Literature Events in Manchester and the North

Sarah-Clare Conlon, Literature Editor

The New Year has a few magical treats up its sleeve, not least Isabel Allende in conversation with Jeanette Winterson on 11 February – heralding the start of Manchester Literature Festival’s 2020 programme – and Eimear McBride talking to poet Vona Groake on 17 February, marking the second MLF outing of the year. Vona also appears as part of the stellar line-up celebrating the 25oth issue of PN Review, with a special launch party in the old Science Library of Owens College, while another launch of note is that of Emma Jane Unsworth’s third novel, Adults, at Waterstones on 29 January. You can also catch the author of Animals (the film version is just out on DVD) chatting to Luke Brown about his second publication, Theft (published by And Other Stories), at the Burgess Foundation on 10 February.

January sees the year-round Poets & Players programme back in action at The Whitworth, with three readers in the form of Kim Moore and Jennifer Lee Tsai alongside multi-award-winning Jo Shapcott, plus a musician, all lined up to ease you into the swing of things again. Meanwhile, old fave That’s What She* Said returns to form in February, welcoming poet Louise Fazackerley for a second appearance and the launch of her new collection. Verbose is back on 27 January at Fred’s, with headliners Neil Bell and Juliette Van der Molen, Bad Language returns to Gullivers on 29 January, featuring Ian Humpreys, and, over at The Castle, No Matter presents more New Matter on 5 February with Sharon Kivland, Aurelia Guo and NJ Stallard, while Peter Barlow’s Cigarette pops up again at Waterstones on 22 February with four readers Mau Baiocco, Tessa Berring, Peter Hughes and Nell Osborne.

The Complete Works series of events from the University of Manchester’s Centre for New Writing in partnership with HOME is continuing on 20 January and again 19 February – with Canongate editor Ellah Wakatama Allfrey talking first to novelist and essayist Aminatta Forna, and then to Channel 4 News International Editor Lindsey Hilum. Also taking up space in the January and February schedule are two important prizes, both in association with Manchester Writing School at Manchester Metropolitan University. To start, the six shortlisted writers in the running for The Portico Prize 2019 – the Booker of the North – will be whittled down at a ceremony hosted by The Portico Library, while the annual Manchester Prizes Gala, presenting both the Manchester Poetry Prize and the Manchester Fiction Prize, takes place in the atmospheric surrounds of the Baronial Hall at Chetham’s Library. News now in of the two shortlists – hit that link!

Music meets literature, meanwhile, with Blackwell’s bookshop hosting first Suede’s Mat Osman, talking about his debut novel The Ruins to Stuart Maconie on 12 February, and then, on 4 March, Dave Haslam launching the third of his Art Decades books, Searching For Love: Courtney Love in Liverpool, 1982. If you missed out on tickets for the latter, try 2 March at the British Music Experience Museum of Popular Museum in Liverpool’s iconic Cunard Building. We all want to be the girl with the most cake…

International Mother Language Day is marked on 21 February, with events and activities taking place at Central Library (also hosting an evening with Jess Kidd, on 26 February) and beyond, while the team at the UNESCO-endorsed Manchester City of Literature is taking shape – and exciting things are promised…

Before you get back to your books, scroll down to our More in Literature stories, and don’t forget to check out our guide to the UNESCO City of Literature, where you’ll find some bookworm-friendly go-tos, including John Rylands Library, the Portico Library and the oldest public library in the English-speaking world, Chetham’s. Our Guide To Bookshops In Manchester is here, and there’s a regular secondhand book sale at Elizabeth Gaskell’s House (the next sale is 12 January, then 9 February, 8 March, 12 April and so on); combine with a look at the new Ruskin exhibition on until July 2020 and the award-winning garden, inspired by the author.

Fancy heading out of town? Pop The Reader’s recently refurbished and reopened Mansion House in Liverpool’s Calderstones Park on your list – their Poetry Walk takes place in the grounds every Tuesday, giving you the opportunity to be active creatively or creative actively, whichever way you like to think of it. Fancy more poetry in Liverpool? Catch three leading contemporary female poets at the Bluecoat. Find more tips for trips further afield in our literary guides to LiverpoolLeeds, Sheffield and Cumbria.

