Syima Aslam

MD & artistic director, Bradford Literature Festival

Syima co-founded the Bradford Literature Festival in 2014 to create a cultural renaissance and boost Bradford’s economic regeneration. The festival features literatures from around the world across all genres, and promotes intercultural fluency.

Already hailed as one of the most inspirational festivals in the UK, Bradford Literature Festival brings the written and spoken word together to create a celebration of the city's diverse communities, and reflect the changing face of contemporary Britain.
Changing the narrative about who can access culture

How did a muslim woman from Bradford set up a literary festival in the town the Satanic Verses were burnt? Syima Aslam explained everything at Dots 17.

In a city divided by both cultural and economic divisions, a city where the common mantra was “we don’t have literary festivals” – one woman decided that the city of the Brontes needed to change. And Syima Aslam, MD and artistic director of the Bradford Literature Festival, told the Dots audience how she did it.

Bradford – the city of sanctuary
From Irish migrants in the 1800s to taking in half of all the Syrian refugees in the UK today, Bradford has a rich and diverse heritage. However, it’s a city of division and deprivation – it has some of the poorest performing schools in the country with the lowest literacy levels. Where better to have 300 events over 10 days – all about books?

The festival has put the city at the heart of its programme – 49% of the 50,000 who attended were from a BAME background (unheard of in most UK festivals of this type). This was in no small part due to the fact that 42% of those speaking at the festival were from a BAME background themselves. Syima understood something that the naysayers didn’t – the people from the city had a desire to hear from people like themselves.

Most festivals talk about community but Bradford put it front and centre
The other key thing about the festival is the importance of schools being involved. Over 1,200 children went through the schools programme and, by being involved, they got their parents engaged too, creating a line back through first and second generation immigrant communities.

The festival has had plaudits from all the major book festivals such as Hay and Edinburgh but, for Syima, what matters is when a teacher says that the access it has given their students has made a difference.