Young Writers Programme participants — join us at the 2024 Young Writers Festival for a packed day of workshops, readings, performances and more!
Dean Atta is the author of YA novels-in-verse The Black Flamingo and Only on the Weekends. Named as ‘one of poetry’s greatest modern voices’ (Gay Times). The Black Flamingo was a top-selling debut of 2020 and was shortlisted for the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize, CILIP Carnegie Medal, The Jhalak Prize and The YA Book Prize. The Black Flamingo was also awarded the prestigious Stonewall Book Award and the Carnegie Shadowers’ Choice Award 2020, and sold to the US in a five-way publisher auction. Dean is also a former First Story writer in residence.
With thanks to our generous festival funder:
And thanks to our core supporters:
Highlights from the Young Writers Festival 2023
On 30 March 2023, more than 240 First Story participants from across England came together at the University of Cambridge to take part in our annual Young Writers Festival. Held for the first time at Downing College, our 2023 festival was headlined by multi-award-winning children’s author, actress, playwright and screenwriter Manjeet Mann.
MC’ed by John Berkavitch
The festival opened with a performance by the Broken Orchestra, experimental sound artists from Hull, featuring acclaimed poet and playwright Vicky Foster, before First Story writer and spoken word artist John Berkavitch introduced our guest speakers.
I liked the ability to meet writers who have a career in writing because it helps to broaden your perspective on where you can go as a writer. It was interesting to hear their stories.Festival participant
Mukahang Limbu (First Story alumnus)
Dr Bonnie Lander-Johnson (Writer and Downing College Fellow)
On behalf of Downing, Dr Bonnie Lander-Johnson, fiction writer, essayist and Shakespeare scholar, warmly welcomed festival attendees to the College.
Mukahang Limbu is a Nepalese writer based in Oxford who completed First Story’s programme whilst a student at Oxford Spires Academy, supported by writer Kate Clanchy. A three-time Foyle Young Poet, Mukahang gave an inspirational talk about his journey from aspiring young writer to award-winning published poet.
Headlined by Manjeet Mann
In conversation with First Story Young Ambassadors
Manjeet Mann‘s debut YA novel RUN, REBEL was shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal 2021 and won the CILIP Carnegie Shadowers Choice Award. Her second novel The Crossing was shortlisted for the Waterstones Book Prize 2022, the Carnegie Medal 2022 and the CLPE CLIPPA Poetry Award 2022, and won The 2021 Costa Children’s Book Award. At the festival, Manjeet gave a thrilling reading from the loosely autobiographical RUN, REBEL, before being interviewed by a panel of First Story students and taking audience questions.
If you want a career in the arts […] you have to fight for what you want to do. I’m from a council estate in Walsall. I’m from a high-rise block of flats. My parents were illiterate. I was that kid at school who was from a very disadvantaged background. We came from nothing, but I have a career […] Look at me. I am here, I’ve done it. It is a viable career choice. You can become a success – whatever success means to you. It might be painful and it might be hard, but if it’s something that you want to do, you’ve got to go for it.Manjeet Mann
Festival participants attended two different group writing workshops during the day, facilitated by 19 First Story writers, in a variety of impressive settings around the College campus.
I really enjoyed the different workshops we got to participate in, listening to other people’s thoughts and ideas and along with giving me motivation to write and work hard to get accepted to Cambridge.Festival participant
Young Writers showcase
The festival culminated with everyone returning to the main hall for a showcase of the day’s best writing. Students volunteered to take to the mic and perform their work. We heard so many powerful, funny, original pieces – the queue to read just kept getting longer!
Also at the festival…
A college tour, lunch expo, bookstall and signing session by Manjeet Mann
Downing College, Cambridge is one of the University’s few open colleges, set amongst a spacious, stunning landscape of lawns and gardens. Downing staff and students were such welcoming, generous festival hosts.
Titles for the lunchtime bookstall were generously donated by publishers Penguin Random House, Vintage, Hachette, Harper Collins, Faber, Own it! and Pan Macmillan, as well as individual First Story writers.
Feedback from participants
It was a really fun experience. The workshops were really fun and it made me more excited for university.Festival participant
of participants would recommend taking part in the Young Writers Festival to other students.
of participants agreed that they enjoy and/or appreciate writing more after attending.
I liked the freedom to write what I wanted while also having the support of skilled and accomplished writers. It was fun and free and enjoyable.Festival participant
The atmosphere was so warm and supportive, and all the writers were really nice and inspirational. The Cambridge student volunteers who toured us around were also so nice and helpful.Festival participant
of participants agreed that after attending the festival they are more confident about sharing and talking about their work with others.
of teachers agreed the festival helped their students enjoy and/or appreciate writing, and also feel more confident to share and talk about their work with others.
The entire experience from departure to return is invaluable for our students; to give them an opportunity to travel, see new things, write and dream. The event allows our students to appreciate their own stories and creativity; the diversity of writing and the opening of spaces which once seemed inaccessible.Michael Krasser, teacher at Kingsbury High School
Could you organise your own festival?
We’ve put together a free resource for young people that will help you to stage your own festival in your school or community.
Attendees at our 2023 Young Writers Festival contributed a line each to create an epic poem in celebration of First Story’s 15th birthday.
On 29 March 2022, some 300 young writers travelled to the University of Cambridge for First Story’s annual Young Writers Festival, headlined by celebrated author Patrice Lawrence MBE.
Joe Hakim shares his perspective on the First Story Young Writers Festival 2022 and reflects on the special moment of being able to meet up in person.
First Story history, 2021’s celebrations took place entirely online, with students and schools joining us virtually to take part in workshops and hear award-winning authors discuss their work.
YWF19 in partnership with the University of Cambridge was attended by over 330 young writers and this year featured headline speaker Juno Dawson.
Ahead of her appearance at our Young Writers’ Festival, Juno Dawson tells us what helps her write so well for young adults, and why it’s important to nurture under-represented writers and amplify their voices.
First Story programme graduate, Imaru Lewis’s speech to current students at the Young Writers’ Festival 2018.
YWF18 speakers included award-winning poets Kei Miller and Shivanee Ramlochan and best-selling author Stephen Kelman.
YWF17 went dual-site for the first time! Featuring poets John Agard and Grace Nichols in Oxford, while Simon Armitage spoke in Hull.
Naomi Alderman, Laura Dockrill, Anthony McGowan and Dave Rudden will be joining First Story at this year’s Young Writers’ Festival.
The award-winning authors will be joining us to speak about the craft of writing and to answer any questions our young writers may have.