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Writing Away (Leeds-Dortmund Poets Exchange)

I’m a playwright, poet, and musician living and working in Leeds. Though I’ve written for theatre, radio, TV, and the page, a great deal of my work takes place in social, community and participatory contexts: schools, prisons, universities, museums, hospitals.

Recently I became very aware that I don’t meet or talk to many other writers who do the same kind of stuff that I do. Though I know that such work goes on in our region, and all over the country, I rarely get the chance to share ideas, experiences, and practice with other writers.

At the same time, I also began to feel that this kind of work is largely invisible to the general public and indeed greatly under-rated as a dimension within our arts culture. If, as participatory artists, we don’t share, and tell, those stories, there is a real chance that this kind of work – work that can help change lives, communities and institutions – will sink under the surface altogether.

In the wake of Brexit, I have been emboldened to extend this desire to reach out. I want to make contact with like-minded writers not only in this country but abroad. That’s why I started emailing writers in our twin cities of Brno and Dortmund, and with welcome support from individuals within Leeds City Council, this is how the Dortmund/Leeds writers exchange came about.

In September, a poet from Dortmund, Ralf Thenior, will visit Leeds for a week. He will present a live radio programme on Chapel FM with myself and local writers, work with a group of young German students at Lawnswood High School, headline a special Headingley LitFest event, and read at a ‘house gig’ in Meanwood. During his time here, he will also draft a series of poems about his first impressions of Leeds. Reciprocally, I will visit Dortmund in October, reading and performing at the city’s literature festival and other events. I will also draft a series of poems – about Dortmund!

Ralf and I hope that this is only the beginning of a more lasting ‘writing relationship’ between our cities. I also hope that this project, if successful, demonstrates the potential for a more extensive network of contacts and exchanges between Leeds writers and writers abroad in the run-up to 2023.

I’m actively looking for writers who want to take part in this, and particularly for writers who have a record in, and a passion for, writing in social and participatory settings.

If you want to get involved in the project, contact me at

Peter Spafford. 9.7.17