Booking opens for Ilkley Literature Festival’s golden anniversary

Tickets are now on sale for the Ilkley Literature Festival, which is celebrating its 50th year with a headline slot by Leeds Professor of Poetry Simon Armitage.

A host of University of Leeds researchers and writers will feature in the 50th anniversary programme, sharing their work with a community of book lovers.

With a line-up including Jacqueline Wilson, Clare Balding, Gyles Brandreth and Monica Ali, the festival takes place from 6-22 October 2023. 

The festival has strong links with the University’s School of English dating back to the first event in 1973. This year, the School’s Professor of Poetry and Poet Laureate Simon Armitage hosts an evening discussing his lyrical works, and the thriving Leeds Poetry Centre puts on a showcase of readings.  

I'm always excited to appear at the Festival, and proud that Leeds University has developed such strong links with the programme and the town. Happy birthday and here's to the next half a century....

Professor Simon Armitage

Leeds academics from the Faculties of Arts, Humanities and Cultures and Social Sciences will also inspire the local community and festivalgoers from far and wide with their surprising research findings, giving talks about Charles Dickens’ love life, sugar’s bad reputation, the misleading history of genetics research and folk music in western culture. 

Professor Armitage said: “Ilkley has become a home for literature over the past fifty years, giving it somewhere to live and breathe and do its many varied things. I'm always excited to appear at the Festival, and proud that Leeds University has developed such strong links with the programme and the town. Happy birthday and here's to the next half a century...”

Programme highlights 

Greg Radick: Disputed Inheritance (Saturday 7 October, 5pm) 

Learn how much genetics really influence our bodies and lives with Professor Gregory Radick, historian of science. Returning us to a bitter feud over the pea experiments by the “father of genetics”, Gregor Mendel, Professor Radick conjures an alternative future for genetics. 

Book tickets for Greg Radick: Disputed Inheritance 

Simon Armitage: Never Good With Horses – Assembled Lyrics (Saturday 7 October, 7.30pm)  

Long-time friend of the festival, Professor of Poetry at the University and the nation’s Poet Laureate, Simon Armitage returns to Ilkley to discuss his first-ever collection of lyrics, ‘Never Good with Horses’.  

Book tickets for Simon Armitage: Never Good With Horses 

Poetry one-to-one with John Whale (Saturday 14 October, 10am)  

An incredible opportunity to receive a one-to-one session with poet, Professor John Whale – editor of Stand magazine and Director of the University of Leeds Poetry Centre – who will offer personalised feedback and editorial advice on poets’ work.  

Book tickets for Poetry one-to-one with John Whale 

University of Leeds Poetry Showcase (Saturday 14 October, 4pm)  

A showcase of readings by exceptional poets associated with the thriving University of Leeds Poetry Centre. Confirmed participating poets include Professor Kimberly CampanelloDr Jess RichardsDr Caitlin Stobie and Professor John Whale with more to come.  

Book tickets for University of Leeds Poetry Showcase

Emily Bell: A Bad Poet – Dickens in Love (Saturday 14 October, 5pm)  

Why don’t we know Charles Dickens as a poet, when he penned more than 80 verses during his lifetime? Join University of Leeds academic Dr Emily Bell as she explores Dickens’ earliest romance and heartbreak through the lens of the poems he wrote to his first love, Maria Beadnell – including an acrostic and parodies of other writers such as Lord Byron.  

Book tickets for Emily Bell: A Bad Poet 

Darwin and the Ilkley Pudding (Sunday 15 October, 12pm) 

In this talk, Mike Dixon and Professor Gregory Radick share new evidence on what Darwin got up to on his journey to the North, what he took away for his future scientific work, and what – according to his wife Emma – was in Ilkley Pudding. 

Book tickets for Darwin and the Ilkley Pudding 

The Darwin Walking Tour with Mike Dixon and Gregory Radick (Saturday 21 October, 1pm) 

Beginning the walk near the commemorative plaque in the Darwin Gardens, join science historians Professor Gregory Radick and Mike Dixon on a walk to the places Darwin visited during his stay in Ilkley from October to December 1859.  

Book tickets for the Darwin Walking Tour 

Ross Cole: Folk Music and the Roots of Belonging (Saturday 21 October, 2.30pm) 

Dr Ross Cole, Lecturer in Popular Music, traces the emergence of the idea of folk music in western culture and tracks its tenacious trail across the centuries, right up to the present day.  

Book tickets for Ross Cole: Folk Music and the Roots of Belonging 

Karen Throsby: Sugar Rush (Saturday 21 October, 5pm)  

Do you have a sweet tooth? Or do you avoid sweet treats like the plague? Join Professor Karen Throsby as she draws on journalism, government policy, public health campaigns, self-help books, autobiographies and documentaries to explore the social life of sugar.  

Book Tickets for Karen Throsby: Sugar Rush 

Further information 

Email University of Leeds Press Officer Mia Saunders at with media enquiries. 

Browse the Ilkley Literature Festival 2023 Programme online.