Big Read

The Big Read is a long-running campaign at Durham Book Festival which celebrates the joy of reading.

Each year, thousands of books are gifted to people from across County Durham, inviting them to read for pleasure and be part of a shared moment for the county.

Durham Book Festival distributes free copies to schools, the University, libraries, community centres, food banks, prisons, and business around the County each year. We also work with targeted groups to provide shared reading sessions. During the festival we host a special Big Read event with that year’s author, and you can watch these filmed events for free below.

Previous Big Read titles have included Northern Lights by Philip Pullman, The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters and Written in Blood, a specially commissioned Vera short story by Ann Cleeves for Durham Book Festival 2020. 

The Big Read 2021 My Name is Why by Lemn Sissay

At the age of seventeen, after a childhood in a foster family, followed by six years in care homes, Norman Greenwood was given his birth certificate. He learned that his real name was not Norman. It was Lemn Sissay. He was British and Ethiopian and he learned that his mother had been pleading for his safe return to her since his birth.   

We wanted to bring Lemn Sissay’s powerful story of his quest for identity and belonging to a wider audience; to shine a light on his lived experience of the care system and the discrimination he experienced as a Black child growing up in a small post-industrial Northern town; and to celebrate the voice of the boy who grew up to become one of our most celebrated poets, the Chancellor of Manchester University and the recipient of an OBE in 2021. 

In 2021 Durham Book Festival will work with Durham County Council’s Library Service to distribute 3,000 copies of My Name is Why to libraries, prisons and businesses, and to university staff and students across Durham.  

Lemn Sissay is a BAFTA-nominated, award-winning writer and broadcaster. He has authored collections of poetry and plays. His Landmark poems are visible in London, Manchester, Huddersfield and Addis Ababa. In 2021 Sissay was awarded an OBE for services to literature and in 2019 he was awarded the PEN Pinter Prize. He is Chancellor of the University of Manchester. He is British and Ethiopian.

Previous Big Reads

Written in Blood by Ann Cleeves

The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters

Half a Creature from the Sea by David Almond


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