In the academic year of 1982/83, students and lecturers of evening and day-time literature classes – organized by what was then the University of London’s Extra-Mural Department – founded a Literature Association which they named ‘ULEMLA’.  The first lecture was given in May 1983, and soon a pattern of seven talks per year being given by a variety of writers, actors, academics and publishers etc was established. Poetry, drama, essays, novels and short stories, biography, landscape design, are all of interest to us.  

Though our events are known as talks, they are as varied as the speakers and include academic lectures, seminars with close-reading of poems, slide shows of literature in art and more. AS Byatt joined us for an audience-led Q&A on her work which brought to light the different audience reactions to her work outside the UK, different titles being more popular among German readers than here, for instance. Andrew Davies’s descriptions of how he adapts works for the screen are highly entertaining as well as thought-provoking. The family of JL Carr discussed copyright and self-publishing and Judith Chernaik told us about setting up Poems on the Underground, giving the audience actual copies of poems then being shown on the tube.

Birkbeck was our home for many years and talks were held in Birkbeck buildings in Tavistock and Russell Squares and latterly in Birkbeck’s new building on Malet Street. For the last couple of years, the IES have become our kind new hosts and we met in Senate House until Covid locked us all down in March in the middle of our 2019-2020 programme. Until this week we were hoping to hold our Christmas party in Senate House in December and restart our meetings in January 2021, but this is now not going to be possible and we await further developments.

We have another link with the IES as a spring lecture is held in honour of Charles Peake who taught many members of ULEMLA, supported our setting up and was a speaker in our early years. Michael Peake, his son, has also spoken for us on music and literature and Sue Underwood, his daughter, spoke on her father’s life and work.

Our May meeting is a trip to a place of literary interest both near and far, including as far as Dublin. In some years our trip linked to a talk, such as 2005 when we visited Kipling’s Sussex home, 2002 when we visited Bedford for its Bunyan associations and 1996 when we visited Kelmscott Manor in Gloucestershire, William Morris’s home. We much enjoyed our tour of the Old Vic and had planned to see the National Theatre this year, another event which has been postponed.

Penny Youard, ULEMLA member since 2002, Committee member since 2017 and learner driver of the ULEMLA website, has a particular interest in ULEMLA’s talks relating to cities especially London, the landscape or spirit of place and literature in art.