UK’s biggest literary festival returns to Sheffield

  • Off the Shelf Festival of Words returns to Sheffield in October 2018
  • Festival is largest literary festival in the UK featuring some of the world’s most renowned authors and writers from celebrity and journalism
  • Events showcase wide range of fiction, politics, journalism, art, music, history, sport, science, poetry and theatre
  • This year’s festival celebrates anniversaries of women’s suffrage, Frankenstein and circus

A banner containing the dates for this year's Off the Shelf festival

One of the largest literary festivals in the UK is set to return to Sheffield this month, (6-27 October 2018) thanks to an innovative partnership between the city’s two universities.

The Off the Shelf Festival of Words, which features a diverse programme of events, talks and discussions, will host some of the world’s most renowned authors as well as writers from the worlds of celebrity and journalism.

Led by the University of Sheffield and Sheffield Hallam University, the festival will also feature insights into some of the latest pioneering research from Sheffield academics.

With some of the best known names in literature, media and the arts showcasing a wide range of fiction, politics, journalism, art, music, history, sport, science, poetry and theatre, the festival’s 130 events will be held in venues throughout the city.

The themes of this year’s festival are Suffrage 100, Frankenstein 200 and Circus 250, with each inspiring a programme of inspirational panel debates, lively talks and visual art, all designed to shine light on the landmark anniversaries.

Highlights of the programme this year include the only opportunity outside of London to meet the shortlisted authors for the Man Booker Prize and the launch of the Northern Book Prize.

Other highlights from the University of Sheffield at the festival include:

  • WTF – Robert Peston – Journalist, presenter and founder of education charity Speakers for Schools, Robert Peston takes on all the biggest issues of the day in this passionate and witty WTF. From Brexit to social mobility, Grenfell, Trump and austerity, Peston brings his own piercing analysis to bear, calling for radical changes in education and economic policy.
  • Evan Davis – Post-Truth – Economist, journalist and broadcaster Evan Davis insightfully examines the world of deception and spin with his trademark intelligence and wry humour and charts a route through the muddy waters of the post-truth age.
  • Mary Shelley: The Gothic Tradition – Two hundred years after its publication, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein remains one of the most masterful examples of Gothic literature. Professor Angela Wright, an expert on gothic literature from the University of Sheffield’s School of English, reappraises the significance of Frankenstein alongside Shelley’s other works. The talk also studies Shelley’s parental heritage, her infamous relationship with Percy Bysshe Shelley and her experiences during 1816 when she wrote Frankenstein.
  • Suffrage Afterlives – What Happened After the Vote Was Won? – A panel discussion explores the history of how women used their newly acquired citizenship rights and the early women pioneers in Parliament politics. The event is chaired by Dr Julie Gottlieb, an expert in women’s history from the University of Sheffield’s Department of History.
  • A History of Circus in Sheffield – Professor Vanessa Toulmin, one of the UK’s most renowned circus experts, reveals Sheffield’s forgotten circus history for the first time. The illustrated talk shares an insight into the history behind the city’s amphitheatre and how Sheffield was graced with some of the world’s most legendary circus performers in the 19th century.
  • The Story of the Suffrage Movement in Ireland – Louise Ryan, Professor of Sociology at the University, highlights how the Irish Citizen newspaper provides an important insight into the campaigns and concerns of the Irish suffrage movement. The paper was self-consciously feminist and covered the major events of this tumultuous period as well as addressing taboo subjects like domestic violence.
  • Barry Hines and Kes – For the 50th anniversary of Barry Hines’ A Kestrel for A Knave, this illustrated talk by Dr David Forrest, from the University of Sheffield’s School of English, traces Hines’ creative journey to the film, and beyond, as well as the political nature of his writing, his lyrical examination of the north and legacy as a working class writer. The talk draws on Dr Forrest’s research into the life and works of Barry Hines.
  • Route 57: Loco-Motion – Performances from Route 57 – the University of Sheffield’s creative writing journal, featuring work from students, staff and alumni. Issue 14 is entitled Loco-Motion, in collaboration with York’s National Railway Museum, containing poetry, fiction and non-fiction.
  • Rethinking Right-Wing Women – An exploration of gender and the Conservative Party from the 1980s to the present day. This talk explores how women’s suffrage played an instrumental role in the Conservative Party’s transformation from the elite to mass democratic party with women at party level, within the electorate, and producing the UK’s only female Prime Ministers.
  • Ideas Alive – A series of talks from academics at the University of Sheffield on topics ranging from Shakespeare’s poems and the rise of digital politics to promising new treatments to help us live longer and whether green spaces are worth the investment they need.
An icon represented the 100 anniversary of women's suffrage An icon representing the 200th annivesary of Frankenstein An icon representing the 250th anniversary of circus

Some highlights from Sheffield Hallam University (SHU) at the festival include:

