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Leeds Lit Fest at Hyde Park Book Club

By Lydia Kendall-McDougall

Image credit: Leeds Lit Fest

When sitting down to write a summary piece on the Leeds Lit Fest events at Hyde Park Book Club, I wasn’t sure what to focus on within the multitude of workshops, talks, Q&As and open mics. But it occurred to me that they all had one thing in common: the venue. It’s easy to forget about where you are while you’re experiencing an event, but it struck me that a great deal of what made these events so memorable was the fact that they were held in a cosy and friendly café-turned-venue-turned-bar that has as much to offer to the events as the events did to me.

I’ve been going to Hyde Park Book Club pretty frequently for the last three years; I’ve been with friends, I’ve had committee meetings there, I’ve taken my family there, I’ve popped in hungover for a piece of homemade cake and a board game. It’s so multifaceted that it offers something for everyone and can hold an event for any occasion, whether you’re looking for a cuppa and a chat, a jazz night, a gig, an acoustic set, or somewhere to get your essay done. There are a lot of wonderful places in Leeds that don’t just stick to one thing, but I do think Hyde Park Book Club is the best example. And that’s why I think it’s the perfect place to hold Leeds Lit Fest, which at its centre is designed to offer such a huge range of literature in all its forms, which in turn requires many different kinds of event. As a festival which aims to give voice to every background, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, class, and everything in-between,

Hyde Park Book Club housed events which aided in the strive to make everyone heard in a sensitive, loving and safe environment. And, as such a well-known nook in the student centre of Leeds, it served as an accessible and well-loved environment to experience and appreciate all kinds of literature.

Two particularly memorable events for me were the Poetry and Resistance workshop and the talk/Q&A with DJ and Journalist Dave Haslam. Despite being two very different events and taking place in the same day, they were perfectly suited to the venue and both unique enough to feel like you’ve learned and experienced something new during both. The Poetry and Resistance workshop was held in the snug at 9am on Sunday morning, which is usually a bit early for my liking, but it was lovely. Led by poet Abdullah Adekola, we sat surrounded by plants in a small circle, and discussed the relationship between poetry, resistance and colonialism. We began by introducing ourselves and our relationships with poetry, and it was interesting to see such a wide range of backgrounds; there were a few literature students, a woman currently writing a memoir alongside her poetry (which will soon be published by Peepal, entitled Digging For My Mother’s Bones), and some who were not well acquainted with poetry and were simply curious. It stood out to me how accessible this event was to people both well versed in poetry and who wanted to learn more, and the venue made it feel completely comfortable and not at all threatening. We were encouraged to use a poem chosen by Adekola as a prompt to write our own, and this was a fun exercise that didn’t feel pressurising (I am no poet myself). What I enjoyed the most about this workshop though, was what I learned from Adekola about religion, heritage and name-giving. It was a great opportunity not only to write, but to listen.

The talk with Dave Haslam was housed in the basement of Book Club during the evening, a fairly small and intimate space which is nicely secluded from the noise upstairs. The basement feels like its own space, and the closeness to the stage meant it was extremely immersive. Haslam spoke about his career as a DJ, famously at the Haçienda in Manchester and now across the world. He’s written five books, most notably Sonic Youth Slept on My Floor, as well as having published three new novellas about Courtney Love and selling his vinyl collection. He was then interviewed by University of Leeds’ very own Denis Flannery, an Associate Professor in the School of English, and they discussed celebrities, writing and identity among other things. My friend and I were perhaps the youngest people there, which took me out of the student bubble, but that was something I appreciated, and only goes to show how much Book Club and the Lit Fest are loved by everyone. I learned a great deal about the UK music scene throughout the 1980s, more microscopically and personally than I ever have before. Having Haslam casually tell anecdotes about not only the people he met and places he visited but also his own thoughts and feelings at the time was incredibly personal. Being sat alongside people a similar age to him who no doubt were parts of that inspiring scene themselves, and my dad being a DJ in Nottingham during the 80s being on my periphery, made it so that everyone found something that related to their own lives.

Overall, the Lit Fest at Hyde Park Book Club was a pleasure to attend, and I am very much looking forward to the venue’s upcoming events. Being a student and lover of literature myself, the venue provided a wonderful space to take part and learn new things, and there was definitely something in it for everyone.

If you’d like to explore Abdullah Adekola’s poetry, it can be found on his Instagram: @adekolapoetry or follow Hyde Park Book Club here to find out more about their upcoming events.