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More events added to Gravity Festival Line-up

A celebration of Britain’s most exciting black writers marks the start of Black History Month.

Writers Ashleigh Nugent, Hannah Azieb Pool, Jacqueline Roy, Judith Bryan, Kadija Sesay and Tomiwa Owolade are among the latest names added to the Gravity festival line up.

They join headline speakers including BBC1 ‘The Responder’ writer Tony Schumacher, Bootle-born writer Frank Cottrell-Boyce, Kit de Waal (My Name is Leon), Lissa Evans (Wed Wabbit) Katherine May (Wintering) and Roosevelt Montas (Rescuing Socrates).

New Statesman journalist and award-winning author Tomiwa Owolade will be taking part in two events over the weekend. His non-fiction book This Is Not America (Atlantic Books, 2023), which won the top prize at the RSL Giles St Aubyn Awards, argues that too much of the debate about race in Britain has been viewed through the prism of American experiences and history that don’t reflect the challenges — and achievements — of an increasingly diverse black British population.

Tom will also be joining Jane Davis, founder and director of The Reader, for ‘Defeat All Labels’ a session on the powerful non-fiction of great African American writer and thinker James Baldwin.

  • This Is Not America (Sun 2 Oct, 1pm – online & in person)
    Defeat All Labels (Sat 1 Oct, 5pm – in person)
    Tomiwa Owolade commented: “I am delighted to participate in Gravity Festival. I can’t wait to witness the stimulating readings and discussions on offer. And in our increasingly polarised political and literary climate, I greatly look forward to sharing the work of James Baldwin, a writer of great moral integrity and sophistication.”

Hannah Chukwu, series editor of Penguin’s Black Britain: Writing Back has curated a festival special featuring top Black British writing:

  • Whose Stories Matter? Sierra Leone/British literary activist Kadija Sessay looks at how we decide which books are remembered, taught and celebrated throughout history. (Sat 1 Oct, 1pm online & in person)
  • Mental Health: A Hidden Story authors Jacqueline Roy (The Fat Lady Sings) and Judith Bryan (Bernard and the Cloth Monkey) will discuss how we can use the power of books and reading to change the conversation around mental health for good. (Sat 1 Oct, 3pm online & in person)
  • The Power of Sharing Your Story – author Hannah Azieb Pool reflects on the unique power of writing your own story, as she shares her extraordinary journey of family, identity, and finding home. (Sat 1 Oct, 4pm online & in person)

LOCKS: My Heritage, My Story is a memoir by Ashleigh Nugent, Founder of RiseUp CIC. Ashleigh will talk about the place of story in his work with prisons and schools, and those at risk of offending. (Sat 1 Oct, 12noon – online & in person)

A festival for our times

Jane Davis, Founder and Director of The Reader, the charity behind the event, said: “The idea for Gravity, a festival where we could talk seriously, discover good things to read and possibly have a laugh along the way, came during conversation with a colleague when we were both going through difficult times. People don’t talk about this kind of thing in public, we said, so let’s do it! “

“This year, Gravity is reflecting some big preoccupations – from mental health (and men) with TV drama writer Tony Schumacher, to the canon of Black writing from Kadija Sesay and the novels that help us experience inner life with Jaqueline Roy and Judith Bryan. Reader Patron Frank Cottrell Boyce will be talking with novelist and creator of Wed Wabbit, Lissa Evans, about imagination and the books that inspire him and we’ll be exploring works from some of the world’s most influential writers and thinkers.

“We hope to welcome many of you to the Mansion House, or online, to meet these and many other great writers, and to talk with gravity and be surprised by joy.”

Other programme highlights include:

Reading With Care an online event that looks at the role of Shared Reading – where small groups of people are brought together to experience literature in the moment – in the world of mental health. Panelists include Director of Public Health for Liverpool City Council Matt Ashton and psychoanalyst, Professor of Literary Theory and author of several books, including The Private Life: Why We Remain in the Dark, Josh Cohen. (Fri 30 Sep, 1pm – online)

A series of intimate Shared Reading workshops running across the weekend where we’ll be reading and reflecting on themes including dealing with the unspoken, understanding troubles in love, being afraid and listening well. All sessions are free, no previous reading experience needed.

Research into mental health, human wellbeing and what happens to our minds when we read will be explored across three ‘Reading Revolution’ events featuring speakers Dr Jan Raes (Reading: The Ultimate Therapy), Professor Chris Dowrick, a GP with expertise in mental health and Professor Philip Davis (Reading for Life).

Poet Esther Morgan (The Silence Living in Houses) will read from and discuss her second poetry collection in The House Ghosts Living in Poetry (Sun 2 Oct, 11am – online and in person). Crafting the Story of Your Life (Sun 2 Oct, 12noon – in person) will allow adults and children aged 5+ to get creative and join in with free drop-in craft activity inspired by Esther’s poetry.

Free, drop-in activities at The Reader’s headquarters in Calderstones Park for all ages including poetry and heritage walks, craft sessions and board games.

To bring the weekend to a close, Festival goers, in person and online, are invited to join the Poetry Party (Sun 2 Oct, 3.30pm – online & in person) grand finale where they can read a poem aloud that has had a special meaning for them.

Tickets to in-person events range from free to £10, with all online events free of charge to attend. Book online now at

The Reader is supported by Arts Council England, The National Lottery Community Fund, players of People’s Postcode Lottery and the Steve Morgan Foundation.
Gravity Festival is supported by The Granada Foundation and the National Lottery Heritage Fund.