Established in 2020 by the English and Creative Writing Department, the Centre for Literature and Community is a locus for literary activity, public engagement, and networking, bringing together university researchers and communities from beyond the academy. To date, the Centre has led and hosted a range of projects including the ‘Whitman 200’ international academic conference, and the inaugural collaborative community-focussed event, Whitman on Walls!, with Yale University and New York University.

Seeking to promote creative writing and literary study as a shared activity, the Centre’s work has focused on developing community-led creative arts groups and workshops, including Arts Council-funded drama and scriptwriting projects within the Greater Manchester area. The Centre’s literary engagement initiatives have also encompassed community digital projects, such as the 2020 online literary heritage course, ‘BOOC’, delivered with the Big Local during lockdown and the literary maps, ‘Writing Bolton’ and ‘Victorian Bolton’.

Beyond this, co-created community research outputs exploring the University of Bolton’s Special Collections & Archives have focused on the manuscripts, letters, cuttings, photographs and ephemera held within the Lancashire Authors’ Association Collection and the Tillotson Fiction Bureau Collection.

Member research interests include cultural studies, heritage studies, Victorian studies, creative writing, philosophy, film, and contemporary literature. The Centre holds close links with the Centre for Worktown Studies and the Centre of Research for Health and Wellbeing.

Centre Members:

Professor Jill Marsden,

Dr Kim Edwards Keates,
Project Manager

Bríd Andrews,
Community Arts Co-ordinator

Richard Wyatt,
Special Collections Manager

Rebecca Harris,
Research Assistant

Tim Leonard,
Special Collections Engagement Manager

The Cotton Queens Project 2023

The Cotton Queens are a diverse group of women from in and around Bolton. The aim of the Cotton Queen’s project is to support members in developing their knowledge, skills and confidence through creative writing and performance by engaging with cultural and historical archives of the Bolton area and its community. Group members aim to promote community wellbeing, inclusion and integration and create a collective sense of belonging through shared engagement in conversations and stories about Worktown women. The project is being led by Bolton City of Sanctuary and is supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund. Project partners are Bolton at Home, the University of Bolton and Bolton Library and Museum Services/Bolton Council.

Visit The Cotton Queens
University of Bolton, Yale and NYU, May 2022

Whitman on Walls!

Whitman on Walls! – A British-American collaboration launching a series of seven short films with over 50 global actors and 40 local Bolton performers hosted by the University of Bolton at the Bolton Museum and Art Gallery, celebrating Walt Whitman’s poetry. Karin Coonrod, theatre director and lecturer at Yale University described the event as ‘a drive-in movie meets poetry slam’.

We were thrilled to launch our Whitman on Walls! in Bolton […], to meet the great variety of poets  in the Bolton-Manchester area, to be with old and new friends. Many ask, why launch a piece about this American poet–Walt Whitman–in Bolton?  In fact, the location is perfect in that the first devotees of Whitman in his lifetime were living in Bolton. (And we discovered more about that through the little film made by Dave Burnham and Dick Perkins.) Our Whitman on Walls! moved that forward by launching the great variety of voices living now in this time, in this place.

With seven films featuring Compagnia de’ Colombari actors from around the world speaking/singing out portions of Whitman’s 1855 Song of Myself, the poets from Bolton responded loosely to the themes in Whitman’s reveries. 

Some phrases that stand out include one from the Verona Medhurst of Cotton Queens, “I am me, but who am I?/I am lots of different people all moulded into one/I am a he, I am a she, I am a they…” and EIleen Earnshaw of the Cotton Queens: “Between alpha and beta lies hope, love and ambition”  also Hilary Walker’s “Gratitude is the joy of….

finding your words within poems born from adversity…” or Chanje Kunda (from Manchester): “My history is the greatest curtain of falling water” or Hadisa Afzaly: “…While I was born a caterpillar/became chrysalis/suffering all hardships/until 

emerging like a true Afghan butterfly…” or Ajaz Qureshi: “Be like a river”.  Or Chris Chiton’s sly fantasy on Walt Whitman’s beard:  This beard invites you in/draw your fingers through it/savor its coarseness, stroke its downy lustre./Come be bold, step inside.”  

The musical conclusion by Michael Betteridge and The Sunday Boys was fitting as a kind of benediction to all the evening’s poets and voices. They sang a cappella Michael’s beautiful musical setting of Whitman’s poem “We Two Boys” and also the deep “I wonder as I wander”. I was delighted that all those from Bolton who did not know this Manchester choir could witness them for the first time. It was Chris Chilton who put me on to them and I was grateful for their stunning musical intervention. As there were no children involved, I engaged the young daughter of Dr. Karen Karbiener (who was instrumental in bringing me in touch with the Whitmanites of Bolton), Annike Pfeiffer, to lead the coda–with all the poets and The Sunday Boys–to speak out with joy in different languages: I celebrate myself/And what I assume you shall assume/For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.”  


It was an extraordinary gathering including Dr. Paul Salveson, the famous Whitman scholar, along with Chris Chilton, Dave Morgan and Dick Perkins and Dave Burnham, who all helped enormously in putting all the pieces together. Dr. Kim Edwards-Keates was indispensable as the holy spirit of our project in Bolton, not only encouraging her own students at the University of Bolton to write, but also catching the spirit of the project by reaching deep into the community to find participants, including the involvement of the Cotton Queens.

I am pleased we launched Whitman on Walls! in Bolton and hope that we will retain our connection with all the Bolton folk as we continue through the world to shout out radical inclusivity, in Whitmanic style. 

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Victorian Bolton

Conducted by staff and students in the English Department at the University of Bolton, this project uncovers a range of literary and historical artefacts from Bolton in the nineteenth century.

Visit Victorian Bolton

Writing Bolton

Writing Bolton is an interactive literature map for Bolton.

As well as a rich literary heritage, Bolton has an exciting contemporary culture of writing that deserves to be much more widely-known. We share and highlight a variety of existing and upcoming local events and literature themed landmarks or venues.

Visit Writing Bolton


Fine was made as part of a twelve-week educational film project in which a group of addicts in treatment were taken through the whole film making process from writing, through production to editing, post-production and distribution via the film festival network.

Visit the Fine site