Ilkley Literature Festival: a beacon of poetry and literary excellence celebrates 50th anniversary

Ilkey Book Festival

This year marks a remarkable milestone for Ilkley Literature Festival, the longest-established literary festival in the North. The festival, steeped in a rich poetic tradition, is celebrating its 50th anniversary. From 6th to 22nd October, the small Yorkshire spa town of Ilkley will bathe in the glow of literary fervor, hosting around 100 author events spanning over 17 days.

This year’s headline acts flawlessly blend the old and the new, featuring celebrated authors like Jacqueline Wilson, Jeanette Winterson, Clare Balding, Simon Armitage, Gyles Brandreth, and Monica Ali. The lineup also brings laughter and lightness with comedian Shaparak Khorsandi and presenters Melanie Sykes, Helen Skelton, Anton Du Beke, and Ray Mears. A good number of journalists will be sharing insights from their latest books, including Gavin Esler, Luke Harding, Samuel Kasumu, Tim Marshall, James Naughtie, Grace Dent and Polly Toynbee.

International literary stars have also graced the event, with Bryan Washington, winner of the 2020 International Dylan Thomas Prize, making his first ever in-person event in the UK at Ilkley to discuss his latest novel, “Family Meal.” C Pam Zhang, whose novel “How Much of These Hills Is Gold” was named one of Barack Obama’s favourite reads in 2020, will be talking about her latest book, “Land of Milk and Honey.”

Founded in 1973 by the revered poet W.H. Auden, Ilkley Literature Festival has consistently championed poetry, hosting performances from illustrious poets including Philip Larkin, Ted Hughes, and Carol Ann Duffy. This year, it continues its legacy by providing a platform for new and emerging poets. A full Poetry Day is slated for 14th October at the Armitage Building at Ilkley Grammar School, featuring poetry workshops, networking events, and performances by the festival’s current Poets in Residence, Chris Singleton and Freya Bantiff.

In a nod to its illustrious past, the festival has invited four of its previous Poets in Residence to read from their latest collections: Antony Dunn, Seni Seneviratne, Kim Moore, and Daljit Nagra. The festival has also extended special invitations to four emerging Northern poets — Emma Conally-Barklem, Charlotte Oliver, Kristina Diprose, and Daniel Hinds — with the aim of nurturing their blossoming talents.

Ilkley Literature Festival has a long history of commissioning new poetry. In 1975, it commissioned Ted Hughes to produce and perform a poem sequence, “Cave Birds,” inspired by the drawings of Leonard Baskin. As part of the festival’s 50th anniversary celebrations, Emma Conally-Barklem has been asked to explore the echoes of the festival’s rich literary past. The result is “Bitter Linnet,” a brand-new poetry commission inspired by lines from Hughes’ “Cave Birds.” This poem traces influences found in Hughes’ work that loop around Sylvia Plath and stretch back to William Blake and the Brontës. Conally-Barklem’s performance of her commissioned poem can be viewed on the festival’s YouTube channel as part of National Poetry Day on Thursday, 5th October.

For those drawn to the poetic beauty of Yorkshire’s countryside, the permanent Poetry Trail – the Stanza Stones – offers a tranquil retreat. The trail is a testament to a past collaboration between Simon Armitage and Ilkley Literature Festival, featuring Armitage’s poems etched into stones, meandering from his hometown of Marsden to the Festival’s base in Ilkley.

For more information, visit or call the Box Office at 01943 816714.