Wigan-born festival founder's literary work recognised with MBE

She started a pioneering celebration of the written word.
Kay Dunbar MBE with her husband Stephen BristowKay Dunbar MBE with her husband Stephen Bristow
Kay Dunbar MBE with her husband Stephen Bristow

Kay Dunbar, who started the Ways With Words Literature Festival, was given the prestigious accolade in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list for services to literature.

Kay teamed up with her husband Stephen Bristow to put on the first Ways With Words event near her home in Dartington Hall in Devon in 1992.

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The first festival included luminaries of writing such as Anthony Burgess, who is best known for his dystopian novel A Clockwork Orange, Mary Wesley and Melvyn Bragg, who is now president of the Ways With Words festival that takes place in Cumbria.

Since starting out on the festival circuit Kay has gone on to help found literary events and writing courses in the Lake District, Suffolk, London, York and Bath as well as in France and Italy.

She said: “It has been the most enormous privilege and pleasure to have had the chance to meet and to engage with some of the finest intellectual, artistic and informed people in the country over the past 30 years.

“I really cannot believe how lucky I have been to have had such good fortune.”

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Kay, whose maiden name was Pedder, was brought up in the Springfield Road area of Wigan and attended St Andrew’s Primary School and Wigan Girls’ High School when it was still based at Mabs Cross on Wigan Lane.

She went to teacher training college at Alsager in Staffordshire and never returned to live in the borough, though she has regularly made trips to Wigan for family events over the years.

Her teaching career included a spell at the Summerhill independent private school in Suffolk and she also spent time as a university lecturer and a headteacher before starting Ways With Words.

She has recently stepped back from the organisation of the festivals but continues to keep a very close eye on the development of the


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Over the past year the coronavirus pandemic has meant the festivals in Devon, Cumbria and Suffolk have all had to be cancelled.

However, plans are in the pipeline for a shortened, livestreamed event with an audience present to take place at Dartington Hall in mid-July.

It is hoped this will reignite bookworms’ interest in attending events and meeting the minds behind their favourite reads.

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