Festival Preview: Off the Shelf Festival of Words, various venues, Sheffield, until November 3 2012
One of the finest literary festivals in the country, Off the Shelf’s rapid growth is reflected in 200 events across more than 80 venues this year.
“It has a particular buzz and vibrancy about it,” says Stephen May, one of the authors taking part, pinning this energy on the “spirited nature” of the steel city.
“If people are frightened of literature or think that literary festivals aren’t for them, you just have to look in the brochure. It’s a privilege to be a part of it alongside an eclectic mix of people and a fantastic line-up of names.”
Perhaps the most high-profile inclusion this year is a work by Jackie Kay – she of multiple poetry awards, moving works on trans-racial adoption, an MBE and a Creative Writing professorial post at Newcastle University – which will be read out at Sheffield United’s stadium on October 29.
Kay has been commissioned by the festival to write a poem about the beautiful game, to be broadcast on a big screen at Bramall Lane and included in the programme as part of Kick it Out, the anti-discrimination campaign which has achieved much across a sport too often tainted by racism this year.
Elsewhere there are slam sessions, meet-the-author events, appearances by Madchester’s finest (Tom Hingley, of Inspiral Carpets, who reckons the festival “puts the DNA of cultural thinking, ideas and understanding under the microscope”) and fairs.
“When I first heard about Off the Shelf I thought, ‘that is exactly what I am trying to do with my poetry – take it off the shelf'”, says Benjamin Zephaniah, whose latest appearance here comes as a guest curator.
“What I do know is how passionate the people behind the festival are – and you can’t bring literature and poetry to life without passion.
“I find myself at ease in Sheffield and the welcome I receive hasn’t changed. To walk through the city and see my poetry on a wall in a public place is one of the greatest honours I could ever have.”