Skip to main content
A Magazine for Sheffield

Sheffield's Off The Shelf festival returns for 2023 – Here's ten highlights

Big names include Mary Beard, Chris Packham, Grace Dent and Jeremy Deller chatting to Jarvis Cocker.

One of the biggest literary festivals in the north of England returns to Sheffield later this month. Hosted by the University of Sheffield with support from Sheffield Hallam, this year's Off The Shelf boasts a diverse range of events covering everything from comfort eating and seaside nostalgia to racial injustice and the climate crisis.

We've picked ten highlights below, but this year's programme contains a staggering 74 events from 13 to 29 October.

Pessimism is for lightweights

Salena Godden: Pessimism is for Lightweights

Writer and broadcaster Salena Godden presents a new collection of 30 poems celebrating courage and resistance in the face of oppression. These cover topics ranging from women’s empowerment and amplification to poems on sexism and racism, class discrimination, period poverty, homelessness, immigration and identity.

She'll be supported by Sheffield's current Poet Laureate, Danae Wellington.

'Pessimism is for Lightweights' takes place at the Drama Studio on 14 October. Tickets are £7–£9.

Comfort eating

Grace Dent: Comfort Eating

From the Guardian's caustically witty restaurant reviewer Grace Dent comes a new book, based on her popular podcast of the same name. In it, the ever-perceptive Dent celebrates "the food we eat when no one’s looking".

Dent will explore her own favourite comfort foods, and for good measure will throw in a few juicy celebrity secrets, from Jo Brand’s fried bread sandwich to Russell T Davies’s butter pepper rice.

'Comfort Eating' takes place at Firth Hall on 14 October. Tickets come with a copy of the book – £23–£25 for one book and one ticket, or £31–£35 for one book and two tickets.


Chris Packham: Earth

Veteran nature broadcaster and conservationist Chris Packham recently asked whether it's justified to break the law to protect the planet. But in his new blockbuster series 'Earth' and its accompanying book, Packham sets out what it is that needs protecting so urgently, and how it came to be.

According to Off The Shelf, 'Earth' is "the epic four billion year story of the place we call home from the first seconds of its existence to the arrival of its most incredible inhabitants, us." He's in conversation with the Natural History Museum's Dr Tori Herridge.

Earth takes place on 15 October at the Octagon. Tickets are £9–£11.

Bringing down goliath

Jolyon Maugham: Bringing Down Goliath

Lawyer Jolyon Maugham is a founder of the staggeringly successful Good Law Project, which has used the legal system to expose and challenge sleaze, incompetence and anti-democratic machinations at the heart of government. Most recently, they have helped expose the industrial-scale corruption that took place around PPE procurement.

Off The Shelf say that his book 'Bringing Down Goliath' "offers an empowering new vision for how the law can be a force for social change".

'Bringing Down Goliath' takes place at Firth Hall on 15 October. Tickets are £8–£10.

The seaside

The Seaside: England’s Love Affair

Journalist Madeleine Bunting's new book explores Britain's enduring love affair with its seaside resorts, even if recent decades have seen them suffer a period of decline and, in some cases, become the butt of national jokes.

According to Off The Shelf, the writer "travelled clockwise around England from Scarborough to Blackpool, taking in some 40 resorts, to understand the enduring appeal of seaside towns and what has happened to the golden sands, cold seas and donkey rides of childhood memory." She'll be in conversation with the festival's own Professor Vanessa Toulmin.

'The Seaside: England’s Love Affair' takes place at Millennium Gallery on 17 October. Tickets are £7–£9.

Gevi carver

Poetry with Genevieve Carver and Seni Seneviratne

Leeds writer Seni Seneviratne's fourth collection of poems, 'The Go-Away Bird', uses the theme of caged birds to look at issues including slavery, gender fluidity and the silencing of history.

She's joined by long-time friend of Now Then Genevieve Carver, whose second collection 'Landsick' "inverts the idea of seasickness – it’s our lives on land that are unstable, uncertain and often nauseous, while the ocean’s rhythm provides moments of solace, rest or hope".

Genevieve Carver and Seni Seneviratne are performing at Millennium Gallery on 19 October. Tickets are £7–£9.

Rediscovering black portraiture

Rediscovering Black Portraiture

Opera singer and Radio 3 presenter Peter Brathwaite has been on a mission to uncover the hidden history of Black portraiture in Western art. He'll be giving an illustrated talk drawing on his book 'Rediscovering Black Portraiture', which Off The Shelf say "reminds us that Black subjects have been portrayed in art for nearly a millennium and their stories demand to be told."

He'll then be in conversation with actor Paterson Joseph, best known for playing Peep Show's Alan Johnson but who is also the author of an acclaimed historical novel about 18th century Black writer and composer Charles Ignatius Sancho.

'Rediscovering Black Portraiture' takes place on 21 October at the Drama Studio. Tickets are £7–£8.

70s house

70s House

"There’s no denying the huge impact the 70s had on style and design," say Off The Shelf about Estelle Bilson's new manual explaining exactly how to take your home back in time by fifty years. "But how do you bring the era’s maximalism to your interior without it looking like a cluttered junk shop or a period pastiche?"

In this illustrated talk, Bilson explores her favourite aesthetic elements of this much-maligned decade, from disco, shag carpets and supergraphics to Hornsea ceramics, space-age and G Plan furniture. She'll also be explaining how you can bring this avocado-coloured joy into your own home.

'70s House' takes place at Millennium Gallery on 22 October. Tickets are £7–£9.

Art is magic

Jeremy Deller: Art is Magic

Jeremy Deller has long been one of the UK's most fascinating artists, with his extensive work ranging from a filmed reconstruction of the Battle of Orgreave during the miners' strike to a documentary on the history of house music presented to a group of south London sixth-formers.

Running through it all is an acutely political sensibility and an urge to expose and challenge injustice. Deller will be in conversation with none other than Jarvis Cocker about his new book, which Off The Shelf say offers "a revealing account of the inspirations, passions and practices of one of the country’s foremost contemporary artists."

'Art is Magic' takes place at the Students' Union auditorium on 26 October. Tickets are £8–£10.

Wynters paper

Wynter’s Paper: Insanity or Warning?

Long-time Now Then contributor and young author Akeem Balogun presents an experimental new work, blending mediums and taking written fiction into the exhibition space. According to Off The Shelf, the new work "creates a world around Icilda Wynter, a researcher whose controversial paper on aging populations sparked national outcry."

This mixed-media performance will feature photographs of the Wynter’s workspace by Marius Covalciuc, with text performed by storyteller Christina Ramsey and sound designed by Wodwo.

'Wynter’s Paper: Insanity or Warning?' takes place at Soft Ground on 28 October. Tickets are £7-8.

More Arts & Culture

Flaming Assassin is catching fire on the festival circuit

Filmed in Sheffield, the crime thriller by filmmaker, dancer and martial artist Nathan Geering has been picking up awards. Nathan told us more about kung fu, ‘fire breaking’ and being invited to train with Jackie Chan’s stunt team.

More Arts & Culture