Edinburgh International Book Festival Keeps the Conversation Going

Updated: Aug 3, 2020

The Edinburgh International Book Festival today invited authors and audiences from around the world to Keep the Conversation Going as organisers announced over 140 online events for adults and children over 17 days in August.  From Saturday 15 to Monday 31 August, the Book Festival presents live conversations, discussions and readings from 200 authors and illustrators coming together from over 30 countries around the world.  All events, which cross continents, time zones and genres, are free to access through the Book Festival’s website.  Innovative features include audience chat rooms, Q&A sessions, a new online Festival bookshop and opportunities for audiences to meet the author face-to-face and have their book signed. 

Nick Barley, Director of the Edinburgh International Book Festival, said “It’s been a leap of faith for everyone involved, but in these extraordinary few months we’ve managed to transform the way we deliver our Festival, bringing writers and readers together in a new online space for discussion and imagination. Despite the challenges I’ve been inspired by authors’ enthusiasm to try out this new approach, joining us in Edinburgh from all over the world without having to leave their homes. As society searches for ways to make sense of the new reality, it’s clearer than ever that books and writers offer a framework for constructive dialogue and for sharing bold new ideas.

“Thanks to the continued and generous support of so many of our funding partners and sponsors, including the Scottish Government, Creative Scotland, City of Edinburgh Council, Baillie Gifford and players of People’s Postcode Lottery, and of course our loyal and adventurous audience, we are able to Keep the Conversation Going in August.”

Double Booker Prize Winner Hilary Mantel discusses the final novel in her trilogy on Thomas Cromwell, recently longlisted for the 2020 Booker Prize, Executive Vice President of the European Commission, Frans Timmermans, examines the European Green Deal with former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, Arundhati Roy reflects on the implications of the global pandemic in Azadi,  her new collection of essays, and David Mitchell explores the musical inspiration behind Utopia Avenue.  2019 Booker Prize Winner Bernardine Evaristo joins Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, historian William Dalrymple discusses the East India Company with Fergal Keane, Turkish author Elif Shafak launches her new polemic How to Stay Sane in an Age of Division and the irrepressible Irish author Marian Keyes brings her latest bestseller Grown Ups.

Scottish talent joining the online Festival line-up includes Maggie O’Farrell dissecting her first historical novel Hamnet, Val McDermid launching the latest in her thrilling Karen Pirie series in conversation with Joan Bakewell, Alexander McCall Smith who chats with the former leader of the Scottish Conservatives Ruth Davidson and Douglas Stuart who brings his stunning debut novel Shuggie Bain, a love song to 1980’s Glasgow now longlisted for the 2020 Booker Prize.  Kirstin Innes talks about Scabby Queen, Kapka Kassabova and Gavin Francis explore borders created by lakes and islands while Andrés N Ordorica, Courtney Stoddart and Heather H Yeung are amongst writers in a Scottish BAME Writers Network showcase looking at Scotland’s literary heritage - past, present and future.

The Book Festival celebrates the launch of Summer, the final in Ali Smith’s quartet of seasonal, and topical, novels with a one-off exclusive showing of Festival, a short film by Sarah Wood.  In a series of keynote events launching brand-new books, Andrew O’Hagan introduces his first novel in five years, Michel Faber discusses his shape-shifting novel D, Ian Rankin brings his latest Rebus story and Richard Holloway launches Stories We Tell Ourselves.  

Culture Secretary Fiona Hyslop said: “The Edinburgh International Book Festival has long been a highlight of the Edinburgh Festivals’ calendar, bringing together some of the world’s finest authors and the best of contemporary Scottish talent. I am pleased it is able to continue to Keep the Conversation Going in 2020, bringing writers and audiences together online to stimulate debate and raise Scotland’s cultural profile on the international stage.  The Scottish Government has been continuing its support for the festival, and since 2008 has provided over £1.3 m of funding through its Festivals EXPO fund."

