London Literature Festival 2008

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London Literature Festival programmer Martin Colthorpe reveals the diverse delights in this year's event, which begins at Southbank Centre next month

  • London Literature Festival 2008

    Where to find the venues (click to enlarge)

  • Are cities defined by the stories and writers that make them their home? Can a festival express the spirit of a city? This is the aim of the London Literature Festival, which returns to Southbank Centre for a two-week programme of readings, discussions, performances, screenings and gigs from July 5-19. In a worldly city built by migrants, writers from Pakistan, Darfur, Poland, Canada, Bulgaria, Ghana and South Africa – some British, some not – will share their art and stories on London’s original festival site.

    The London Literature Festival has an urban and irreverent ethos embodying London’s global identities and progressive urban cultures, celebrating Southbank Centre’s history of producing the best live literature and spoken-word events. Highlights include London Liming, showcasing the rich tradition of liming at a carnival day curated by Southbank Centre poet in residence Lemn Sissay and Melanie Abrahams of Renaissance 1, with Ursula Rucker headlines an eclectic gig featuring Brian Patten, Patience Agbabi and beatboxer in residence, Shlomo. And don’t miss the live samba and Brazilian and Caribbean street food on Festival Terrace, one of London’s finest outdoor drinking spaces.

    In another first, the UK premiere of ‘For the Bible Tells Me So’ is introduced by Ian McKellen alongside Bishop Gene Robinson, the first out gay Episcopal bishop in the US. The event questions and challenges Robinson’s treatment by Lambeth Palace, which has banned him from participating in this summer’s Lambeth Conference. Marshall Berman, the doyen of urban theory and author of ‘All that is Solid Melts into Air’, gives the annual Southbank Centre lecture, ‘The City Rises: Cities and Modernism’, in a rare UK appearance. Other festival highlights include events and readings for a range of literary prizes, including the Booker of Bookers, the Caine Prize for African Writing and the BBC4 Samuel Johnson Prize for non-fiction. The winners of all three awards will be announced during the festival from Southbank Centre. This year’s event also includes Mark E Smith, Grayson Perry, Mohammed Hanif, Zaha Hadid, Wendy Cope, Tony Benn and Lemn Sissay all rubbing shoulders.

    The reopening of the iconic Royal Festival Hall in 2007 provided the perfect backdrop to launch new ventures. Like a band recording its second album, the programmers this year have created a different sound, exploring new influences and pushing artistic boundaries. The House of Homosexual Culture’s residency within the festival is a flagship theme. Paul Burston [Time Out’s Gay & Lesbian editor] and Rupert Smith have put gay and lesbian writers, and the books that have inspired them, at the forefront of the festival. Burston and Smith’s enticing events include Dirty Books, The Lavender Library and City Lights, including the sparkle of Julian Clary, Stella Duffy, Brian Paddick and David McAlmont. This marks the beginning of an ongoing partnership between House of Homosexual Culture and Southbank Centre, continuing this autumn. Another distinctively Southbank Centre venture is Fresh off the Page, where brilliant young performers have been invited to programme their own events. The result is a fusion of words, music and performance curated by our in-house duo of emerging artists in residence, MC Riz and Yemisi Blake, together with award-winning teenage poet, Jamal Msebele, aka Eklipse. With this innovative and free curatorial remit, Fresh off the Page injects wide-ranging influences, including grime, slam poetry and digital art into our free spaces throughout the festival.

    The regenerated Southbank Centre is an urban playground at the heart of the city. Each year we map all the activities going on across the 21-acre site, creating an inclusive space, whichever urban tribe you belong to. In addition, this year you can splash your way around Jeppe Hein’s Appearing Rooms fountain; catch outdoor film screenings outside the Hayward; see Kate Mosse’s Sepulchre Tour, an exhibition of photographs inspired by her international bestseller; visit the poetry library and artist Sinta Tantra’s exhibition; pick up a free read at our Best of the Booker Prize bookcrossing; and develop your writing skills in our on-site creative writing tent.

    Southbank Centre is a dream playground for a summer festival of literature and spoken word. London encompasses the diversity, schizophrenia, contradictions and cultural collisions out of which great art, innovation and debate arise. Come along and make the city’s literature festival your own.

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