Syima Aslam, the Director of the Bradford Festival of Literature, has won the Hospital Club ‘h 100’ award in the publishing and writing category. The Hospital Club is a private members club in London’s Covent Garden, with many media and publishing members. The h 100 awards are given to “the most influential and innovative individuals across the breadth of the UK’s creative industries’. They were founded in 2009 and run by the Hospital Club, which is so called because the building formerly housed a hospital in the 18th century.
The Bradford Festival of Literature started in 2014 and this year’s event included Jeanette Winterson, Elif Shafak, Ben Okri and the historian David Starkey.
Aslam is a British Muslim who co-founded the festival with Irna Qureshi who writes on British Asian culture. Ever since the Bradford book burnings in 1989 after publication of The Satanic Verses, Aslam has sought to challenge stereotypical views, both of Muslims and her home city. She wrote in the magazine Critical Muslim: “What the Bradford Muslim community failed to recognise at the time was that the impact of the image of a burning book, unprecedented in Britain and evoking as it did uncomfortable memories of the Nazi bonfires of 1933, symbolic of the repression of freedom of expression, as well as a death sentence on a writer, would cast a long shadow into the future. It would seal Bradford’s reputation as being full of backward, violent, religious fanatics.”
She notes that in 2013 when the 133-year-old Bradford Reform Synagogue, a Grade II listed building and the oldest Synagogue in the north of England, was faced with closure it was rescued by donations from the Muslim community.
“The Bradford Literature Festival, of which we are the founders and directors, has deliberately sought to wrest back control of the city’s identity by highlighting these bonds of faith,” she said. “That is why we programmed a Jewish strand as part of its Bradford Heritage events. It is also why we decided to hold the festival’s very first Sacred Poetry occasion, in September 2014, at the city’s last remaining synagogue. The Sacred Poetry event offered an uplifting celebration of divine music and verse from across the religious spectrum.”