News: London Borough of Culture 2019 announces literary programme for The People’s Forest

In a major nature writing commission, Faber New Poet and Caught by the River poet-in-residence Will Burns will create a series of new works inspired by Epping Forest as part of an exciting literacy strand for The People’s Forest.

The People’s Forest is year-long programme of work that is taking place as part of the Mayor’s first London Borough of Culture in Waltham Forest. Curated by arts consultant and events producer Kirsteen McNish and writer Luke Turner, the project will celebrate the borough’s unique relationship to Epping Forest and its importance as an urban woodland.

Alongside a soon to be announced programme of events, talks, gigs and artist collaborations, The People’s Forest will continue the history of great writers drawing inspiration from nature to present a literary programme designed to seek out new writing related to London’s strange and wonderful woodland.

Acclaimed poet Burns will walk from Wendover Woods to Epping Forest to shape a new series of poems to be released throughout the year as part of The People’s Forest, revisiting family history, memory and the forest.

Speaking about the project and his connection to the location, Burns said: “Epping Forest has loomed strange in my imagination since childhood. I grew up just outside its shadow, in Enfield, and my mother was born in Epping itself without ever knowing the place. Since moving out of London at 10, I have always loved woods – either ‘my own’ out here in Wendover, or others that I’ve visited.

“They are places unlike any other in our imaginations and I feel as if there is a whole chapter of my memory linked to that part of London but somehow missing. I hope to recover it through a year of walking and thinking and writing in the forest.”

The Willowherb Review is also inviting writers of colour to submit work by 15 March to be considered for one of four Epping Forest Writers-in-Residence opportunities as part of The People’s Forest. The chosen writers will create a range of exceptional new writing about each season.

The Willowherb Review was launched in 2018 as a platform to celebrate nature writing by emerging and established writers of colour. The lack of diversity in nature writing has been a ripe point of discussion amongst readers and critics alike and the journal was created as a simple means of widening perspectives on nature, place, and environment through new non-fiction, poetry, and short fiction.

Speaking about the commission, the journal’s Editor Jessica J Lee commented: “I’m so excited The Willowherb is participating in The People’s Forest London Borough of Culture 2019 project – not least because I’m an Epping Forest fan myself. Creating a platform for emerging writers of colour to explore nature and the environment is the key aim of the journal, and in our first issue we saw a lot of writers focus on urban nature. So new writing inspired by Epping Forest is a perfect fit for us.”

“Since the journal launched last year, it has been extraordinary to see the range and quality of nature writing submitted, so with these residencies, I am especially looking forward to seeing the forest in all its seasons and glory come to life on the page.”

Woodlands and forests have provided the setting and themes for storytelling since the birth of human culture, from the founding myths of our modern civilisations via Shakespeare and the fairy tales that scared us as children. Epping Forest itself was an inspiration for the poet John Clare, who made High Beech a subject of his work during a spell at an asylum on the northern fringes of the woodland. Charles Dickens used it for the place to open Barnaby Rudge, and Alfred, Lord Tennyson, the poet Edward Thomas, and TE Lawrence spent time among the trees.

More recently, it has inspired work by writers including Sara Maitland, Will Ashon, Adam Foulds and Iain Sinclair. Curator Luke Turner’s recently published first book Out Of The Woods investigates sexual identity, wilderness, mental health and history in the context of his relationship with Epping Forest.

A full programme of events for The People’s Forest will be announced soon.

For programme updates visit

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