Ilkley’s Poetic Past to be Celebrated in its Literature Festival’s 50th Year

Ilkley's Poetic Past to be Celebrated in its Literature Festival's 50th Year

Celebrating its 50th anniversary, the Ilkley Literature Festival is the north’s longest-standing literary festival. This October, it will be featuring around 100 author events across 17 days, from 6-22 October, and in this feature, we’ll look at some of the festival’s highlights.

At the 50th edition of Ilkley’s literature festival, the headline acts will include Jacqueline Wilson, Jeanette Winterson, Clare Balding, Simon Armitage, Gyles Brandreth (main image) and Monica Ali. Other big acts joining them include comedian Shaparak Khorsandi and presenters Melanie Sykes, Helen Skelton, Anton Du Beke, and Ray Mears.

Two photographs showing Clare Balding  and Melanie Sykes[LtoR] Clare Balding by Alex Lake and Melanie Sykes

There are also plenty of journalists discussing their latest books with Gavin Esler, Luke Harding, Samuel Kasumu, Tim Marshall, James Naughtie, Grace Dent and Polly Toynbee.

Literary stars from America include Bryan Washington, winner of the 2020 International Dylan Thomas Prize for Memorial – who will make his first-ever in-person event in the UK at Ilkley to discuss his latest novel, Family Meal, and C Pam Zhang.

A photograph of C Pam Zhang and one of the front cover of Land of Milk and Honey

Zhang’s How Much of These Hills Is Gold was named one of Barack Obama’s favourite reads in 2020; she’ll be discussing her latest book, Land of Milk and Honey.

Opened in 1973 by the poet W.H. Auden, Ilkley has been a dedicated champion of poetry ever since, with appearances from luminaries including Philip Larkin, Ted Hughes, and Carol Ann Duffy.

This year, it continues its legacy as a platform for new and emerging poets. On Saturday, 14 October, it hosts a full Poetry Day at the Armitage Building at Ilkley Grammar School.

A photograph of Simon Armitage and one of the front cover of his book, Never Good with HorsesPhotograph of Simon Armitage courtesy of Peter James Millson

Other highlights include an evening with the Poet Laureate Simon Armitage, poetry workshops with John Whale, a University of Leeds Poetry Showcase, poetry networking events, and events with Ilkley Literature Festival’s current Poets in Residence, Chris Singleton and Freya Bantiff.

The poet Kim Moore leaning against a tree

Four of its past Poets in Residence will also return this October to read from their latest collections: Antony Dunn, Seni Seneviratne, Kim Moore (above) and Daljit Nagra. What’s more, the festival has granted special access to four new Northern poets to attend the festival to help develop their work: Emma Conally-Barklem, Charlotte Oliver, Kristina Diprose and Daniel Hinds.

Ilkley Literature Festival has been commissioning new poetry since its earliest days. In 1975, it commissioned Ted Hughes to produce and perform a poem sequence inspired by the drawings of Leonard Baskin, Cave Birds.

New Northern Poet Emma Conally-BarklemEmma Conally-Barklem (© Dr Z Bajuszova)

As part of its 50th anniversary celebrations, Emma Conally-Barklem has been commissioned to explore the echoes of the festival’s rich literary past. The result is a brand-new poetry commission inspired by lines from Hughes’ Cave Birds, ‘Bitter Linnet.’

The poem traces threads of influence found in Hughes’ work, circling around Plath and stretching back to Blake and Brontë. You can watch Conally-Barklem perform her commission on the festival’s YouTube channel as part of National Poetry Day on Thursday, 5 October.

For those seeking poetic inspiration from Yorkshire’s countryside, there’s always the chance to check out the permanent Poetry Trail – the Stanza Stones – the result of a past collaboration with Simon Armitage and Ilkley Literature Festival, which consists of Armitage’s poems carved into stones, stretching from his home town of Marsden to the Festival’s base in Ilkley.

For more information, visit or call the box office on 01943 816714.

Photograph of Gyles Brandreth courtesy of Joe Fenna.

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