Off The Shelf – the University of Sheffield’s annual literature festival – returned with a vast range of literary events throughout the month of October. The festival was able to adapt to the circumstances of Covid-19 using a mixture of in person, live streamed and pre-recorded events. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to attend any of the live events but I still felt I was able to get a lot out of the experience.

Cover of Jane Austen: Writing, Society and Politics by Tom Keymer
Image Credit: Off The Shelf 2020

Off The Shelf had something for everybody, from poetry to children’s literature. As an English Literature student (and as a huge nerd) I enjoyed the detailed and professional insight given by intellectuals such as Professor Thomas Keymer in his talk ‘Jane Austen: Writing, Society, Politics’ but I also loved hearing about popular series such as Luke Jennings’ ‘Killing Eve’. The range of events was extremely wide, and I think the programme achieved a great balance between academia and entertainment.

The ‘in conversation’ style of many of the events helped to lend a sense of intimacy and interaction that I have found to be missing in a lot of online talks. There were also workshops and masterclasses, offering possibilities for more hands on advice, which added another level of engagement. The website is clear and well organised, which made navigating through different events extremely easy. As a result the festival felt accessible, inclusive and surprisingly intimate despite the difficult circumstances. 

Desiree Reynolds, curator of Black Women Write Now
Image Credit: Off The Shelf 2020

The range of speakers for the festival was admirably diverse, with a focus on amplifying marginalised voices. The ‘Black Women Write Now’ series of events, for example, drew attention to the work of Black women. I appreciated that the festival highlighted both local talent (for example, poetry reading from Sheffield’s first Poet Laureate Otis Mensah) and books from around the world. I’d never really considered reading Dutch literature before, but the ‘Introducing Verzet Chapbooks’ event changed that. 

Overall, Off the Shelf was an engaging, diverse and easily accessible festival with something for everybody. The organisers found innovative and effective ways to adapt to the current situation, highlighting the power of literature during a time when we need it more than ever.

5/5 stars.

Featured Image: Event Image for Introducing Verzet Chapbooks
Image Credit: Off The Shelf 2020

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