Published: Tuesday, 16th May 2023

More than 70 international and local best-selling authors, West End playwrights and award-winning poets will inspire residents and visitors at a spectacular new literary festival.

Medway River Lit, produced by Wordsmithery, celebrates the history and future of literature, poetry and spoken word and will be held between Friday, 2 June and Sunday, 11 June, at a number of locations across Medway.

The innovative festival will feature something for everyone with dedicated poetry, children’s literature and manga days, fantasy and sci-fi fiction and a series of panels and writing workshops.

Medway River Lit will launch with a celebration of local creativity at Chatham Library on Friday, 2 June, with award-winning poet Caroline Bird, patron of the festival, in attendance. A sealed time capsule of sound, Estuary Sound Ark, will be welcomed to its permanent home at Chatham Library. Co-commissioned by Creative Estuary and produced by The Radiophonic Institute, the Estuary Sound Ark explored the sounds of the Thames Estuary in 2022 and brought together artists, creatives and communities across Medway, Kent and Essex. The Ark contains poetry, compositions and more than 2,000 sounds which were submitted by the public. The contents were shared with a live audience at the Gulbenkian Arts Centre in November 2022 before it was sealed. The ark will not be opened until November 2122.

Poets who were involved in the project will read their poems and it will be followed by Intra-Duction, a poetry crawl of Chatham’s Creative Heritage Quarter, where strolling poets will drop into shops and other venues along the Old High Street Intra to perform a poem or two.

Caroline Bird will also perform at the Medway Adult Education centre in Rochester on Friday, 2 June.

St Margaret’s Church in Rainham will host a day of poetry on Wednesday, 7 June, with performances from poets Sascha Aurora Akhtar, Helen Seymour and award-winning John McCullough and a workshop with Naomi Wood. There will also be three open mic events, one specifically for young people aged 14 to 18 on Friday, 2 June.

Punk poet legends Attila the Stockbroker will perform industrial and dub poetry on Tuesday, 6 June, and Cosey Fanni Tutti will talk about her book Re-Sisters at the Medway Adult Education centre in Rochester on Saturday, 3 June from 4-5pm.

A relaxing, laid-back writing workshop will also take place on the 5,000-year-old The Fenland Black Oak Table at Rochester Cathedral on Monday, 5 June, at 11am.

The festival will also celebrate Medway’s home-grown writing talent, more than 26 local poets and writers will be showcased throughout the festival.

Medway River Lit’s finale will bring together some original members of punk-based poetry performance group The Medway Poets including Billy Childish and Bill Lewis at Chatham Library on Sunday, 11 June at 7.30pm. 

The final weekend of Medway River Lit, will focus on Charles Dickens' literary works and will bring pages of prose to life on Saturday and Sunday, 10 and 11 June. Performances of Victorian and Dickens-themed readings will fill Rochester, including Dickens’ great, great grandson, Gerald Dickens, who will perform Nicholas Nickleby at Medway Adult Education (on Saturday) and The Guildhall Museum (on Sunday) from 4.30pm on both days. Gerald will also be taking part in an exclusive Q&A session at Eastgate House hosted by Siȃn Thomas.

Rochester Castle Gardens will host the Dickens Summer Weekend on Saturday and Sunday, 10 and 11 June, with an array of activities for residents and visitors of all ages to enjoy between 11am and 5pm. Pretending People Theatre Company has teamed up with the Pickwick Club and Dickens Fellowship to develop an interactive, accessible performance of the cricket match based on The Pickwick Papers. The performances will be held at approximately 12.45pm, following the parade, on both Saturday and Sunday. Bring a picnic and take part in an afternoon of Dickensian family fun. Try your hand a croquet or boules, take part in Victorian circus skills workshops or just sit back, relax and watch Victorian jugglers. A small children’s fun fair will also be on offer in the picturesque castle gardens.

Wilfred Lee and Belinda the Steampunk Storyteller will also tell tales throughout the weekend and Great Kentspectations, a Kent steampunk group, will host a fashion show and talk to give visitors an insight into what steampunk is.

Young people from Icon Theatre will present a show about children in Victorian literature and local poet Bridget Nolan, will be reading from her poetry collection, ‘A Walk with Charles Dickens’.

Celebrating storytelling in all of its mediums

Dee O’Rourke, Medway Council’s Assistant Director of Culture and Community, said: “This exciting new festival celebrates storytelling in all of its mediums with a diverse line-up of international creatives alongside Medway’s outstanding home-grown talent. We are incredibly proud of Medway’s historical links, particularly to Charles Dickens and Medway River Lit will celebrate it all with the Dickens Summer Weekend.

“I would encourage Medway’s budding poets and writers to take part in the dedicated sessions for children and young people. We are proud of how brilliantly talented Medway’s young people are and providing them with these opportunities supports our aspiration to become even more child-friendly.”

Words ebb and flow like the River Medway

Sam Hall, of Wordsmithery, said "We are excited to celebrate Medway’s long connection with words and writing, in what will be the first Medway-wide literary festival in 25 years.

“From the Textus Roffensis at Rochester Cathedral, to writers such as Charles Dickens, Anne Pratt, and Rosemary Tonks, to the DIY-ethos of the Medway Poets publishing and designing their own books, Medway has always been a place where words ebb and flow like the River Medway, and this new festival will celebrate our literary past, and our future – in workshops, talks, exhibitions and more.” 

Find out more

News archive