Living in Leeds, according to John Freeman, the editor of Granta magazine, quoted in The Guardian yesterday, makes you “completely out of the literary world”.
Freeman was speaking in reference to the hometownof Sunjeez Sahota, a writer whose work I have not read, who was including in the magazine’s 20 most promising young writer’s list. I don’t know anything about how Sahota got into reading or writing, but I do know this-saying that living in Leeds makes you ‘out of the literary world’ is xenophobic, incorrect, and further evidence of a London orientated arts culture that rips the heart out of the North and then tells us it’s our fault for being so oafish and uncultured.
Leeds has a vibrant, and growing, literary culture. The people of Leeds swap books, go to bookish events, support local writers, and discuss what they are reading in a variety of ways, all of which are celebrated and welcomed in the city. Libraries, social clubs and bookshops work together to support and promote literary initiatives and, from LadyFest to I Love West Leeds, literacy and literature is interwoven with arts, music and other creative enterprises to form part of a pulsating, vibrant, local culture, often run by people doing it on a shoestring or no budget, for free, for the love of it, in their own time.
Leeds has two local literature festivals within city boundaries; Headingley Lit Fest, whose mission statement is to highlight Headingley’s historical and contemporary contribution to literature, and the ever-expanding Morley Lit Fest, which last year included events by AL Kennedy, Fiona Shaw and Monique Roffey. These festivals are not only excellent examples of local people coming together to create something marvellous, they’re also very very good value for money – especially compared to that beacon of literature in the North, Ilkley Literature Festival-a mere half hour away from Leeds. We are hardly strapped for literary things to see and do.
This year sees the return of the Leeds City Centre Big Bookend, where local writers present their work. This festival is also creating its own ‘writers under 40 to watch’ list in the form of the LS13 Writers competition, which no doubt Granta will be subsequently ignoring, it not counting until London notices you.
What I suspect Freeman means is that Leeds isn’t the home of any major publishing houses, and you don’t see many agents wooing fabulous clientele in Wagamama’s Trinity. Except there are, and they probably do, in between signing books in a pen shop (?).
This quote has made a lot of people, including myself, who had dedicated a hell of a lot of time, effort and my own money over the past three years on the Leeds lit scene, a bit miffed. But it’s also brought just how big the lit scene in Leeds is to the forefront of a debate, and that is something that, actually, we should be thankful for.
If you live in Leeds, and are as pissed off as me at this, join me in celebrated our literary scene on World Book Night, on Tuesday 23 April, in Arcadia, Headingley from 7. I’ll be packing the Travelling Suitcase Library to the brim with wonderful reads, let’s show em that Leeds Loves Literature, and no flippant comment from someone who should know better is going to change that fact.