Local Lit: Bristol

23rd Feb 2015

Bristol Cathedral
Image: Bristol Cathedral - Wikimedia Commons 2015
Bristol is well known as a hub of creativity. From Aardman, the creators of 'Wallace and Gromit', to graffiti artist Banksy and the bands Portishead and Goldfrapp. With a sizeable chunk of the BBC based in Bristol, there is no shortage of artistic types in this city, but what of the literary scene? Bristol may be more famous for film and music, but bookish events are popping up everywhere. Read on to find out more!


Bristol has a long literary history, with both Wordsworth and Coleridge writing some of their work in the city and Jane Austen featuring the folly at Blaise Castle Estate in her gothic parody, Northanger Abbey.

These days, Bristol is home to the poet and novelist Helen Dunmore, who won the Orange Prize for A Spell of Winter in 1996 and was again shortlisted for The Siege in 2002. Flash fiction pioneer, short story writer and poet, Tania Hershman, is also based in Bristol, as is the wonderful Beatrice Hitchman, whose debut novel Petite Mort is reviewed here.


Bristol is home to the only branch of Foyles outside the capital, which opened in 2011. The shop has two floors and an impressive range of books, as well as a café and event space for storytelling sessions, reading groups and author events.

Slightly less mainstream is the bookshop at the Arnolfini, one of Europe’s leading centres for contemporary arts. This shop stocks over 100 magazines and periodicals on art and literature, as well as a huge range of books on contemporary art and culture.

Finally, based to the north of the city centre, Durdham Down Bookshop is a long-established Bristol indie, hosting a monthly book group as well as author events.


Women’s Literature Festival (March)

Siân Norris, tired of book festival line-ups and literary review sections being dominated by men, decided to take action, and in 2013 the Bristol Women’s Literature Festival was born (she talked to us about the process here). With a fantastic line-up including Bidisha, Stella Duffy and Helen Dunmore, the festival was a massive success and is returning again this year with more superstar names. Leading academics, campaigners and award-winning novelists and poets, such as Michèle Roberts, Helen Mort and Nimco Ali, will take to the stage to celebrate the work of women writers and promote women’s writing and history.

Unputdownable: Bristol Festival of Literature (October)

This not-for-profit, nine-day annual festival is organised by local writers, publishers and bookish-types and takes place at venues across the city, from cafés and theatres to schools and prisons. The best UK and international authors are invited to perform at readings and discussions, but there are also community events and writing masterclasses for all levels, which aim to encourage fiction to engage with the real world. Previous participants have included Vanessa Kisuule, Anna Freeman and Poet Laureate of Jamaica, Mervyn Morris.

Bristol Poetry Festival (April/May and September)

Run by the Bristol-based charity Poetry Can, which promotes poetry across the South-West, the Bristol Poetry Festival aims to deliver a programme of readings, performances and activities to showcase the most inspiring and entertaining contemporary poets working locally, nationally and internationally.


Britain’s oldest theatre and home to the highly respected drama school that gave us Patrick Stewart, Miranda Richardson, Olivia Coleman among others, is also a centre of literary creativity. As well as providing opportunities and support for writers, Bristol Old Vic also provides the venue for Blahblahblah, a monthly spoken-word event, organised in collaboration with Word of Mouth.


Word of Mouth is a partnership between local publishers City Chameleon and Tangent Books to promote regular literature events in Bristol, creating a platform for both local artists and those touring nationally and internationally. They have a regular performance evening at the Thunderbolt pub and have hosted writers such as Tania Hershman, Lucy English and Molly Naylor.


Bristol is home to two universities: the old one, which offers no fewer than six different undergraduate degrees in English, and the newer one – UWE (University of the West of England) – which offers at least ten undergraduate courses in literature and creative writing-based subjects.


Bristol is home to 27 local libraries and the impressive Bristol Central Library stands proudly next to the cathedral on College Green in the city centre. Built in 1906 and considered influential in the development of Edwardian Free Style architecture, the library is now designated a grade I listed building. Various literary readings and events take place here, including book groups and services for ethnic minorities, disabled and LGBT communities.



Are there any literary hot spots or Bristol-based authors we’ve missed? Get in touch on Twitter or Facebook and let us know!