And there’s more! exciting news from Words Of Colour

This is guest post from our friends at Words Of Colour.

The UK’s first academic study on diversity in trade fiction and publishing calls on the industry to “radically reimagine” its audience and to “rethink diversity” in the 21st century

Rethinking ‘Diversity’ in Publishing, the first in-depth study in the UK on diversity in trade fiction, will call on publishers to “radically reimagine” the traditional white middle-class reader and to “value” diverse audiences at its launch today (Tuesday 23 June 2020).

Written by Dr Anamik Saha and Dr Sandra van Lente, the project is a partnership between Goldsmiths, University of London, Spread the Word and The Bookseller, and is based on interviews with authors, agents and representatives from all of the major publishing houses, including CEOs and managing directors, editors, designers and marketing, PR and sales staff.

Primarily focusing on the so-called ‘neutral’ components of publishing (acquisition, promotion, sales and retail), the report found:

  • assumptions about audiences being white and middle-class still prevail, which is the only audience the big publishers are interested in
  • publishers still see writers of colour as a ‘commercial risk’
  • Black, Asian and minority ethnic and working-class audiences are undervalued by publishers, economically and culturally, impacting on the acquisition, promotion and selling of writers of colour
  • comping practices, when books deemed similar are compared to others as a predictor of sales, create obstacles that privilege established authors and restrict ‘new voices’
  • continued ambiguity of ‘diversity’ as both a moral and economic imperative.

In the report’s foreword, 2019 Booker Prize winner Bernardine Evaristo said: “Rethinking ‘Diversity’ in Publishing arrives as another clarion call to an industry which, with all the apparent goodwill in the world, hasn’t changed fast enough to become more inclusive. There is also the misguided belief, still in the 21st century, that Black and Asian people are not considered to be a substantial readership, or to even be readers. I hope that those who need to read this report pay attention to its recommendations on target audiences, notions of quality and partnerships for change.”

Dr Anamik Saha, Lead Researcher for Rethinking ‘Diversity’ in Publishing, said: “Our study finds that publishers and booksellers do not have the resources, know-how, or sadly, the inclination to reach wider audiences. They do not see the economic or cultural benefit. Big publishers and booksellers need to radically reimagine their audience. The entire industry is essentially set up to cater for white, middle-class readers, in terms of the books it produces, the media it engages, even the look and feel of bookstores and the demographics they serve. This has to change.”

Philip Jones, Editor of The Bookseller, said: “Rethinking ‘Diversity’ in Publishing isn’t just another report into publishing’s poor record on diversity. It scratches beneath the surface and digs into why publishing, for all of its fine words and initiatives, is changing very slowly, and why much of the good work is now being done by new presses (outside the corporates) and by individuals who did not find publishing willing to change. As an industry we need to understand the way forward. This report, which The Bookseller was pleased to support from its beginning, can put the trade on that journey.”

For that journey to happen, the ‘opacity’ of online retailers (many of whom declined to participate in the study) who change parameters which affect the algorithms on book trends and readership, has to be more transparent. The report also claims that supermarkets could do more to reach diverse communities instead of only selling a limited range of books.

Award-winning author Alex Wheatle MBE said: “We have a wonderful opportunity to address the disparities in the publishing industry now that we have everyone’s attention. We want to work with partners to address all of these inequities, and publishers now need to invest in the value of Black writing. Publishers need to understand the value of Black narratives and not be seen, in their minds, as of lesser value commercially. Publishers need to see these narratives on their own terms, as great storytelling, and to market and support them in the way they deserve.”

Rishi Dastidar, Chair, Spread the Word, said: “The need to rethink diversity shouldn’t be viewed as a negative, far from it. The report clearly shows that there are untapped audiences that can be reached and sold to. #PublishingPaidMe and the launch of the Black Writers’ Guild show that publishing absolutely has a role to play in changing the unequal landscape. Through fiction and non-fiction, the industry is in a prime position to tell the stories that we all need to know and hear. So we must do all we can to start to dismantle the structures, and assumptions, that hold writers of colour back.”

Among its wide-ranging recommendations, the report calls on publishers, agents and booksellers to reflect on, and challenge, their practices, behaviour and cultural biases, and to develop strategic alliances with, and to invest in, writing agencies and audience engagement practitioners to help identify and develop talented writers of colour.

