Headingley Literature Festival

Another year means another month filled with exciting literary events as the Headingley Litfest returns. This year the theme is Lives and Loves, which has provided vast potential for some fantastic events.  The ethos of the festival is bringing the community together, with an added focus on the integration of the student community with the rest of the Headingley. The festival was established in 2008 and thrives on the objective of making a lasting, creative contribution to the community by showcasing the work of authors, film makers, musicians, and poets from a range of cultures.

Headingley is indeed the site of renowned literary talent; for example, it was the home of J RR Tolkein, who worked at the University of Leeds. The festival aims to exhibit already established talent whilst also giving a voice to the talent of tomorrow: the Youth Fringe event at the end of June provides a mixed programme of entertainment decided on by the young people involved themselves.

As a volunteer for the festival, I attended an event entitled ‘An Arabian Night’ – an authentic Arabian themed evening packed full of music and poetry. Huddling into the cosy venue - Mint Café - I was eager to escape from the Yorkshire snow and immerse myself in the heat of Arabian culture. The evening began with a colourful Lebanese buffet, to give us a taste (pun intended!) of the culture we were about to experience.

The master, Yasser Audhali, entered to a ripple of excitement and, after introducing himself, began to play the Oud whilst accompanied by two drummers. The Oud, described in the festival programme as ‘the ancestor of the guitar,’ is a stringed instrument, almost pear-like in shape. Hand-made and decorated with intricate Egyptian designs, it is a treat to look at as well as to listen to. However, at least 70% of the attendees had their eyes closed, losing themselves within the music and soaking up the intimate atmosphere of the room.

The beautiful music was punctuated by a range of Arabic love poetry by the Syrian poet Nazir Qabbani. The first, named ‘When I Love You,’ was an incredibly romantic poem crammed with curious, thought-provoking metaphors, addressed to the lover of the speaker. The last, the more political - yet still emotive - poem, ‘Beirut mistress of the world,’ was addressed to a city devastated by the Lebanese war.  Packed full of rhetorical language and powerful imagery these poems were a real delight - the perfect site of analysis for an enthusiastic literature student such as myself.  The evening was a fantastic insight into a new culture; a perfect escape from the chaos of student life and the stress of impending essay deadlines.

Other events have been hosted by local businesses, including the ‘Biking with Che’ evening at Café Lento, with music from local group Mestisa.  The Cottage Road cinema screened the classic film ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame,’ whilst also customising all the adverts to be like that of the pre-war era.  The Alive and Kicking theatre group provided free entertainment for local children with their Museum of Untold Stories, and a local renowned poet, James Nash, is working with three primary schools over the coming months (along with elder mentors) to introduce them to poetry and the power it gives to expression.  Prize-winning authors, including Blake Morrison, George Szirtes, Hilary Spurling,  and Roger McGough, have or will also appear in person, to give the local community an opportunity to hear and speak with writers of national renown. Historian and suffragette detective Jill Liddington will tell the story of the suffragette’s fight for the vote. This is the perfect event for any budding feminists. Drama will feature too, with presentations led by local drama groups Theatre of the Dales and Trio Lit, as well as student performers from LeedsMet.  The organisers say they are eager for Leeds University to perform with them too! The phrase ‘there’s something for everyone’ really does apply to this diverse festival.

So what is the appeal of this small but growing LitFest, now in its sixth year?  As one of the organising committee, Sally Bavage said: “We are all volunteers who are passionate to bring to others in our community the opportunity to hear, read, and get immersed in how words change your view and your world.”

To see the full programme and purchase tickets for events click here. To read about any of the previous events and get a further taste for the spirit of the festival click Here.

Jacqui Agate

Image: Headingley Literature Festival

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