Leeds Lit Fest 2024

Leeds Lit Fest 2024 takes place between Saturday 15th and Sunday 23rd June at venues across the city. The festival, which began in 2019, brings together many of the city’s arts, cultural and literary organisations “which are committed to celebrating and championing literature and writing in Leeds and to engaging and inspiring it’s people to get involved in creative activities linked to literature”.

I caught up with Lit Fest co-founder Jack Simpson to find out more about how it all started, and what it has coming up for 2024.

JACK, how did Leeds Lit Fest first come about?

“In 2018 a few of us were discussing how there was such a good burgeoning literature scene, writers, poets and people interested in their work, but little infrastructure. We’d recently opened Hyde Park Book Club and would discuss these things with Fiona Gell of The Leeds Big Bookend. We’d discuss the small northern publishers we could get into the book club, and Fiona would help think about all this.

Fiona’s done an incredible amount of work developing the lit scene, and suggested a meeting with Leeds Library’s Carl Hutton and a few others; people from Leeds Libraries, the Carriageworks, Leeds Minster and Chapel FM, and then subsequently Milim – from which Alan Benstock has been a key member since the first festival.

We were all driven by the idea that collectively we could just help shine a lot on what’s going on in the city. Also, that along with music, and the visual arts, literature and the discussion of ideas could occupy more space in the city’s cultural scene.”

Where there any difficulties in making it happen? And what have been the highlights so far?

“The festival is very ground up, with partners from different organisations coming together to make it happen. Ultimately, we’ve done this as the infrastructure around literature could be much better. As such, there has been a lot of difficulties. Creating the structure, often doing this with no funding, amidst lots of other work we all have – it’s been challenging!

In terms of highlights, there have been so many. The main thing really being just making it happen each year! The camaraderie is great. Introducing Lemn Sissay last year, with our own Khadijah Ibrahim felt special. It was a bit of a coming-of-age moment for the festival, to a packed out Carriageworks. Munroe Bergdorf was also great. And winning ‘Best Literary Festival’ at the national Saboteur Awards in 2020 and 2022 too. Just to feel the city’s literature scene was getting more recognition.

We have an incredible writing scene in the region, but so far music, the visual arts, performance have often stood out more. Literature, writing and thought just deserve a great place in all that. Hopefully the Lit Fest is helping nudge that a long a tiny bit.”

Which organisations are involved in 2024?

The Leeds Library, The Leeds Big Bookend / Fiona Gell, Leeds Libraries, Milim, Leeds Church Institute, Flip Through Flanders, Modern Culture, The Leeds Salon, Truman Books, Northern Fiction Alliance, NHPNA, Leeds Poetry Festival, LIVEwire Poetry and Hyde Park Book Club.

It’s a huge team effort.”

What do you have coming up for 2024?

“Ahh, so much, Stuart Maconie, Salena Godden and DJ Paulette are definitely highlights for me. But there’s a really broad programme with over 30 events across 9 days and 8 venues.”

To see what’s on, visit their website at: www.leedslitfest.co.uk/

Paul Thomas is co-founder of The Leeds Salon public discussion forum.