The report will be launched as part of a virtual #RethinkingDiversityWeek from 12pm on Tuesday 23 June to Friday 26 June 2020.


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Exciting new initiative from Words of Colour

This is a guest post on behalf of our friends at Words of Colour

New professional and creative development hub for emerging writers of colour aims to inspire the next generation of new voices in UK publishing

 Award-winning journalist and writer Gary Younge and 2019 Costa Poetry Award winner Mary Jean Chan are among the confirmed presenters

Some of the country’s leading novelists, poets, playwrights, literary agents and publishers of colour will be sharing their expertise as part of the Take Flight Hub, a new professional and creative development programme for emerging Black and Asian writers, to be launched on Tuesday 30th June 2020.

A collaboration between University College London (UCL), Spread the Word and Words of Colour, the virtual hub will provide free talks, masterclasses, workshops, panel discussions and presentations over five weeks, made possible by a grant from the UCL Knowledge and Innovation Rapid Response fund.

Take Flight Hub asset 1

Alongside masterclasses by journalist and writer Gary Younge on polemical writing and Inua Ellams on the fundamentals of dialogue and location in playwriting, Mary Jean Chan will offer advice on sustaining your career as a poet,  while author Patrice Lawrence will shed light on writing convincing multicultural characters for YA fiction.

Writers will have the chance to meet literary agents, such as Emma Paterson and Elise Dillsworth, hear from inclusive publishers, including Valerie Brandes (Jacaranda Books) and Sharmaine Lovegrove (Dialogue Books) and understand the power of non-fiction to transform society with Jhalak Prize 2020 winner Johny Pitts, #Merky Books inaugural signing Derek Owusu and writer and academic Darren Chetty, as well as other dynamic presenters.

The Take Flight Hub was inspired by BookTrust Represents research conducted by Dr Melanie Ramdarshan Bold, Associate Professor in Publishing and Book Cultures at UCL, which found that emerging writers of colour needed support, advice and access as part of an industry-focused network to help sustain their careers.

Dr Melanie Ramdarshan Bold said: “The Take Flight Hub, based on the recommendations from my research, is a direct intervention for the next generation of writers of colour and will offer support to access, navigate, and thrive in the publishing process. Not only will it help emerging writers of colour develop their craft, and learn from established writers and publishing professionals, but it will also assist them to build networks that are important for their careers. The fact that this programme is by and for people of colour – talking about, and teaching, their craft rather than ‘diversity’ – is really powerful.”

Ruth Harrison, Director, Spread the Word, said: “This is a fantastic opportunity for writers of colour to not only find out more about the industry and how they can progress their writing careers, but also to develop their craft through masterclasses and workshops led by some of UK’s leading writers, poets and playwrights. With the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on Black and Asian communities showing the longstanding structural inequalities and racism in the UK, it is vital to be creating spaces for writers of colour that have development, community and wellbeing at their heart.”

Joy Francis, Executive Director, Words of Colour Productions, said: “Various studies have highlighted publishing’s slow progress on inclusion and diversity over the past 16 years. This failure is creating unwitting casualties among Black and Asian writers. We are losing many of them to other industries as they are convinced their stories will never be published, marketed or read, as they should be. The Take Flight Hub is just one example of what can be created through collaboration and vision, at a challenging time, by providing opportunities for emerging writers of colour to not only understand the publishing landscape, but how to navigate it while being inspired by those who are paving the way for them to follow.”

The hub’s launch is timely amid #PublishingPaidMe on the lack of pay parity between Black and non-Black writers, followed by the recent open letter from the Black Writers’ Guild calling for more diverse narratives in mainstream publishing as publishers aren’t addressing their own “racial inequality”.

Publisher Valerie Brandes, founder of the award-winning Jacaranda Books, said: “Writers need to be able to write. They need to be able to develop their craft and grow in their process. And they have to know and believe that when they have done the hard work, that there are real and viable opportunities for them to be published and have sustained careers, not as the one superstar, or the two or three stars, but as a constellation of great Black British writing, existing to represent who we are now and for centuries to come.”

Award-winning poet Mary Jean Chan said: “There has been significant progress made in terms of programmes such as The Complete Works in poetry and Creative Access which seeks to improve diversity and inclusion in British creative organisations, but we still have a long way to go. That being said, I do hope emerging writers of colour can see that writers, critics, agents, editors and publishers of colour (and their allies) are all working hard to ensure that the literary industry becomes a more equitable place for them.”

