City of Literature 2021

‘Go and open the door,
maybe outside there’s
a tree, or a wood,
a garden,
or a magic city.’

To open a door, as Miroslav Holub reminds us in his celebrated poem ‘The Door’, is to allow other worlds in – as well as gardens, trees and woods. To imagine that something else and some other place – ‘a magic city’ – is possible. After the 2020 we’ve collectively weathered, the National Centre for Writing wanted to programme a City of Literature strand that embraces the magic of Norfolk & Norwich Festival itself; nurturing the forests of the unknown, the unusual and the unexpected. While doors were closed we spent our time commissioning new work that we hope will surprise and intrigue you.

At a time when creative livelihoods have been imperilled and when risks have been very near and real (but often under an invisible cloak), it felt vital to conjure a magic city on the horizon. It is, after all, as Rebecca Solnit says in her book, A Field Guide to Getting Lost, ‘the job of the artists to open doors and invite in prophesies, the unknown, the unfamiliar.’

This year, we bring you seven wonderful experiments in writing.

Writer and NCW Associate Artist Jay Bernard and sound artist Mwen present TOMBLAND, a haunting digital soundscape which transports you from your home to ours, at the beautiful Dragon Hall. Writers Rowan Hisayo Buchanan and Jessica J. Lee invite us to look closely at the nature around us – to peer at tiny mosses beneath the hedgerow and search forests for crown shyness in LOOKING, LARGE AND SMALL. Theatre maker Jack McNamara and composer/ violinist Angharad Davies will deliver THE GROUP, a three-part play told live via WhatsApp. Four writers reflect on the atmospheric pressure of the year they’ve just had in WEATHER WITH YOU.

FUTURE & FORM marks an ambitious collaboration with UEA in celebration of the 50th anniversary of their world-renowned Creative Writing programme. UEA graduate and prize-winning novelist Ayòbámi Adébáyò asks questions of the future of writing, in a daring commission entitled PROVENANCE. Our annual HARRIET MARTINEAU LECTURE will be delivered by critic and editor Ellah P. Wakatama, with a new visual score by film-maker and poet Julian Knox. And if, as we hope, this suite of work drives you back to the books of these and other writers, then we hope you’ll be able to join us for a special festival chapter of The Book Hive’s PAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE at Plantation Gardens.

We’re proud to present this weekend of experiments, original commissions, and interactive experiences, and invite you to encounter these prophecies with us and each other.

Peggy Hughes
Programme Director, National Centre for Writing

National Centre for Writing



Saturday 22 May, 11am, Digital

Writer Jay Bernard and sound artist Mwen present an immersive and unusual online experience which blurs the boundaries between words, music and place.

Free, register in advance to receive a link to the website when it launches


TOMBLAND (event)

Saturday 29 May, 5pm, Digital

Discover the process behind Tombland. An online discussion between writer and filmmaker Jay Bernard and sound artist, producer, composer and DJ, Mwen.

Free, register in advance to receive a streaming link



Monday 24 – Thursday 27 May, Digital

Three writers reflect on the atmospheric pressure of the year they’ve just had in Weather With You – a series of written commissions and podcasts that address what it means to be a writer today, and why we write.

Free, register in advance to recieve a link to the website when it launches





Friday 28 May, 6pm, Digital

Join the writers behind Weather With You for an online event which takes stock of our unique moment in time and expresses hope for the future.

Free, register in advance to receive a streaming link


Looking, Large and small

Friday 28 May, 1pm, Digital

Explore the magic of the natural world with this online pack of observations, illustrations and exercises brought to you by Jessica J. Lee and Rowan Hisayo Buchanan.

Free, register in advance for access to the resources when they go live


Looking, Large and small (event)

Sunday 30 May, 11am, Digital

Join Jessica J. Lee and Rowan Hisayo Buchanan to peek behind the hedge at the process of creating Looking, Large and Small.

Free, register in advance to receive a streaming link




The Group

Friday 28 – Sunday 30 May, 9pm, Digital

A three-part play told live via Whatsapp, blending literature and theatre in the palm of your hands. Tune in each evening for a standalone story told through real-time conversations and music.

Free, register in advance to receive instructions


Page Against the Machine

Saturday 29 May, 1pm, Plantation Garden, Norwich

Pick a book, grab a cool drink and turn off your phone for a well-deserved detox read in the beautiful surroundings of Plantation Garden.

Free (£2 donation to the Plantation Garden on the door)


Harriet martineau Lecture

Sunday 30 May, 7pm, Digital

Ellah P. Wakatama, literary critic and Editor-at-large for Canongate fuction celebrates the legacy of Harriet Martineau. Ella’s lecture will be accompanied by a stunning visual score from Julian Knox.

Free, register in advance to receive a link




City of Literature is a Norfolk & Norwich Festival and National Centre for Writing Presentation, programmed by National Centre for Writing.

National Centre for Writing       Norwich City of Literature Logo


Image credits: Masthead © Matthew Usher | Jay Bernard © Joshua Virasami | Kerry Ni Dochartaigh © Manus Kenny| Jessica J. Lee © Ricardo Rivas | Ellah P Wakatama © Julian Knox

Festival Futures – Arts make life better

Norfolk & Norwich Festival brings tens of thousands of people together in celebration – it has been doing this for 250 years. Through our May festival and our arts education work, we lead and support celebration, creativity and curiosity in communities across Norfolk.

This year we launch a giving campaign, Festival Futures, to help ensure we continue this work for future generations.

2022’s campaign focuses on ‘Tomorrow’s World’ – the participants, audiences and artists of the future. We aim to raise £20,000 towards our Take Part: Schools programme and towards a range of programming at 2022’s Festival that provides participation and showcase opportunities for young people and early-career artists.  We believe that participation in the arts can increase confidence, creativity and academic results and that by creating performance and commissioning opportunities for the next generation of artists, we are ensuring the future of Norfolk & Norwich Festival. We need your support.

Make a Festival Futures donation to Norfolk & Norwich Festival.

Amount to Donate £ 0