Sheffield's Off the Shelf festival defies pandemic to go for live events

Sheffield’s Off the Shelf Festival wasn’t going to let a little thing like a global pandemic stop it from going ahead in its 29th year.

Tuesday, 8th September 2020, 9:36 pm

Next month’s event has become a hybrid live and digital celebration of books and authors, with some events taking place at the Octagon Centre and the Crucible Theatre and even a poetry drive-in event featuring poet laureate Simon Armitage.

Tickets for 14 live events, which go on sale on Monday (September 14), are far more limited than usual, due to the need for social distancing, said one of the festival organisers, Maria de Souza.

So those events will be shown online as well.

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Author Lee Child and his biographer Heather Martin are opening this year's Off the Shelf festival

Lee Child, author of the best-selling Jack Reacher books, will open the festival, talking about his fascinating life and work with his biographer Dr Heather Martin, on Friday, October 9.

University of Sheffield graduate Lee said: “Sheffield is always in my heart and I was delighted to be invited to open the festival - it's always great to be back.”

City writer Helen Mort talks about her book Never Leave The Dog Behind, charting our love of mountains and dogs, on October 19.

Maria is thrilled that former festival volunteer, young Sheffield writer Akeem Balogun, will be talking about his first book, The Storm, published by his own company Oka pi Books.

Simon Armitage, a previous guest curator for Off the Shelf, returns for a special event on Sunday, October 11 at the Kenwood Hall Hotel.

He said: “Delighted to be ‘back on the road’ again with this drive-in poetry reading, Off The Shelf thinking out of the box - almost literally - to make this event happen. Pomp your horn if you agree.”

The line-up also includes Lemn Sissay, David Olusoga, Kit de Waal, Luke Jennings, Stuart Maconie, Susie Dent, Jonathan Porritt, Nazir Afzal, Dan Walker, Heather Morris, Roger Robinson, Luke Harding, Candice Brathwaite and Michelle Rawlins with Women of Steel.

Maria said that the organisers always planned to go ahead but they thought it might have to go online: “It’s still the same eclectic, diverse and brilliant mix, just a little bit distilled – a fun-sized version of Off the Shelf!”

The festival has been organised by the University of Sheffield and supported by Arts Council England and Sheffield Hallam University.

Full details of events at

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