  • Frankenstein Weekend - The Frankenstein Weekend includes a series of events in the Sheffield General Cemetery and its Samuel Worth Chapel. The weekend will also include a special effects make up demo, a marathon read of Frankenstein in the Samuel Worth Chapel, a gothic creative writing workshop run by award winning playwright Hattie Naylor, outdoor film screenings Bride of Frankenstein and Young Frankenstein, a cemetery tour and talks.
  • Frankenstein: The First 200 Years - Christopher Frayling - A rich and engaging celebration of the 200th anniversary of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, tracing its journey from limited edition literature to the bloodstream of contemporary culture. It looks at the many adaptations – on screen (120 films), stage, in novels, comics, and in advertisements. It explores interpretations of the novel from female gothic to the origin of science fiction and genetic engineering. Christopher Frayling also reveals new research on the novel’s origins.
  • Mary Shelley and her Frankenstein – The Play - Mary Shelley and her Frankenstein is a thrilling piece of immersive theatre featuring performance students from SHU. This new adaptation is written by Hattie Naylor (lecturer in Stage and Screen at SHU) whose credits include Olivier nominated Ivan and the Dogs, recently released as a film. Hattie weaves together Mary Shelley’s letters, what is known about her tragic life and the ground breaking novel Frankenstein itself to create this unmissable piece of theatre.
  • Rise – Gina Miller - Gina Miller successfully challenged the government’s right to implement Brexit without approval from Parliament. In one of the most significant political events in recent history, the court battle led to her being named as the country’s most influential black person, yet she became the target of extreme verbal abuse. Rise is Gina’s story of fighting injustice in personal, political and professional arenas and how to speak out for what you believe in.
  • The Fashion Chronicles – Amber Butchart - The history of fashion is a story of style, power, grace and propaganda. From Eve and her fig leaf, via Joan of Arc, Louis XIV, Lord Byron, Amelia Earhart, Frida Kahlo, Malcolm X and Beyoncé, Butchart examines the best-dressed people the world has ever seen. She explores their individual style, how they have influenced today’s fashion and used their clothing to change the world. Amber Butchart is a fashion historian and broadcaster.
  • Steel City: An Industrial History – Ian D Rotherham - Sheffield is the home of major innovations in steel with an enviable reputation for manufacturing quality. Yet the story of Sheffield industry is more than simply the rise of steel manufacturing. Wharncliffe Crags, north Sheffield was one of the Roman Empire’s largest grindstone sites. In the wake of steel came glass making, brewing, power generation, joinery and more. Ian D Rotherham offers a fascinating, illustrated overview of one of Britain’s great industrial centres. The event is in collaboration with Blackwell’s Bookshop at University of Sheffield.
  • Writing Matters - A relaxed literary evening in the company of SHU creative writers and others including prose and poetry readings from Matter Magazine. The event will feature a sneak preview of The Anthill, the latest novel from Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year shortlisted Julianne Pachico. The winning entry from SHU’s Monster Micro Fiction competition will also be announced. The event is hosted by Conor O’Callaghan.
  • The Cigarette Card History of Popular Fiction – Professor Chris Hopkins - Cigarette cards in the period 1930 to 1950, were a popular source of guidance to culture and fiction. This beautifully illustrated talk and accompanying workshop explores the history and art of cigarette cards with introductions to the once best-selling authors featured on them. There will be a hands-on opportunity to browse original cigarette card sets of popular authors and best-selling novels.

Professor Vanessa Toulmin, Director of City and Culture at the University of Sheffield, who is also a director of the festival, said: “Off the Shelf is the biggest and most renowned festival of words in the UK, which gives people a chance to explore the works of some of the most loved names in literature, the arts and the media.

“This year the festival will be bigger than ever. There will be more than 130 events for people to get involved in throughout Sheffield, many of which explore the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage, the 200th anniversary of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and the 250th anniversary of circus.

“We’re also proud that the festival celebrates Sheffield as an internationally diverse city, which is further strengthened by our partner Roma Futures who have programmed a series of Romani Readings and film to help us discover Roma language, culture and community.”

She added: “This year is the 27th edition of the festival and seeing how it has grown through the support of audiences, partners in the city and Sheffield’s two universities is another example of the city’s thriving creative and cultural scene. We hope people throughout Sheffield, South Yorkshire and beyond can join us once again to make this year’s festival bigger and better than ever.”

Professor Chris Wigginton, Pro Vice-Chancellor for the Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities at Sheffield Hallam University, who has also curated the Frankenstein strand of events at the festival, added: “Frankenstein 200 celebrates the bicentenary of the publication of Mary Shelley’s ground-breaking novel. We are delighted to be showcasing a wide range of events exploring the multitude of ways that Shelley’s classic has infused popular culture, and how her enduring myth continues to speak directly to contemporary anxieties around technology, science, gender and ‘the other’.”

To see the full programme of events at the festival, including ticket information, visit:

Off the Shelf

Additional information

The University of Sheffield

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For further information please contact:

Sean Barton
Media Relations Officer
University of Sheffield
0114 222 9852