event, including – upcoming – Shirley May on Thursday 11 June, Henry Normal on Thursday 25 June and Michael Wilson on Thursday 9 July.

  • 6. Virtual Poetry Walk at The Reader in Liverpool

    The Mansion House Calderstones Park.

    Poetry Walk at The Mansion House Calderstones Park, Calderstones Park and online, Until 31 August 2020, free entry - Visit now

    Join The Reader online for new Lunchtime Livestream sessions every Tuesday and Thursday from 1pm, when inspiring poems and texts will be read and discussed. Meanwhile, recreate the usual Poetry Walk with The Reader in Liverpool’s lovely Calderstones Park by getting into the great outdoors and making the most of the beautiful surroundings at a safe distance.

  • 7. The Little Library in Spinningfields

    The Little Library in Spinningfields.

    The Little Library at Spinningfields, Manchester, Until 5 February 2025, free entry - Visit now

    Part of a worldwide movement, open now in Spinningfields the colourful Little Library gives you the chance to swap novels, collections and other books you’ve read for ones you haven’t – or you fancy revisiting – from classics to brand-new just-hitting-the-bookshelves titles.

  • 8. Online activities at Elizabeth Gaskell’s House

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

    Online activities at Elizabeth Gaskell's House, online, Until 31 August 2020, free entry - Visit now

    While we’re social distancing, the Elizabeth Gaskell’s House team are inviting you to join them online for virtual tours, readalong discussions on Twitter and Facebook, and regular blogs from the award-winning garden team. Donning a bonnet is optional…

  • 9. Carcanet Exhibition at The John Rylands Library – postponed until libraries reopen

    Carcanet exhibition: Carcanet poets Michael Schmidt and Michael Symmons Roberts.
    Carcanet poets Michael Schmidt and Michael Symmons Roberts.

    Carcanet exhibition at The John Rylands Library, City Centre, Until 13 September 2020, free entry - Visit now

    The Carcanet 50th anniversary celebrations continue with a special exhibition sneaking a peek into the archive of the Manchester-based poetry publishing house, usually behind the scenes at the magnificent John Rylands Library on Deansgate but for six months taking centre stage – once the building reopens to the public, of course.

  • 10. An Evening In With Flapjack Press

    Poet Gerry Potter.

    An Evening In With Flapjack Press, online, Until 31 August 2020, free entry - Visit now

    Flapjack are serving up some sweet treats every Monday evening, with a weekly line-up of six poets taking to the inbuilt mic and performing for an ever-growing audience. Guests so far have included Gerry Potter, Tony Walsh and Henry Normal, with a good spread of silly and serious. Bring your own biscuits…

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