City of Literature Weekend

Since 2013, National Centre for Writing has worked together with Norfolk & Norwich Festival to programme a ‘City of Literature’ strand of books, words and ideas into their annual programme. This flagship moment in the NCW calendar allows us to celebrate our UNESCO status, welcome the world to Norwich and show Norwich to the world, and provide a platform for new and emerging voices alongside more established ones. It’s the perfect way to explore, imagine, read and write the many stories that keep the creative heart of this city beating.

City of Literature usually takes place over the final weekend of the Norfolk & Norwich Festival in May and has included internationally-renowned speakers, interactive activities, immersive experiences, theatre, commissions, workshops for families and our publishing fair.

Events happen all around the city, from the much-loved Festival Spiegeltent and outdoor spaces to NCW’s home at Dragon Hall.

The festival programme includes the annual Harriet Martineau Lecture, a commission made possible with the support of The Martineau Society written in the spirit of this radical, pioneering Norwich voice. 2023’s lecture was delivered by Charlotte Higgins, with previous guests including Ali Smith, Ellah P. Wakatama, Masha Gessen and Linton Kwesi Johnson. Other signature events in recent years include Page Against the Machine, a larger outdoor edition of Book Hive’s popular weekly reading event, guided city walks, and new work responding to the theme of literary cities. 

Explore Norfolk & Norwich Festival

Harriet Martineau Lecture

The Harriet Martineau Lecture celebrates the legacy of a remarkable, world-changing woman by inviting globally-renowned radical speakers to respond to her life and work.

The first Harriet Martineau Lecture was delivered by Ali Smith in May 2013 and featured a call to draw Harriet Martineau’s face onto £5 notes in protest at the decision to remove Elizabeth Fry from the same note. Since then the likes of Kate Mosse, Masha Gessen, Linton Kwesi-Johnson, Sarah Perry, Ellah P. Wakatama and Kit de Waal have given the lecture, variously exploring Martineau’s internationalism, inspiration for feminism, and role in the abolition of slavery.

Charlotte Higgins

The 2023 lecture was delivered by award-winning author and Guardian chief culture writer Charlotte Higgins on the power of culture as a lens through which to understand current conflicts. An audio version of Charlotte’s lecture will be made available later this year.

Kit de Waal

Bestselling novelist, memoirist and literary activist Kit de Waal gave a thought-provoking lecture covering a range of topics, including human rights, equality, hunger and, as she calls it, ‘compassion without judgement’.

Ellah P. Wakatama

In 2021, Ellah P. Wakatama and Julianknxx worked together to produce the first Harriet Martineau Lecture by film. The piece, titled ‘None but Ourselves’, takes you on a personal journey of self-discovery through reading and storytelling.

Watch here

Sarah Perry

For her lecture Sarah Perry, author of ‘Melmoth’ and ‘The Essex Serpent’, explored the notion of the ‘Essex girl’, invoking unexpected moments from history and popular culture.

Listen here

Lydia Cacho & Anabel Hernández

For our 2017 lecture, two of Mexico’s finest journalists, Lydia Cacho and Anabel Hernández, described their international campaign to lay bare the shocking corruption and violence of the government through writing.

Linton Kwesi Johnson

Linton Kwesi Johnson considered a relatively underexplored dimension to Martineau’s writings for his lecture: her progressive campaigning on behalf of Black emancipation. Linton analysed Martineau’s works, Society in America and The Hour and The Man, considering parallels with CLR James’ classic of Marxist historiography The Black Jacobins.

Watch here

Masha Gessen

Celebrated journalist, author and activist Masha Gessen delivered the third annual Harriet Martineau Lecture, exploring freedom of speech and investigative journalism.

Kate Mosse

For her lecture, novelist, non-fiction and short story writer Kate Mosse drew on her own experiences as a novelist and cultural commentator to reflect on Martineau’s legacy and life.

Ali Smith

Ali Smith delivered the inaugural Harriet Martineau Lecture in 2012, where she led a call to draw Harriet Martineau’s face onto £5 notes in protest at the decision to remove Elizabeth Fry from the same note.

The Harriet Martineau Lecture is supported by The Martineau Society.


Festival lineups


Caleb Azumah Nelson, Jyoti Patel, Sally O’Reilly, Roopa Farooki, Fiona Mason, Katherine May, Will Harris, Amy Key, Charlotte Higgins, Don Paterson, Raymond Antrobus, Ella Frears, Hannah Lowe, Laura Scott, Richard Scott, Gavin Francis, Judith Ellis, The Book Hive.