In addition to the hub’s main programme, there will be a series of podcasts featuring advice and tips from leading writers of colour, based in the UK and abroad, which will be produced and launched at the end of the programme and made available to the wider public.

Tickets for the Take Flight Hub programme can be booked from the week commencing Monday 22nd June 2020.

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BWLF is cancelled – but our online festival hub is LIVE!

Dear friends and literature lovers,

Cancellations of literary festivals are going to hit authors, publishers and booksellers hard with lost earnings and lost sales. One way we can help our favourite writers during this crisis is to share, celebrate and buy their work, which is why we have launched our online festival “hub”. We’ll be sharing links from our writers, including to their books, their journalism, their talks and podcasts… and we would encourage you to order their books from Bristol’s Storysmith shop to support local literary business.

So sit back, imagine yourself in the Watershed, and discover our amazing writers!

Virago Press: balancing purpose and profit in feminist publishing

You can access D-M Withers’ workshop research online, and also order their book The Feminist Revolution, written with Bonnie J Morris from Virago. D-M Withers is also a publisher and writer, and in the band Bellies.

The Launch Party

Featuring Shagufta Iqbal, Rebecca Kosick, Malaika Kegode, Janne Teller and Karolina Ramqvist.

Launch Party montage

Discover 28 European women with Comma Press’ Europa 28 (and read Leila Slimani on her contribution) – and treat yourself to the revolutionary works by Janne Teller and Karolina Ramqvist.

Shagufta Iqbals collection Jam Is For Girls is one of the most important books I’ve read and blurbed – you can buy it direct from Burning Eye. You can listen to her Tedx Talk and watch her perform her Jam is for girls, girls get jam.

Burning Eye also publish Malaika Kegode, and you can watch her perform too.

And we are so proud of Rebecca Kosick for her debut collection which you can order direct from her publisher. You can see her read from her collection at 10.30pm on Sunday 5 April, find out more!

Hadley Freeman discusses House of Glass

Hadley Freeman byline picture. Photo by Linda Nylind. 24/5/2013

Hadley Freeman byline picture. Photo by Linda Nylind. 24/5/2013

You’ve all seen the reviews which are glowing in every way. You can buy Hadley Freeman’s extraordinary memoir of her family, House of Glass – and while you’re there check out Be Awesome as well as Life Moves Pretty Fast which she talks about here.

The Tortoise is hosting an online book club to discuss Hadley’s book, get the app and join in the discussion.

Writing the news

Write the news montage

We need brilliant, forensic and diverse journalism more than ever and these fabulous women provide it.

Anoosh Chakelian‘s excellent reporting explores the issues caused by austerity, something which is perhaps even more important as we move forward with this crisis. Her latest piece looks at the situation for vital but often exploited workers who will be pivotal in fighting the pandemic.

My (Sian) amazing editor Nandini Archer has exposed some of the most shocking examples of healthcare misinformation targeting vulnerable women. You can listen to her talk about her latest global report into crisis pregnancy centres on Woman’s Hour.

Coco Khan explores gender, race, community, family – she’s funny and fabulous and you can also read her in The Good Immigrant and in It’s Not About the Burkha. Back in 2017 she talked to Hay Festival about ideas that matter.

Bidisha has been an awesome support for the festival from day one – in fact she is the reason the festival exists. So do what you can to support her work, from buying her books to watching her incredible film.

We were really excited to add Colombian and London based journalist Camille Mijola to our line-up as part of an initiative to support an emerging journalism talent – sadly we couldn’t in the end but you can read her articles, she specialises in exposing Red Pill culture.

Women Writing Today

Women writing today montage

It’s a tricky time for debut writers like Rosanna Amaka, who has an extraordinary novel represented by Bristol’s very own Good Agency. Treat yourself to her Book Of Echoes.

Fiona Benson’s poetry collection Vertigo & Ghost is one to read, treasure, read again, treasure longer. You can hear her perform, too.

We were so excited to welcome Naomi Wood back to Bristol but instead, escape with her to Paris and the riviera and Key West with Mrs Hemingway, or to Germany on the brink of crisis, with The Hiding Game.

