William Blake vs the World: Why he matters more than ever

Book cover of William Blake vs the World, and a hunched shadowed figure

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A celebration with Neil Gaiman, Salena Godden, John Higgs, Robin Ince and Kae Tempest.

This is an online event hosted on the British Library platform. Bookers will be sent a link in advance giving access and will be able to watch at any time for 48 hours after the start time.

William Blake (1757 – 1827) was a poet, artist, visionary and author of the unofficial English national anthem 'Jerusalem'.

An archetypal misunderstood genius, his life passed without recognition and he worked without reward, mocked, dismissed and misinterpreted. Yet from his ignoble end in a pauper's grave, Blake now occupies a unique position as an artist who unites and attracts people from all corners of society, and a rare inclusive symbol of English identity.

Many of his astonishing publications and manuscripts are housed at the British Library. This special event features glimpses of these great treasures and the words of our curator Alexandra Ault.

Blake’s words are read for us exclusively by two of our finest contemporary poets, authors and performers, Salena Godden and Kae Tempest, while Neil Gaiman shares a special appreciation.

In a rich and revealing conversation, John Higgs, the author of the new book William Blake vs the World, talks to comedian, writer and polymath Robin Ince about the bewildering eccentricities and mind of this most singular artist. They discuss why so many people are drawn to an artist they don't claim to understand, what modern neuroscience can tell us about Blake's visions and the strength of his imagination, and the important role he plays in modern British society.

Buy your copy of William Blake vs the World for £20 at checkout (with free UK postage) and attend the event at no extra cost *

Neil Gaiman is an author of books for children and adults whose titles include Norse Mythology, American Gods, The Graveyard Book, Good Omens (with Terry Pratchett), Coraline, and the Sandman graphic novels. Neil Gaiman is also a Goodwill Ambassador for UNHCR and Professor in the Arts at Bard College.

Salena Godden is one of Britain’s best loved poets and performers. She is also an activist, broadcaster, memoirist and essayist and is widely anthologised. She has published several volumes of poetry, the latest of which was Pessimism is for Lightweights, and a literary childhood memoir, Springfield Road. Her debut novel Mrs Death Misses Death was published this year to great acclaim. A BBC Radio 4 documentary following Godden’s progress on the novel over 12 months was broadcast in 2018. In November 2020 she was made a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.

John Higgs is a writer who specialises in finding previously unsuspected narratives, hidden in obscure corners of our history and culture, which can change the way we see the world. His books include I Have America Surrounded (2006), The KLF (2012), Stranger Than We Can Imagine (2015), Watling Street (2017), The Future Starts Here (2019), William Blake Now (2019) and William Blake Vs The World (2020). He has also written two short novels under the name JMR Higgs, The Brandy of the Damned (2012) and The First Church on the Moon (2013).

Robin Ince is co-presenter of the award-winning BBC Radio 4 show, The Infinite Monkey Cage. He has won the Time Out Outstanding Achievement in Comedy, was nominated for a British Comedy Award for Best Live show, and has won three Chortle Awards. He has toured his stand up across the world, both solo and with his radio double act partner, Professor Brian Cox. He is the author of I'm a Joke and So Are You and the forthcoming The Importance of Being Interested: Adventures in Scientific Curiosity.

Kae Tempest is an award-winning author, poet and recording artist and President of the Blake Society. Tempest won the 2013 Ted Hughes Award, was nominated for a Costa Book Award and a BRIT Award, has been shortlisted for the Mercury Prize twice and was nominated for two Ivor Novello Awards. They were also named a Next Generation Poet by the Poetry Book Society, a decennial accolade. They released their fourth studio album, The Book of Traps and Lessons produced by Rick Rubin in 2019, and a non-fiction book, On Connection in 2020.

*Please note. An additional postage charge of £5 applies for orders from outside the UK. Books purchased will normally be dispatched within 7 days after the event. Please ensure your address is up to date on your British Library account.

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Name: William Blake vs the World: Why he matters more than ever
Where: British Library St Pancras
When: -
Enquiries: +44 (0)1937 546546