A.K Blakemore, Ayanna Lloyd Banwo, Galley Beggar Press, Guinevere Glasfurd, Kit de Waal, Ko Ko Thett, Lewis Buxton, Meiko Kawakami, Melissa Fu, Rob Mitchell, Richard Mainwaring, Rose Feather, Story Machine, Yan Ge.


Abir Mukherjee, Derek Owusu, Ellah P. Wakatama, Jessica L. Lee, Kerri ní Dochartaigh, Mwen, Rowan Hisayo Buchanan and Jessica L. Lee, The Book Hive.


Adelaide Ivánov, Aida Edemariam, Ali Smith, Andrew Cowan, Andrew McDonnell, Dr Richard Shepherd, Handover, Ian Jack, Inua Ellams, James Meek, Jan Carson, Kate Clanchy, Kerry Hudson, Lila Azam Zanganeh, Matthew Tompkins, Nicholas Jubber, Priyamvada Gopal, Rachel Long, Rose George, S.A. Harris, Sarah Hall, Sarah Perry, Sigrid Rausing, Simon Okotie, Sinéad Gleeson, The Book Hive, Tom Bolton.


Aarathi Pasad, Aliya Gulamani, Ben Okri, Byron Vincent, Caspar Henderson, Caitlin Davies, Charles Fernyhough, Fred Pearce, Gavin Francis, Hannah Silva, Hilary Spurling, Hugh Lupton, Jack Dean, Jack Hartnell, Jackie Hagan, James Evans, James McGrath, Jefferey Deaver, Joanne Limburg, Johann Hari, Joyce Dunbar, Judy Murray, Laura James, Owen Lowery, Preti Taneja, Proteus, Rachel Clark, Rachel Hewitt, Raymond Antrobus, Rosy Carrick, Sarah Perry, Suzanne O’Sullivan, Tim Clare & Mark Grist, Tom Shakespeare, UEA Creative Writing MA students, Viv Albertine.


Alison Weir, Anabel Hernandez, Anjali Joseph, Caroline Criado Perez, Cathy Rentzenbrink, CN Lester, David Bellos, Eimear McBride, Evie Wyld, Gareth Evans, Hannah Berry, Harry Brett, Ian Cobain, Isabel Greenberg, John Agard, John Bew, John Christie, John McGregor, Lewis Dartnell, Lucy Hughes-Hallett, Lydia Cacho, Madeline Thien, Mark O’Connell, Max Porter, Megan Bradbury, Michael Dibb, Paul Bew, Polly Morland, Richard Beard, Robert Service, Ross Raisin, Sarah Hall, Sarah Perry, Siddhartha Bose, Steve Richards, Tim Winton, Will Self.


Alison Weir, Ben Rawlence, Charles Clarke, Charles Fernyhough, Fierce Light, Francesa Beard, Harry Leslie Smith, Hollie McNish, Irvine Welsh, Kate Summerscale, Linton Kwesi Johnson, Martin Figura, Matthew Green, Mervyn King, Nicola Streeten, Rachel Aspden, Rose Tremain, Steve Silberman, The Story Machine, Timothy Garton Ash, Una.


Andrew O’Hagan, Caroline Criado-Perez, Caroline Lucas, Ellah Wakatama Allfrey, Erica Wagner, Hugh Aldersey–Williams, Isabelle Grey, Jake Fiennes, John Lancaster, Mark Avery, Mark Cocker, Masha Gessen, Neel Mukherjee, Patrick Barkham, Robin Page, Rose Tremain, Sarah Perry, Sarah Waters, SJ Watson, Tim Clare, Tracey Thorn.


Alexander Gordon Smith, Avaes Mohammad, Darren Shan, Diane Setterfield, Hermione Lee, Iain Ross, Karl Ove Knausgaard, Kate Mosse, A.L.Kennedy, Mary & Bryan Talbot, Molly Naylor, Raffaella Barker, Ray Davies, Ross Sutherland, Samantha Ellis, Siddhartha Bose.


Ali Smith, Amit Chaudhuri, Chris Thorpe, Don Paterson, Eduardo Halfon, Electronic Voice Phenomena, Hannah Lowe, Hannah Walker, Luke Wright, Nathan Penlington, Sophie Hannah, Will Self.

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