Manchester Literature Festival announces Lemn Sissay and more as its headliners for 2023

The festival returns to the city from 6 - 22 October this year.

By Emma Davidson | Last updated 15 June 2023

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Image: David Vintiner

Manchester Literature Festival has announced the four headline writers performing at this year’s event. 

Taking place from 6 – 22 October, the festival celebrates ideas and voices from around the world and this year will welcome Zadie Smith, Lemn Sissay, Max Porter and Linton Kwesi Johnson at events hosted by Contact and HOME. 

No stranger to Manchester Literature Festival, Lemn Sissay will return with a special preview of his latest poetry collection titled Let The Light Pour In. Sissay is a BAFTA nominated, award-winning writer and broadcaster who is also the brains behind several poetry books, as well as numerous stage and radio plays. In 2019 he was also awarded the PEN Pinter Prize. Presented by Manchester Literature Festival in partnership with the Centre for New Writing and Creative Manchester.

Zadie Smith will explore new novel The Fraud. Image: Ben Bailey-Smith

Another best-selling author, Zadie Smith is known for her depictions of women, class, the legacy of slavery and those whose voices are rarely heard. New novel The Fraud tells the tale of the Tichborne Case, the trial that captivated and divided Victorian England in the 1860s and 70s. Her five published novels include her phenomenal debut White Teeth, which won several awards and was also adapted for television.

Pioneering Jamaican reggae poet performer and activist Linton Kwesi Johnson will appear alongside poet and former Makar Jackie Kay at this year’s festival. Linton will perform a short set from his collection Selected Poems before discussing his work, as well as his contribution to Black British culture and the artists and activists that have inspired and nurtured him. 

Widely regarded as the father of ‘dub poetry’, Linton came to Britain in 1963. In 2002, he became the second living poet and the only Black poet to be published in the Penguin Modern Classics series. He has also recorded several albums and toured the world. In 2020 he was awarded the PEN Pinter Prize. Presented by Manchester Literature Festival in partnership with Manchester Poetry Library.  

Activist Linton Kwesi Johnson will appear at this year’s festival. Image: Ajamu Ikwe-Tyehimba

The final headline author, Max Porter will perform a dramatic abridged reading from Shy, his newest book that explores the life of a teenage boy in trouble, with a live electronic score by Roly Porter. Max is the author of four bestselling novels including Grief is the Thing with Feathers, which won several prizes and was adapted for the stage in a critically acclaimed solo performance by Cillian Murphy.

Sarah-Jane Roberts and Cathy Bolton, co-directors of Manchester Literature Festival said: “Following on from our Spring events with Eleanor Catton, Sebastian Barry, Douglas Stuart and 100 Queer Poems with Andrew McMillan and guests, we’re excited to announce our first four events for #MLF23. 

“Together Linton Kwesi Johnson and Lemn Sissay have had a seismic effect on the poetry scene, inspiring new generations of young poets and lyricists around the globe. Zadie Smith and Max Porter have both had an equally transformative effect on the literary world, drawing thousands of readers to their novels with their memorable characters, profound stories and unique voices. We’re thrilled to welcome them to Manchester Literature Festival this Autumn to share their radiant work with our audiences.”

Get tickets for all headline performances at this year’s Manchester Literature Festival via the link below.