The Ilkley Literature Festival is the north of England's oldest and largest literature festival. It was inaugurated in 1973 by the poet W. H. Auden and up until 1988 was held every two years; it is now held annually in the autumn.
The Ilkley Literature Festival is an annual event in the spa town of Ilkley and has become one of the UK's top arts festivals. Attracting many important international literary figures, its two-week programme, starting at the end of September, now features more than 250 events, which take place in a variety of venues in Ilkley and surrounding towns and villages. The festival includes events for children and young people and a festival fringe.
In 1971 Ilkley residents Michael Dawson (at that time Director of the Yorkshire Arts Association) and Peter Harland (editor of the Telegraph and Argus and Chair of the Yorkshire Arts Literature Panel) began discussing the possibility of a Festival for the town. Michael Dawson had visited Cheltenham literature festival and Peter Harland suggested he should try something similar in Ilkley. A seven-week postal strike with no letters to answer gave Dawson the opportunity to draw up some concrete proposals. The Yorkshire Arts Association literature panel approved the plans and promised a grant provided the urban district council made a similar commitment.
On 10 February 1972, a small group of ‘enthusiastic influential people with lots of ideas’- met at Michael Dawson’s house in Ilkley. They included Leeds University Lecturer Robin Alston, who also ran the Scolar Press; Arthur Kitching, the curator of the Manor House Museum and Ilkley resident Walter Stein, a tutor in the extra mural department at Leeds University. Donald Baverstock, Director of Programmes at YTV who lived locally, also offered to help. At a second meeting at the Town Hall in March 1972 they organised a steering committee. Local councillor, Molly Renton, the only woman, became the Chair and later suggested Geoffrey Hodges, (then Borough Treasurer) as the Treasurer. Michael Dawson was given the role of Honorary Organiser and Paddy Rowe was employed as the part-time Festival secretary. The first festival, which took place in April 1973 and was opened by English poet W. H. Auden during the last year of his life. Since 1988 the festival has occurred annually. 1988 also saw the appointment of the first full-time professional Director, Steve Dearden, he was followed by Jonathan Davidson, David and Alice Porter, Dominic Gregory and the director of the festival since 2003, Rachel Feldberg.