International voices include Samantha Power, former war correspondent and US Ambassador to the UN, who delivers the Frederick Hood Memorial Lecture, renowned Guadeloupe-born novelist and playwright Maryse Condé,  Japan’s prestigious Mieko Kawakami with her first novel translated into English, Hong Kong activist and leading voice in the Umbrella Movement Joshua Wong and Maaza Mengiste who tells the forgotten story of the Ethiopian women who fought against the Italian occupation, also nominated for the 2020 Booker Prize.  American journalist Anne Applebaum examines the Twilight of Democracy and Amin Maalouf joins former Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks in conversation about the world’s morality and moral credibility,  

The Middle East is explored in an event chaired by Palestinian lawyer Raja Shehadeh.  He is joined by authors from Egypt, Palestine, Iraq and Kuwait all of whom participated in Shifting Sands, his 2015 Book Festival strand and subsequent book, to discuss what has changed in the last 5 years.  In addition, Adania Shibli, the Palestinian author of Minor Detail, is in conversation with Fatima Bhutto, Colum McCann explores the implications of his 2020 Booker Prize longlisted novel Apeirogon with Raja Shehadeh and human rights activist Susan Abulhawa introduces her masterful second novel. A discussion with vibrant queer Arab writers will be led by translator and editor Alice Guthrie.

Following the success of the Book Festival’s Outriders Africa project, where five pairs of writers journeyed through 15 different countries including The Gambia, Ghana, Senegal, Uganda and Botswana, participants including Kayus Bankole, Tsitsi Dangarembga (2020 Booker Longlisted) and Wanjiru Koinange are back to share their experiences and some of the writing produced from the project.  Other African voices include the Congo’s Alain Mabanckou and multi-award winning Ugandan writer Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi who discusses her new novel The First Woman.  Ekow Eshun showcases a collection of over 300 stunning images taken by 50 contemporary photographers from across the continent.

All six authors shortlisted for the 2020 International Booker Prize appear in conversation with their translators (with one exception who wishes to remain anonymous) and the Festival hosts the first interview with the winning author announced on 26 August.  The winners of the University of Edinburgh’s James Tait Black Prizes are revealed as is the winner of the biennial Edwin Morgan Poetry Prize.  This year marks the centenary of Edwin Morgan’s birth, and an additional celebratory event includes voices from a wide range of Scottish writers and poets.

In the second year of a collaboration with the New York Times, the Book Festival presents events including the evolving place and rise of women in politics with In Her Words editor Francesca Donner.  In addition, audiences can enjoy an interactive session with The Times Crosswords team and a special edition of The New York Times Book Review featuring senior staff editor John Williams.  Finally, a discussion on capitalism and climate change in the era of Covid-19 chaired by international climate reporter Somini Sengupta.

Other authors addressing climate change include John Freeman in conversation with Haitian-American writer Edwidge Danticat and Aotearoa poet Tayi Tibble, both contributors to his new anthology Tales Of Two Planets, and Christiana Figueres and Tom Rivett-Carnac who explore The Future We Choose.  Helen Macdonald introduces her thoughtful new collection of essays and Kathleen Jamie launches Antlers of Water, an outstanding, and the first ever, collection of contemporary Scottish writing on landscape and nature. 

The Book Festival’s strong poetry line-up continues with appearances from British-Trinidadian and T S Eliot Prize winner Roger Robinson, Mojave American and Latinx Natalie Diaz and British ‘Instapoet’ Nikita Gill.   Gomeroi poet Alison Whittaker is joined by Ancestress, Ellen van Neerven and Uncle Jim Everett to read from  Fire Front, the ground-breaking anthology of First Nation poetry from Australia,  Scottish Makar Jackie Kay is joined by US Poet Laureate Joy Harjo in the penultimate in her 16-week Makar to Makar series, while Allie Esiri welcomes actors Helena Bonham Carter, Tobias Menzies and Hamilton’s Jamael Westman to read poems from her brand new anthology A Poem for Every Autumn Day.   Sarah Crossan brings her new verse novel Here is the Beehive, her first book for adults, and British writer and poet Derek Owusu discusses his novel That Reminds Me, the first from Stormzy's #Merky Books and winner of the 2020 Desmond Elliot Prize, in conversation with Paul Mendez.

Events for a YA Audience include appearances from Juno Dawson with her radical retelling of Alice in Wonderland, global bestseller Cassandra Clare discussing the first in her new trilogy, Dean Atta talking about his powerful coming of age story Black Flamingo and American author Nic Stone who presents her acclaimed book Dear Martin.  Vlogger and Drag Queen George Lester introduces his debut novel Boy Queen and Liz Hyder presents her critically acclaimed debut Bearmouth.