Yvonne Battle-Felton‘s Remembered was long-listed for the Women’s Prize and we can’t wait to see what she’ll do next. Watch her talk about why I write, in 2017.

The wonderful Sarah LeFanu has been a great support to us all here at BWLF since the beginning and a champion of women’s writing since her days at the Women’s Press and before. Her new book Something of Themselves is worth your time.

Viv Groskop lifts us all up!


We could all do with a lift right now! And Viv Groskop‘s new book provides just that… Lift As You Climb. Also have a watch her talk about her previous book, How To Own A Room.

Writing our lives

Memoir montage

Clover Stroud‘s memoir of motherhood, My Wild And Sleepless Nights, has received rave reviews for its honesty and rawness – while The Wild Other is a book of outdoors, loss, family, just what we need for right now. Watch this 2017 interview with Clover, following the publication of The Wild Other.

You can watch live interviews with Clover and a range of great writer on her Instagram @clover.stroud every Tuesday at 830pm, and Friday at 1.30pm.

Zeba Talkhani‘s debut is a memoir exploring how she found herself as a Muslim feminist.

Juliet Jacques‘ Verso-published memoir details her experience of transitioning. This 2017 interview with Juliet gives you a great insight into her work.

A novelist, essayist and explorer of auto-fiction, Olivia Sudjic’s Exposure looks at anxiety while her novel Sympathy reflects on our social media existence. You can watch Olivia discuss Exposure in this fascinating video.

Chair Professor Madhu Krishnan is one of our most important academics and author – you can see some of her work here and listen to her speak about her career.

Professor Helen Taylor on why we read fiction


Professor Helen Taylor has been a huge support for the festival from day one – speaking at our events and chairing panels. She’s been an absolute rock and inspiration since I first tentatively explored the idea in 2012. Her book, Why Women Read Fiction, is a thought-provoking delight. She’s also written about women’s relationship with Gone With The Wind.

Women in translation

Women in translation montage 3

Thank you to translator extraordinaire Rosalind Harvey for curating this panel. She’s translated books by Juan-Pablo Villalobos and Guadalupe Nettel, and is a founder of the Emerging Translators Network.

You can buy the first ever book by a female writer from Equatorial Guinea translated into English direct from Feminist Press – it’s La Bastarda by Trifonia Melibea Obono and translated by Lawrence Schimel. This 50 minute film gives you an insight into her writing of the book.

Laia Jufresa‘s Umami has been translated into so many languages and into English by Sophie Hughes (who also co-edited Europa 28!). You can watch the two of them in conversation.

Olivia Hellewell has translated so many books that make our culture richer as we celebrate stories from elsewhere – including Goran Vojnović, The Fig Tree and Jela Krečič, None Like Her – and she runs workshops and speaks regularly at events. In fact, here she is giving a workshop at the British Centre for Literary Translation.

Writing the wild

Writing the wild montage

The wonderful Laura Keeling curated this fantastic panel, and has been such an incredible support to me and to the festival since we met way back in 2015 at a Shakespeare & Company event with Joanna Walsh.

Walking in the woods is still something we can do even during these dark times. Sara Maitland‘s Gossip from the Forest is an extraordinary blending of nature writing, social history and the folkloric. Her other books include A Book of Silence, and Moss Witch. Watch Sara talk landscape, place and silence.

Bristol’s very own Zakiya McKenzie was the writer in residence for the Forestry Commission and you can see the work she produced for her residency here. Her audio essay on nature and people for Nightwaves gives you a beautiful insight into her storytelling.

Isabel Hardman‘s forthcoming The Natural Health Service explores the links between being outdoors and mental health – another book for our times! Her first book, Why We Get The Wrong Politicians is also out now (best not say too much about its relationship to our times right now!). Back in 2016 she talked to Clare Balding about nature and depression.

Lia Leendertz is another Bristol resident whose Almanack Series provide hope and beauty as well as recipes and tips for sustainable living. Watch Lia talk about launching her almanack series.

Chair Dr Samantha Walton is a poet, academic and writer whose work on Nan Shepherd is truly inspiring. You can see her talking about Shepherd on BBC’s Winterwatch and buy her poetry from Boiler House Press.

We’ll continue to update this page with news, performances, publications and essays from our writers. So make sure you come back for more!

