INTERVIEW: Shane Rhodes, literature festival director

“Literature is all around us,” says Shane Rhodes. “We are absorbing it all the time without realising it. From adverts, football chants, films and songs. It doesn’t have to be academic… good writing can and does enrich people’s everyday lives.”

And if anyone knows about contemporary literature in Hull, Shane knows.

As Hull dives into a double whammy of high-profile literary festivals, the man who’s helping to bring the cream of the world’s writers, performers and poets together explains why everyone should give these events a go. Even if you’re, well, not too sure about going to a poetry gig… “People should put aside any preconceptions and come along with an open mind,” he says. “I have seen it happen before when I have persuaded literature novices to go to readings. They go in with scepticism and leave converted.”

This year, the acclaimed Hull poet and author of The City Speaks is co-directing the BBC’s new Contains Strong Language festival, which runs from National Poetry Day, Thursday 28 September, to Sunday 1 October.

It is immediately followed by Hull’s annual feast of literary fun, the Humber Mouth literature festival (Monday 2 October to Sunday 8 October), of which Shane is artistic director.

This year, to mark our 25th anniversary, we have invited internationally renowned writers such as Melvyn Bragg and Will Self.

Highlights of Contains Strong Language, which he is co-directing with the BBC’s Sue Roberts, include Dr John Cooper Clarke’s rapid-fire punk poetry and Kate Tempest and band performing the award-winning album Let Them Eat Chaos. Free events include a celebration of Caribbean spoken word by Grace Nichols and John Agard, as well as

Then there’s BBC 1Xtra’s Words First with DJ Mim Shaikh, performances by the likes of Isaiah Hull, Chiedu Oraka and more.  There’s 6Music’s Cerys Matthews and Radio Two’s Jo Whiley, Hull poets Joe Hakim, Vicky Foster and Dean Wilson; and we’re barely scratching the surface of an eclectic, jam-packed and mostly free programme.

“It has been a great learning opportunity and thoroughly enjoyable for me to work with the BBC on this project,” says Shane. “Hull 2017 has placed more focus on Hull and has encouraged more artists to come and new audiences to visit.”

The two festivals weld together perfectly and complement each other.

His driving force, he adds, is the desire to continue delivering quality art in Hull.

In fact, if you’ve visited Hull city centre this year, there’s a good chance you’ll have encountered Shane’s work. He’s the poet whose words sum up the essence of the city so perfectly, they run through Queen Victoria Square, engraved in to the pavement. The City Speaks poem was also read to an audience of 25,000 people on 1 Jan 2017, performed into and displayed upon the tidal barrier art installation of the same name. It’s also published the traditional way, through Shane’s independent publishing house Wrecking Ball Press.

And, when the poetry and performances of BBC Contains Strong Language flow seamlessly in the spoken-word events of Humber Mouth on 2 October, Shane has even more extra-special gigs lined up.

“The two festivals weld together perfectly and complement each other,” he says. “The Humber Mouth’s ethos is about presenting an eclectic mix with a broad appeal, and every year we attract new audiences. This year, to mark our 25th anniversary, we have invited internationally renowned writers such as Melvyn Bragg and Will Self.

“We have Wilde Without The Boy, which is a critically acclaimed solo performance based on Oscar Wilde’s prison letters to his lover. The hilarious Sara Pascoe will read from her debut book.

“We have an innovative partnership between Kathryn Williams and Laura Barnett who are combining literature and music. There will also be plenty more surprises in store.”

So what are you waiting for? Eleven days. Two festivals. One city. Endless words. No excuses…

Booking details

BBC Contains Strong Language: Thu 28 Sept – Sun 1 Oct.

Humber Mouth: Mon 2 Oct – Sun 8 Oct.