Downing to host First Story Young Writers Festival 2023

On Thursday 30 March, Downing College and First Story will welcome over 400 young writers to Cambridge, travelling from a diverse range of schools across London, the East Midlands, and the North of England. 

These young people aged 11-18 are participants of First Story’s Young Writers Programme, which pairs acclaimed authors with schools in underserved communities to empower them to tell their stories.  

The Young Writers Festival, compered by spoken word poet and performer John Berkavitch, will give students the opportunity to take part in two small group workshops; participate in a Q&A session with multi–award winning children’s author, actress, playwright and screenwriter Manjeet Mann, and showcase their own creative writing to an audience of eager like-minded peers.

This year will also see the launch of a writing competition at the festival. Alumnus Quentin Blake (English 1953) has drawn images especially for the event. The students will use the images as writing prompts and the winning entries will be published in Downing’s literary magazine, The Leaves.

It is an exciting, jam-packed day of creativity and fun, designed to celebrate young people’s words and ideas in one of the UK’s most beautiful academic settings. 

Antonia Byatt, CEO of First Story, said “We’re delighted that so many young people from First Story schools will be attending this year; this is a great opportunity for students to share their writing, their experiences, benefit from exposure to some leading names in the literacy world and visit Cambridge University’.  

“Communicating through writing is at the core of contemporary culture and learning how to use your voice is incredibly powerful. This is a key event in the calendar for those taking part in our flagship Young Writers Programme which adds another dynamic to the overall experience.” 

Dr Bonnie Lander Johnson, Fellow in English at Downing College, says: ‘We can’t wait to welcome the students again this year. Many of them come from families with no history of university education. They travel from all over the country to spend the day exploring the College grounds, working with writers to tell the story of their own lives, learning about Cambridge, and thinking about the possibility of applying to university. We hope they will leave inspired to continue writing.’

Published 16 March 2023