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It is with a very heavy heart that we have decided to cancel Bristol Women’s Literature Festival in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

This has been a very hard decision to make but the changing situation and the fact that a festival involves lots of people travelling from far and wide to meet in a confined space means that this feels like the most responsible course of action. Much of our audience will be in the vulnerable cohort, or have family members who are at risk. We also have to consider our team and our speakers. We feel it is better to take this action now.


If you have tickets for the Launch Party, please see SPIKE ISLAND for refunds.

If you have tickets for the Saturday and Sunday events, please see WATERSHED for refunds.

Helen Lewis

The Helen Lewis event is run by Bristol Festival of Ideas is being postponed. Please keep an eye on their website for any changes.

Thank you

We appreciate some people will be disappointed that the festival won’t be taking place. As we say, this has been a difficult decision to reach and all the team are gutted that we aren’t going ahead. BWLF is a labour of love for all of us and we have worked so hard these six months to put together a programme we are proud of. So please be kind in your responses.

Sadly, cancelling means we will no longer be able to fundraise for our partner charity, Womankind Bristol. If you would like to give the value of your refunded ticket to help vulnerable women, then you can donate via LocalGiving.

Thank you, from a very sad team xx

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Listen to our sci-fi fantasy celebration

The team behind the Cosmic Shed podcast came along to our brilliant, sold-out event exploring women writing sci-fi and fantasy.

You can listen to the discussion here.

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New speaker announced: Trifonia Melibea Obono

We are absolutely thrilled to announce a new speaker to our 2020 line-up: Trifonia Melibea Obono from Equatorial Guinea.

Trifonia Melibea Obono is an award-winning author, academic and activist from Equatorial Guinea. She is the author of several novels, including Las Mujeres Hablan Mucho Y Mal, which won the 2018 International Justo Bolekia Boleká Prize for African Literature, and La Bastarda, which was the first novel by a woman writer from Equatorial Guinea to be translated into English (by Lawrence Schimel). Obono has recently published Yo no quería ser madre (‘I didn’t want to be a mother’), a collection of testimonies by 30 lesbian and bisexual Equatoguinean women about their experiences of forced pregnancies.  She lives between Malabo, Equatorial Guinea, and Madrid, Spain.

It is a huge privilege to invite Trifonia Melibea Obono to Bristol Women’s Literature Festival. She will be speaking on the Women In Translation panel, with Rosalind Harvey, Olivia Hellewell, and Laia Jufresa.

Book your tickets to see Trifonia Melibea Obono talk Women In Translation.

Melibea 2

Book now

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Launching our 2020 Programme!

We are so proud to announce our 2020 line-up!

Virago Press: Balancing purpose and profit in feminist publishing?

21 March 2020, interactive workshop with D-M Withers at Spike Island

Book tickets


Helen Lewis: Difficult Women

(in partnership with Bristol Festival of Ideas)

26 March 2020: Helen Lewis in conversation with Sarah Ditum

Book now

Helen Lewis credit Urszula Soltys

Image credit: Urszula Soltys


Bristol Women’s Literature Festival LAUNCH PARTY!!!!

27 March 2020 with Karolina Ramqvist, Janne Teller, Eleanor Pender, Shagufta Iqbal, Malaika Kegode and Becky Kosick (in partnership with Hay and Comma Press)

Book now (tickets on sale 14/01/2020)

Launch Party montage

Hadley Freeman: House of Glass

28 March 2020, Hadley Freeman in conversation with Jenny Lacey

Book now

Hadley Freeman byline picture.  Photo by Linda Nylind. 24/5/2013

Image credit: Linda Nylind, the Guardian Newspaper


Writing the news

28 March 2020: panel with Anoosh Chakelian, Nandini Archer and Coco Khan, chaired by Bidisha

Book tickets

Write the news montage

Women writing today

28 March 2020: panel with Yvonne Battle-Felton, Fiona Benson, Rosanna Amaka and Naomi Wood, chaired by Sarah LeFanu

Book tickets

Women writing today montage

Viv Groskop lifts us all UP!

