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Dortmund writers exchange stories with Leeds

Peter Spafford is a writer based in Leeds. Following the outcome of the UK referendum Peter had a strong desire to reach out to writers in other countries, mainly in Europe, to investigate the possibility of working with a writer from a different country with a different language. Supported by the international relations team at Leeds City Council, the first exchange took place this year with Leeds’ twin city, Dortmund, Germany.  Peter wrote a blog for us about the exchange and his plans to develop the project going forward.

In September, Ralf Thenior, poet of Dortmund, one of our twinned cities, visited Leeds for a week. This was the first stage of Writers in Transit, a project I set up this year with the intention of making contact with writers in other European cities.

Ralf did three public readings in Leeds during his stay, as well as a live broadcast and a schools visit. But apart from doing this public work, he spent many hours pacing the pavements of the city making notes for an extensive ‘Leeds Diary’. How does a poet from Germany see a British city at this moment in our history?

And, reciprocally, how does a British poet see a German city? Because the second stage of this pilot project, my visit to Dortmund, happened in October. During my time there, I spoke to two groups of university students and academics, and did two public readings (one at the Dortmund Literaturhaus – enviably many German cities have one of these!). Apart from doing the public events, I also made many notes on the places I visited, the things I saw, and the people I met.

I have to say I had a fascinating time in Dortmund and my working friendship with Ralf has so far been one of the most satisfying and pleasurable collaborations I have ever undertaken.

The next stage is to write up our separate notes. He will translate mine, I will translate his (with quite a bit of help at my end….). We will then read highlights from both works in April next year both in Dortmund and in Leeds. In addition, the performances will be accompanied by a published version of both diaries in both languages.

At every stage I’ve been acutely aware of how important this kind of cross-border cultural work feels at the moment, especially in the light of what’s happened recently with the 2023 bid. Ralf and I are absolutely determined both to carry on with our own collaboration and to extend the contact between our cities to other Leeds and Dortmund writers and writing communities.

This could include young writers through an organisation like Chapel FM or The Writing Squad; writing groups who meet in libraries; university creative writing courses; and city-wide reading groups. The British-German Association is strong in Yorkshire and there is potential there. Meanwhile, Ralf’s draft Diary has just popped into my email box. I look forward to reading it…