Potteries author Arnold Bennett is being honoured 150 years after his birth in a year that has been earmarked by VisitEngland as The Year of Literary Heroes. Born on May 27 in Hanley, Stoke-on-Trent, in 1867, Bennett eventually moved to London, but never lost sight of his native Potteries - despite becoming one of the most financially and socially successful writers of this century.
The Potteries became the setting for many of his novels and short stories as Bennett detected a "grim and original beauty" in the industrial landscape of the region where he spent his formative years. And his writings helped put The Potteries on the literary map of Great Britain.
Universally recognised as ranking alongside Thomas Hardy's Wessex in the description and depiction of a specific region and the provincial life it embodies, Bennett's novels of the 'Five Towns' have attracted an enormous world-wide following for well over a century.
Here's are some highlights of what's taking place throughout the year. For a full list of the celebrations taking place, visit www.arnoldbennettsociety.org.uk
Arnold Bennett: In Life and Art
A free-to-visit exhibition at the Potteries Museum & Art Gallery entitled Arnold Bennett: In Life and Art, is running from 18 February to 2 July. It will draw on many of the artefacts, watercolours and other Bennett materials held in the Museum's collection, many of which have not been on public display before.
Anna of the Five Towns
One of Bennett's best-known works, Anna of the Five Towns, has been adapted for the stage by Deborah McAndrew - the British playwright and actor, once better known for playing Angie Freeman in Coronation Street in the 1990s. This will be directed by Conrad Nelson, and performed at the theatre-in-the-round, the New Vic Theatre, between the 26 May and 17 June.
It’s a new adaptation of one of his most-loved novels, and tells the absorbing love story of a spirited young woman, set against the backdrop of life in The Potteries: “Anna Tellwright’s 21st birthday brings with it newfound responsibilities, wealth and a suitor for her heart. Courted by desirable bachelor Henry Mynors, Anna struggles to gain her independence. She finds herself torn between trying to please her tyrannical father and a desire to help young Willy Price and his family from the brink of ruin. As pressure mounts, tragedy strikes, and Anna must discover where her heart truly lies before it’s too late.”
Arnold Bennett Statue unveiling
The City of Stoke-on-Trent is currently bidding to become the 2021 UK City of Culture, and Bennett's literary legacy forms a part of that bid. A statue to mark the 150th anniversary of his birth will be unveiled in the City Centre on 29 May - on the anniversary of his birthday. The two metre-high bronze statue will then stand outside The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery as a symbol of the city's cultural heritage.
Commissioned by the Arnold Bennett Society, funded by the Denise Coates Foundation and gifted to the city, the statue is the work of local sculptors Michael Talbot and Carl Payne - and will now join a Sculpture Trail of around 40 other artworks across all six towns and communities of The Potteries.
The unveiling of the Arnold Bennett statue by guest of honour Simon Heffer at 12 Noon on May 27will be followed by a Commemoration Service on Sunday, May 28 at 10.30 at Swan Bank Methodist Church - with the laying of a wreath in the cemetery at 2.00pm. Please visit the Arnold Bennett Society website for more details.
Bennett on the big screen
Stoke Film Theatre will be hosting a season of Bennett movies, including a screening of Piccadilly on Wednesday, 10 May at 7.45pm, which is when a new adaptation of a book of that same title will be launched. For a list of all Bennett screenings taking place at Stoke Film Theatre, please visit www.stokefilmtheatre.org.uk
Stoke Literary Festival 2017
This year's Stoke-on-Trent Literary Festival which is held at the Emma Bridgewater Factory, will also doff its cap to Bennett.
The "Festival in a Factory" returns on Thursday 8th, Friday 9th and Saturday 10th June 2017 featuring a diverse programme of authors, workshops and performers discussing the creative process and their latest releases, giving festival goers the opportunity to debate with and meet some of the country’s leading writers.
Follow Arnold Bennett's Bursley Trail
Middleport Pottery in Burslem (the “home” of BBC TV’s Great Pottery Throw Down), for example, will be staging a new play by Mr Bill Ridgway, Arnold & Marguerite on Friday, July 14.
Once Arnold had made up his mind, he stuck to his plan like a limpet. He’d long decided to marry at forty, and six months before his deadline he was introduced to Marguerite Soulie, as aspiring French actress with a chequered history and a mind of her own. They wed in Paris in 1907. It wasn’t long before the cracks started to show. Now there were two people vying for a place in the driving seat! – with unfortunate results for both
All tickets £6 inc. refreshments.
Booking preferred – 01782 499766 (Pay on the door available).
For further details, visit www.middleportpottery.org/events/.
Other attractions in Stoke-on-Trent & The Potteries are also planning their own events.
To see a full programme of events and celebrations organised by the Arnold Bennett Society please visit www.arnoldbennettsociety.org.uk