A star-packed line up, including Benjamin Zephaniah and Charlie Higson, has been announced for the first ever Festival of Literature for Young People (FLY).
The festival, which runs from July 8-12 at the University of East Anglia (UEA) has been created specifically for 11-17 year olds. The week-long programme of events will also feature authors including Cathy Cassidy, Bali Rai, Meg Rosoff, Mal Peet, Martyn Bedford, Alan Gibbons and Alexander Gordon Smith, all known for their writing for young people.
Natalie Bailey, FLY festival director, said the event is a first for the region: “Norwich is already rich in festivals, including the prestigious autumn and spring literary festivals hosted by the university, but FLY has been created because no major literary event for young people of this age group currently exists in the region.
“We are excited to be able to bring such notable writers to UEA, to allow young people access to their favourite authors.
“It is also the perfect timing for such an event. Norwich has become the first UNESCO City of Literature in England, the creative writing programme at UEA won the Queen’s Award last year and we’re celebrating the 50th anniversary of the university this year.”
Studies have shown literacy levels for this age group are not as high as they should be. Only 17 per cent of 15-17 year olds read daily and 17 per cent of 16-19 year olds have reading levels lower than the average 11 year old.
Natalie said: “We’re aiming to bring in young people who might not think literature is for them, as well as those who already love reading or writing. From Benjamin Zephaniah’s dub poetry to Cathy Cassidy’s young adult fiction, there will be something for everyone.”
The festival has over 70 events over the five days including reading and talks from many of the UK’s best-loved and award-winning writers for young people and workshops on everything literary from blogs to drama and song lyrics to graphic novels.
Benjamin Zephaniah, a writer, dub poet and Rastafarian known for his writing about ‘street’ politics and energetic performance poetry, said: “I’ve been offered lots of gigs this year but I’ve only agreed to do a limited number, one of which is FLY. It’s a new festival, for young people and taking place in an area I haven’t performed in for years.”
Benjamin’s work is widely taught in UK schools. Amongst his wide and varied collection of poems, songs and novels he has written poetry collections and five novels specifically aimed at young people.
The festival won’t just focus on fiction writing and poetry. Also on the programme are talks and readings covering illustration, graphic novels, lyric composition and script writing.
Daytime events will be exclusively for young people with workshops and talks for school groups. On the evenings of Tuesday July 9 to Friday July 12, the festival will host talks open to children, parents and the public with Cathy Cassidy, Tony Lee, Benjamin Zephaniah and Charlie Higson.
Charlie Higson, formerly one of the main writers for BBC Two’s The Fast Show, is a UEA alumnus and wrote the highly successful series of Young Bond novels, aimed at younger readers and concentrating on the James Bond character’s school days. He is also currently writing a zombie-horror series of books.
He said: “I’m very excited to be involved in this new festival, taking place at my old university.”
Festival producer Antoinette Moses said: “This is a wonderful way to reach out to the region where we are based and give something back. FLY is an unusual and innovative Festival that combines everything that a university does with what a festival does, that’s to say it will be both fun and entertaining, but also educational.
“We are certain FLY offers the right mix of authors and activity because it has been created by its audience. Students and teachers at local schools were invited to take part in focus groups from the start and it was their ideas which prompted the programming. Students from local schools will also be the eyes and the ears of the festival by taking on a role on the festival media team.”
Teachers and school librarians will also be given the opportunity to benefit from the unique event with one day dedicated to exploring teaching methods and how to engage more children in literature.
Bookings for daytime school group events can be made online from Monday April 29 on a first-come, first-served basis and are just £2.50 per child. Subsidised places are also available for all children who receive free school meals or who are in care.
Evening talk tickets will be available online from Monday April 22 at £6 a ticket. The teacher and librarian professional development day is priced at £55 with limited places available.
FLY has been funded by generous grants from the Arts Council England, UEA Annual Fund, John Jarrold Trust, Arts Project Fund (run by Norfolk County Council) and by key sponsor the Norwich Institute for Language Education.
For more information, visit www.uea.ac.uk/fly. For regular updates in the run up to the week, follow FLY on Twitter (@UEAFLYFestival) and Facebook (www.facebook.com/UEAFLYFestival).