Every morning of the Festival at 9.30am (BST) the Baillie Gifford Children’s Programme offers a 10 minute Drawalong activity for younger audiences on the Book Festival’s Facebook page (@edbookfest). Rob Biddulph shows off his new picture book and Oliver Jeffers drops in from his home in New York to inspire budding illustrators of all ages.   Julia Donaldson brings some of her favourite characters to life in two events and Children’s Laureate Cressida Cowell introduces the latest in her Wizards of Once series with special guest Eoin Colfer.   Rashmi Sirdeshpande launches Dosh: How to Earn It, Save It, Spend It, Grow It, Give It, Science communicator Emily Grossman is in conversation with Konnie Huq about her Brain Fizzing Facts, Helen Skelton, Lily Dyu, Eilidh Muldoon and Lari Don all explore stories of fantastic female adventurers and comedian and actor Samantha Baines introduces Harriet, whose hearing aid helps her understand aliens.   

Michael Morpurgo is joined by illustrator Polly Dunbar, while Sharna Jackson and Robin Stevens share stories of their young detectives.  Philip Ardagh reads from The Railway Cat, Annabelle Sami & Allen Fatimaharan launch Llama Out Loud, introducing Yasmin who never speaks and her toy llama who speaks a lot.  Sensory storyteller Ailie Finlay is joined by illustrator Kate Leiper in a Learning Disability friendly event and Ailie, alongside inclusivity charity PAMIS, has created short videos to help teachers, parents and carers incorporate sensory elements while they watch the Book Festival’s events with Julia Donaldson and Slovenian author/illustrator Dunja Jogan. Additional resources for teachers are also available on the Book Festival’s Learning site to accompany a range of events across the Baillie Gifford Children’s Programme.

In a special event for industry professionals, the Book Festival presents Chance to Change - the Future of Publishing.  This forum for shared thinking and debate about the future of publishing in these extraordinary times is chaired by Ellah Wakatama Allfrey OBE.  In addition, a Literary Scout Masterclass with Managing Partner of London Literary Scouting, Rebecca Servadio and Rights Agent Andrea Joyce, offers publishing professionals practical advice on accessing international markets.

The Book Festival’s Citizen project, which has been hearing from residents of the City’s North and Musselburgh areas, is represented with a series of events including Healing the Digital Divide looking at the inequality of online access and Power to the People exploring how the Covid Pandemic has affected communities across the UK.  Stories and Scran brings people together in an online forum to enjoy readings from participants in the Citizen project and a free meal provided by the Scran Academy (this can be ordered in advance and delivered to houses within the EH postcode.)   Citizen is supported by Players of People’s Postcode Lottery and PLACE (Platforms for Creative Excellence).

Stephanie Kerr, programmes advisor at People’s Postcode Lottery, said: “Edinburgh International Book Festival is such a key event in the cultural calendar and it’s incredible that this year will be no different with the line-up of events planned – despite being fully online. I’m so pleased that funding raised by our players is able to continue supporting the Citizen project to ensure that local voices are included in the conversation, now taking place at a global level.”

Councillor Donald Wilson, Culture and Communities Convener for the City of Edinburgh Council, said: “We are proud to support the Edinburgh International Book Festival and that we’ll be able to Keep the Conversation Going during the current extraordinary circumstances. The endurance of the Festivals is essential to a successful future for the city and I am delighted that over 140 online events, including live conversations, discussions and readings for all ages, will take place. More than ever at this time, I believe that books and stories play an extremely important role in providing many of us with escapism and comfort as well as a sense of connection. I look forward to seeing the festival atmosphere being recreated online.”  

Full details of the 2020 Online Edinburgh International Book Festival can be found at edbookfest.co.uk and all events are free to watch through the Book Festival website.  A number of events across the programme will be BSL interpreted, and further events will be live captioned.  Audiences can mingle with each other before and during events by entering a live chatroom, and many events offer a Q&A session with the authors. Anyone can post questions to authors and vote for their favourites from other audience members.

The Book Festival has created a new online bookshop which will feature titles from all authors in the 2020 programme in addition to showcasing a range of books from Scottish publishers.   Across the Festival, there are a selection of live online book signings where audience members are able to chat to the author face-to-face and get their book signed after the event. A maximum of 50 people can book into each signing once they’ve purchased a copy of the relevant book from the Festival’s online bookshop.

Mairi Kidd, Head of Literature, Languages & Publishing at Creative Scotland said, “In a context of enormous challenge the team at Edinburgh International Book Festival have created a bold and lively programme bringing audiences in Scotland and around the world together with writers, artists and other thinkers to explore pressing issues and the power of the imagination to sustain us. In the digital space these events have the potential to reach vast new audiences and we hope that this year's programme will open the doors to many more fans for the future."