Festival of the Future City

Poets, Writers and the City

Poets, Writers and the City

Festival of Ideas commissioned some of Britain’s leading poets and writers to write about the city. In this special session, Liz Berry, Rachael Boast, Edson Burton, Ciaran Carson, Melissa Harrison, Eimear McBride, Helen Mort, WN Herbert,Peter Robinson and Lemn Sissay present their work.

Speaker biographies:

Liz Berry received an Eric Gregory Award in 2009, an Arvon-Jerwood Mentorship in 2011 and won the Poetry London competition in 2012. Her pamphlet The Patron Saint of Schoolgirls was published by Tall Lighthouse in 2010. Her poems have appeared in many magazines and anthologies, been broadcast on BBC Radio and recorded for the Poetry Archive. Her debut collection, Black Country, was a Poetry Book Society Recommendation and won the Forward Prize for Best First Collection 2014.

Rachael Boast’s Sidereal (2011) won the Forward Prize for Best First Collection and the Seamus Heaney Centre for Poetry Prize for Best First Collection. Pilgrim’s Flower (2013) was short-listed for the Griffin Prize. She is editor of The Echoing Gallery: Bristol Poets and Art in the City.

Edson Burton is a writer and historian. He has written several plays for BBC Radio 4 and regional radio, and published his first collection of poetry, Seasoned, in 2008. In 2014, he curated Watershed’s Afrofuturism season as part of BFI Scifi: Days of Fear and Wonder. He is Project Coordinator at the Trinity Arts Centre and is part of Come The Revolution, a collective of curators, programmers and creatives from Bristol and Birmingham committed to exploring and challenging black life, experience and cultural expression through cinema.

Ciaran Carson is the author of a number of collections of poetry, including The Irish for No (1987), winner of the Alice Hunt Bartlett Award; First Language: Poems (1994), winner of the TS Eliot Prize; Breaking News (2003), winner of the Forward Poetry Prize; and Until Before After (2010). His prose works include Last Night’s Fun, a book about Irish traditional music; The Star Factory, a memoir of Belfast; Fishing for Amber: A Long Story; the novel, Shamrock Tea, which was long-listed for the 2001 Booker Prize; and Exchange Place. He held the position of traditional arts officer of the Arts Council of Northern Ireland from 1975 to 1998 and was appointed director of the Seamus Heaney Centre for Poetry at Queen’s University in 2003.

Eimear McBride was born in Liverpool but grew up in Ireland, before moving to London aged 17 to study at The Drama Centre. A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing, her first novel, won the inaugural Goldsmiths Prize in 2013 and the 2014 Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction.

Helen Mort’s first poetry collection, Division Street, was short-listed for the Costa Prize and the TS Eliot Prize and, in 2014, won the Fenton Aldeburgh Prize. She is the Douglas Caster Cultural Fellow at The University of Leeds.

Peter Robinson’s work includes This Other Life, winner of the Cheltenham Prize, About Time Too, The Look of Goodbye and Like the Living End. In 2007 he took up a post as Professor of English and American literature at the University of Reading. As well as leading research at the university on poetry and poetics, he has instigated the publication of an annual creative arts anthology and helped found the Reading Poetry Festival. He is a regular contributor of book reviews and literary criticism to poetry magazines, academic journals, and newspapers.

Melissa Harrison worked in non-fiction publishing for several years before moving magazines, first as an editor and then on a freelance basis, with clients including Vogue, Time Out, Stuff and Mixmag. In 2008 she began spending time on her own writing, and she won the Joh Muir Trust's Award for Wild Writing in 2010. Her first novel Clay, was published by Bloomsbury in January 2013. It was selected as an Amazon Rising Star, won the Portsmouth First Fiction Award, was named by Ali Smith as one of her books of the year and has been put on the HSC curriculum in New South Wales, Australia. Her second novel, At Hawthorn Time, was published in April 2015. She writes for the FT and The Times, where she also contributes to their weekly 'Nature Notebook' column.

WN Herbert has published seven volumes of poetry and four pamphlets, and he is widely anthologised. His last six collections, which include Caberet McGonagall, The Laurelude and Bad Shaman Blues, have won numerous accolades. He has been shortlisted twice for the TS Eliot prize, twice for the Saltire, and has gained four Poetry Book Society Recommendations and won three Scottish Arts Council Awards. In 2013 he was appointed Dundee's Makar, or City Laureate. In 2014 he was awarded a Cholmondeley Prize for his poetry, and an honorary doctorate from Dundee University. In 2015 he became a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.

Lemn Sissay is a poet and playwright. He published his first collection of poetry, Tender Fingers in a Clenched Fist (1998), at the age of 21, and is the author of Rebel Without Applause (1992), Morning Breaks in the Elevator (1999), The Emperor's Watchmaker (2000), and Listener (2008). His plays have been produced by Contact Theatre and BBC Radio 4, and the award-winning Something Dark has been performed throughout the world. He was the first Black Writers Development Worker in the North of England. He is associate artist at Southbank Centre, patron of The Letterbox Club and The Reader Organisation, ambassador for The Children's Reading Fund, trustee of the Forward Arts Foundation, inaugural trustee of Word Book Night and an honorary Doctor of Letters. In 2010 he received an MBE for services to literature.