Here are our picks

  • 1. PN Review 250th issue launch at Christie’s Bistro

    Poet Jane Yeh. Photo by Andy Forest.
    Poet Jane Yeh. Photo by Andy Forest.

    PN Review 250th issue launch at Christie’s Bistro, Manchester, 3 February 2020, free entry - Find Out More

    The Carcanet 50th birthday celebrations continue, with a very special launch party for the spring issue of the poetry publishing house’s literary journal, PN Review. Set up as Poetry Nation in 1973, this event marks its 250th edition and features readings from the likes of Vona Groarke, Helen Tookey and Jane Yeh.

  • 2. That’s What She Said at Tribeca

    Poet Louise Fazackerley. Photo by Richard Davis.

    That's What She Said at Tribeca, Manchester, 6 February 2020, from £5 - Book now

    The showcase of new writing and performance by women and non-binary writers is back, with BBC Radio 3 The Verb’s New Voices Award-winning poet Louise Fazackerley kicking off the That’s What She Said programme as we enter a new decade, performing from her brand-new collection, The Lolitas.

  • 3. Manchester Prizes Gala at Chetham’s Library

    Writer Nicholas Royle. Photo by Zoe McLean
    Writer Nicholas Royle. Photo by Zoe McLean.

    Manchester Writing Competition: Award Ceremony and Anniversary Gala at Chetham’s Library, Manchester, 7 February 2020 - Book now

    Head to Chetham’s Library for this glittering gala event culminating in former Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy presenting two £10,000 golden envelopes: one to the winner of the 2019 Manchester Poetry Prize, the other to the winner of the Manchester Fiction Prize.

  • 4. Isabel Allende at The Dancehouse

    Author Isabel Allende. Photo by Lori Barra.

    Isabel Allende in Conversation with Jeanette Winterson at The Dancehouse, Manchester, 11 February 2020, from £12 - Book now

    This very special event hearing from one of literature’s most enchanting storytellers and one of Latin America’s greatest authors, Isabel Allende, takes us into the New Year and marks the beginning of the 2020 programme of Manchester Literature Festival, presented in association with the Centre for New Writing and Creative Manchester, and hosted by Jeanette Winterson.

  • 5. 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 12 January, then 9 February, 8 March, 12 April…

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.

Eimear McBride. Photo by Sophie Bassouls.
Literature 17 February 2020 7:30 pm, from £6

Eimear McBride at Martin Harris Centre

Manchester Literature Festival and the Centre for New Writing with Creative Manchester are delighted to present a “Literature Live” evening welcoming award-winning Irish novelist Eimear McBride.

Poet Helen Tookey
Literature 20 February 2020 6:30 pm, from £4

Other Cities/Other Lives Eleanor Rees, Zoë Scolding and Helen Tookey at the Bluecoat

Three leading contemporary poets Eleanor Rees, Zoë Skoulding and Helen Tookey read from their new collections.

Poet Lemn Sissay.
Literature 21 February 2020 10:00 am, FREE

International Mother Language Day 2020 at various venues

Manchester celebrates this year’s International Mother Language Day through a number of exciting events taking place in various venues around the city.

Literature 14 April 2020 11:00 am, FREE

Poetry Walk at The Reader in Liverpool

Every Tuesday morning you’re invited to join the Poetry Walk with The Reader in Calderstones Park. Get into the great outdoors and escape the everyday, while exploring poetry and making the most of the beautiful surroundings.

Culture Guides


Valentine’s events, horror marathons and the best new releases.

Suzanne Lacy: We Are Here at Manchester Art Gallery and the Whitworth


Power and conflict, rock and reggae, and rebellious acts by the over 60s all feature in 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…


Eyeing up Manchester’s gig calendar, we’re spoilt for choice this New Year! Read our top picks for the coming months.

Theatre in Manchester


Turn On Fest at Hope Mill Theatre and PUSH Festival at HOME are amongst our top picks of theatre in Manchester and the North this January.

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

Looking to eat some of the North’s finest food in January 2020? Kick the decade off with our guide to all things to eat and drink in Manchester and beyond.

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Tours and Activities

Start the decade with a new experience and take inspiration from our January Tours and Activities guide.