The British Library’s Writing: Making your Mark opens this month and in addition to the much-anticipated exhibition, there’s a chance to catch a series of fascinating events covering everything from Michael Rosen on alphabet books to Goldie on graffiti.

Diamond Sutra, world’s earliest complete survival of a dated printed book © British Library Board

Letterheads and calligraphers aside, now that the majority of the writing happens on keyboards and screens, it’s easy to wonder if the simple act of creating letterforms by hand has any real future. Writing: Making your Mark is a landmark exhibition at the British Library in London which sets out to both examine the act of writing, and to question its future in this increasingly digital era. Tracing the development of writing through over 30 different writing systems, the exhibition aims to challenge our ideas about writing using carefully chosen examples of writing as art, expression and instruction. As lead curator Adrian Edwards explains:

‘From hieroglyph to emoji and clay tablet to digital, Writing: Making Your Mark will demonstrate how writing is so much more than words on the page – it is how we communicate across time and space, how we express ourselves, and how we lay down our collective memory.’

Schoolchild’s homework in Greek on a wax tablet © British Library Board

As well as many well-known examples including James Joyce’s autograph notes for Ulysses and Scott of the Antarctic’s final diary entry, many objects from the British Library’s vast collection will be on display for the very first time. These include Caxton’s 1476-7 edition of the Canterbury Tales, which was the first ever book printed in England, and Mozart’s complete musical works from 1784-1791, featuring his handwriting and musical notation.

Mozart’s catalogue of his complete musical works from 1784-1791, featuring his handwriting and musical notation © British Library

For those that can’t get to London, there’s an accompanying book published by the British Library, as well as a series of pop-up exhibitions held in partnership with the Living Knowledge Network in twenty partner libraries across the UK. Participating libraries will be encouraged to respond with material found in their own archives and carry on the conversation through a series of locally-based events.

Chinese typewriter

Also accompanying the exhibition is an engaging series of events at the British Library, including lunchtime curator’s talks and lettering tours, plus a series of fascinating lectures, just a few of which are listed below…

Ewan Clayton Writing: Humanity’s Greatest Invention

Master calligrapher Ewan Clayton discusses the future of craft skills and asks what writing is, how it works, and what might happen in future to what is, after all, one of humanity’s most significant achievements. (Thursday 2 May, 19.00 – 20.30)

Michael Rosen’s Alphabet Soup

Often our first introduction to the shapes and sounds of letters, the much-loved writer and broadcaster Michael Rosen takes a fond look at alphabet books through the ages.

Friday 3 May, 19.00 – 20.30

Postcard from the Past: Tom Jackson

One a hugely popular way of staying in touch, Postcard from the Past’s Tom Jackson presents a selection of the strangest and most touching postcard messages and asks if it’s too late to revive the almost lost art of postcard writing. (Friday 10 May, 19.15 – 20.30)

The Word on the Street: Graffiti, Typography and Art

An all-star panel including graffiti bomber turned musician Goldie, New York photojournalist Martha Cooper, and artist eL seed discuss the art of graffiti as part of the Word Up late night event, where you can try stone carving, calligraphy and the latest technological tools. (Friday 17 May, 19.00 – 20.30)

Boring Talk: Stationery

One for the pen and paperclip geeks out there – the legendary Boring Talks take to the stage with a wealth of trivial and pointless discussion about all things stationery. (Thursday 6 June, 19.00 – 20.30)

Lettering Walking Tours

Lettering aficionados Phil Baines and Catherine Dixon of Central Saint Martins lead a series of four walks uncovering some of the fascinating visual landscapes of London, with routes from the British Library to the British Museum, from the National Gallery to the British Museum, from Holborn to the City, and in and around Smithfield. (Tuesday 25 June – Thursday 4 July, 18.30 – 20.30)

Writing: Making Your Mark

26 April – 27 August 2019

British Library, 96 Euston Road, London, NW1 2DB

Entry £14 / £12 (seniors) / £7 (students)

Children learning to write in Cyrillic © British Library Board

Victorian advertisement for a Paul E Wirt fountain pen with testimonials © British Library Board

Initial page, letter ‘T’. An illuminated border to the first page of text,

Vai language manuscript from Liberia written in Vai syllabary invented ca 1832 © British Library Board

Album of Japanese calligraphy Extracts of famous calligraphers’ works containing rare samples of the hands of Emperor Shōmu and Empress

Victorian advertisement for ball-point pens. Printed poster (UK, 1880s) © British Library Board