Book tickets


Writing our lives

29 March 2020: panel with Olivia Sudjc, Juliet Jacques, Zeba Talkhani and Clover Stroud, chaired by Prof Madhu Krishnan

Book tickets

Memoir montage

Professor Helen Taylor discusses why women read fiction

29 March 2020

Book tickets



Women in translation

29 March 2020: panel with Laia Jufresa and Olivia Hellewell, chaired by Rosalind Harvey

Book tickets

Women in translation montage

Women writing the wild

Book tickets

29 March 2020: panel discussion with Isabel Hardman, Zakiya McKenzie, Lia Leendertz, Sara Maitland, chaired by Dr Samantha Walton

Writing the wild montage
Supported by Bristol Festival of Ideas and Arts Council England

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Bit of housekeeping

Dear friends – we’ve noticed a few people leaving comments on the website re trying to contact the festival.

We have now confirmed our line up and the programme will be launched next week (13/01/2020).

If you need to get in touch for any reason, please contact us via Facebook or Twitter, or email sianm[dot]norris[at]gmail[dot]com.

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Love women in sci-fi? You’ll love this.

We are pairing up with Handheld Press and Bristol Festival of Ideas for a special, one-off event before our main festival programme to celebrate women in sci-fi and fantasy.

It’s an evening celebrating female geekery and science fiction creativity, with four exceptional writers and critics of sff: Emma Geen, Cheryl Morgan, Emma Newman and Liz Williams. In conversation with Kate Macdonald of Handheld Press, they will unknot the bonds of unknowing to illuminate the best of feminist sff:

– the writers we can’t stop reading

– the writers and artists you need to know about

– the struggles of the women in sff who came before us

– what we can all do to support the new generations of sff women

When? Tuesday 25 Feb 2020

What time? 7.30pm – 9pm

Where? Foyles, Cabot Circus

You can book your tickets through via Bristol Festival of Ideas

Who’s who

Emma Newman is an author of science fiction and fantasy. Her novel, After Atlas, was shortlisted for the 2017 Arthur C. Clarke award and the third novel in the Planetfall series, Before Mars, has been shortlisted for a BSFA Best Novel award. She is a professional audiobook narrator, and won the Alfie and Hugo Best Fancast Awards for her podcast Tea and Jeopardy.

Cheryl Morgan is a science fiction critic and publisher. She is the owner of Wizard’s Tower Press and the Wizard’s Tower Books ebook store. Previously she edited the Hugo Award winning magazine, Emerald City (Best Fanzine, 2004). She also won a Hugo for Best Fan Writer in 2009. She is a Co-Chair of Out Stories Bristol and lectures regularly on both trans history and science fiction and fantasy literature.


Emma Geen is a Bristol based author and lecturer in Creative writing. Her first novel The Many Selves of Katherine North was published by Bloomsbury. Several of her short stories feature in Stories of the Stranger, published by Bene Factum Publishing, Her articles have appeared in The GuardianLit Hub and The New Statesman. She is an associate lecturer at Bath Spa University.


Liz Williams is a British science fiction writer. The Ghost Sister, her first novel, was published in 2001. Both this novel and her next, Empire of Bones (2002) were nominated for the Philip K. Dick Award. She is also the author of the Inspector Chen series. She is the daughter of a stage magician and a Gothic novelist. She holds a PhD in Philosophy of Science from Cambridge. She has had short stories published in Asimov’sInterzoneThe Third Alternative and Visionary Tongue.

Liz Williams

Kate Macdonald is a literary historian and has taught and researched science fiction and fantasy fiction for many years. She reviews sff for Foundation and other critical organs, and has recently had some of her own sff short stories published. She runs Handheld Press, an independent publishing company based outside Bath, which specialises in the recovery of forgotten fiction, and has republished classic fantasy fiction by Sylvia Townsend Warner, and science fiction by Rose Macaulay and Vonda N McIntyre.



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A new partnership for 2020

We’re really pleased to announce that Bristol Women’s Literature Festival will be supporting the charity Womankind Bristol during our 2020 festival.

Festival founder Sian Norris is a patron of the charity.

‘Womankind Bristol is a brilliant organisation led by women for women, providing support for women in crisis – often as a result of gender based violence. I’m proud to be a patron of the charity that cares so deeply for women’s health, lives and wellbeing. I hope that through the festival, we can help raise awareness and money for the wonderful way Womankind supports women and girls in our city and beyond.’

To find out more about how you can support women in crisis, donate to Womankind Bristol today.

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