Tony Harrison to headline Leeds literature festival the Big Bookend

Celebration of city's cultural heritage will ask the question: where is Leeds 25 years after Harrison's poem V?

Two and a half decades after Tony Harrison's working-class call to arms V was published to howls of offence from the conservative establishment, the Leeds writer is coming home to headline the Big Bookend festival – a huge coup in the event's second year.

Alongside Tony, the Bookend has lined up many Leeds lit-related events, including Wes Brown's search for new Leeds writers, asking the question: 'Where is Leeds 25 years after Tony Harrison's V?'

I should 'fess up here; although I have absolutely nothing to do with the Bookend I was part of the initial group of people who discussed the idea. The consensus was that Leeds is consistently under-represented and a central Leeds festival could change this by blowing Leeds' huge literary trumpet and celebrate the city's rich heritage.

Tony's appearance is timed well after BBC Radio 4's February documentary looking at the reaction to his reading of the poem on Channel 4 in 1987. Tony hasn't appeared in his home city for quite some time, but this will change on Sunday 9 June when he will take the stage at the West Yorkshire Playhouse, read some of his poems and answer questions from Anthony Clavane.

Tony is the perfect headliner for this event and a bit of a hero of mine, not just for his fabulous writing but for his championing of the expressions of 'ordinary' people which is central to Leeds literature and, in turn, the Leeds Big Bookend.

It's good to see the West Yorkshire Playhouse get involved in this event and becoming more involved with material that reflects their catchment area and USP. This is one of the things that differentiates the Leeds Big Bookend from many lit fests; its focus on the local, on Leeds. I'm not a big fan of publicly funded or 'community' arts festivals, for me, they're too often predictable and nepotistic; aiming at, doing for, rather than with people or looking for talent from outside their particular clique.

Big Bookend receives no public funding and one of their projects has particularly caught my eye. LS13 is a project organised by Wes Brown looking for 20 of the best 'young' Leeds writers and it's open to everyone under 40.

Describing the project, Wes says: "LS13 is about uncovering a new generation of writers at work in Leeds today. Where is Leeds today? Who are its new voices? The winners will be published in a print and E-Book anthology, perform at the Leeds Big Bookend 2013 and take part in a number of events across the city."

Wes is an interesting character; an activist, an enabler but most importantly an exciting writer. He runs the Young Writers' Hub for the National Association of Writers in Education (NAWE), set up Dead Ink, a digital-only publisher, and is Co-Chair of the Society of Young Publishers in the North and Midlands.

I first became aware of Wes when I read his debut novel Shark a colourful, fabulously written study of 'working-class' life and alienation. A revised version of this novel will be launched at the Made In Leeds event where Wes will read, answer questions about the novel and talk with Anthony Clavane about the wider impact of Leeds writers.

You can see a full run down of events on the Leeds Big Bookend website but I'd also point to the event featuring adopted Leeds lad Boff Whalley, which will no doubt be entertaining. Formerly of Chumbawamba, Boff will be playing some of his music, reading from his most recent book, Run Wild and talking about his life.

I've decided not to mention the play Boff wrote, which Red Ladder Theatre Company are putting on during the festival. It's the tale of a Lancastrian suffragette at a festival bigging-up Leeds and I'd end up sounding peevish by asking why Leeds' Mary Gawthorpe wasn't chosen as the subject of the play.

You'll not find a more interesting, working class suffragette than Mary Gawthorpe. This looks like a chance missed, but at least it's from a working class perspective and may ask questions of the deification of the Pankhursts.

Right, the campaign, for next year, to get Leeds Young Authors a slot, We Are Poets a special showing and John Lake out to talk about his Leeds 6 trilogy, starts here.

Anyway, People Of Leeds, your city needs you. Do you use words? If so, get y'butt down the Leeds Big Bookend in June and make this fabulous festival magical. Only we can do that. And let's hope this marvellous celebration can continue to cling onto that which makes it so special: its very Leedsness.

Mick McCann is a writer based in Leeds whose books include the local encyclopaedia How Leeds Changed the World

Mick McCann

The GuardianTramp

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