• Kaitlyn Chatwood

Edinburgh International Book Festival unveils 2021 stellar programme




About the festival this year


The Edinburgh International Book Festival is back this year and the line-up is too good to miss. The festival will take place from the 14th – 30th August, which will be a combination of online and in-person events from amazing people around the world. The festival has also moved this year from its traditional home on Charlotte Square to the University of Edinburgh’s Edinburgh College of Arts on Lauriston Place. The organisers of the events are excited to welcome back visitors both new and familiar to the book festival.


The Edinburgh International Book Festival continues to promote, support and showcase new authors, illustrators, small publishers as well as brand-new releases from beloved authors. This week, they announced the stellar line-up of everyone who will be attending the festival. There are over 250 events both in-person and online for children and adults; almost half of the speakers joining this year will appear in person in Edinburgh while the others will lead the way digitally from their homes. All of the events will be live streamed and can be watched on demand through the Book Festival’s website where they are operating a pay-what-you-can scheme. For those who can or wish to attend the events in person, ticket sales go online Thursday 22nd July, but be sure to book quickly as the events are running on limited capacity with 1-metre social distancing in place to continue to protect those who go.


Nick Barley, Director of the Edinburgh International Book Festival, said: “The Book Festival is at the forefront of the re-emergence of public events, and we have a duty of care to our authors, audiences and staff. It is important that we help rebuild confidence and we have therefore chosen to retain 1metre social distancing for audiences in the studios. This gives us a reduced capacity of 100 in the New York Times Theatre (in Sculpture Court) and 60 in the Baillie Gifford Theatre (in West Court). Outside in the courtyard we are recreating the ‘village green’ element of the Book Festival that our audiences enjoy with a bookshop, café, family play area, seating spaces and a big screen upon which a number of the live events will be shown. The Book Festival has always aimed to be an oasis of calm and, as ever, this will be a space for audiences to chat, relax, read a book and while away the hours in the summer sunshine.”


Events across the programme will BSL interpreted, and online events will have a live chatroom allowing audience members from around the world to interact with each other. Since most events offer a Q&A with the authors, this means those not there in person can also participate in the Q&A.


At its new home at the Edinburgh College of Arts, there will be a new bookshop on site and online which will feature titles from all the authors at this years’ festival as well as a range of books from Scottish publishers.


The line-up of this years’ events


There is a fantastic selection of Nobel Prize winners and Booker Prize winners. Kazuo Ishiguro, who won the 2017 Nobel Prize in Literature, will be there this year as well as Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, a writer who is a hit to receive the Nobel Prize shortly. Salman Rushdie and Douglas Stuart, who both won the Booker Prize, will be there alongside First Minister Nicola Sturgeon to discuss Shuggie Bain. Bernardine Evaristo who won the Booker Prize in 2019 will introduce her exciting selection of new Black, British writers. The duo David Diop and Anna Moschovakis, who translated his book At Night All Blood is Black from French to English, who won the 2021 International Booker Prize will be there as well.


There are various established authors releasing new books this summer who will also feature at the Book Festival. Joan Bakewell, Eimer McBride, Matt Haig, Pat Barker, Elif Shafak and Lavinia Greenlaw to name just a few of the fantastic, incredible authors at the 2021 Book Festival. Poet Kathleen Jamie will be joined by Don Paterson and Peter Mackay to launch a collection titled ‘The Golden Treasury of Scottish Verse’. Jed Mercurio and Prasanna Puwanarajah have collaborated to create a new and highly anticipated graphic novel series of which the first is called Sleeper.


There are international authors and voices from over 30 countries who will join in Edinburgh’s book festival. Torrey Peters, Jeff VanderMeer, Willy Vlautin and Rachel Kushner have written novels; Viet Than Nguyen and Marilynne Robinson who have both won the America Pulitzer Prize; Alicia Garza who is the co-founder of the Black Lives Matter movement. From the Carribbean, Monique Roffey and Cherie Jones: from Africa come various authors. Scholastique Muksonga from Rwanda, Damon Galgut and Pumla Dineo Gqola from South Africa, Wayétu Moore from Liberia and Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor from Kenya. All of these astounding and talented authors will be at the book festival.


From our own island comes more great authors. Ian Rankin, Ali Smith, Maggie O’Farrell, Alan Warner, Alexander McCall Smith, Denise Mina and Sara Sheridan whose novel is set in our very own Edinburgh Botanic Gardens. Doug Johnstone, Ambrose Parry, Mary Paulson-Ellis and Abir Mukherjee will also be there.


This year’s theme: Onwards and Upwards


This year’s theme is important as it reflects the struggles of the last year and the ways in which we need to grow out of our situation. The theme is titled ‘Onwards and Upwards’, and the festival organisers have introduced a jam-packed punch of incredible people to participate in the events.


Nick Barley stated: “We are incredibly excited to produce our first ‘hybrid’ festival with authors and audiences joining us both in person and online. We welcome a mix of Scottish and international voices to discuss their ideas, hopes and dreams and we aim to explore together how to move ‘Onwards and Upwards’ from this devastating pandemic. In our new home at Edinburgh College of Art we have created three broadcast studios, two of which can accommodate limited audiences. These new facilities enable us to offer author conversations to worldwide audiences and to those closer to home who are unable to join us in person, as well as welcoming a limited In-Real-Life audience.”


Labour leader politicians such as Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Ed Miliband will be there. Brown will examine global solutions for global problems whilst Miliband will be joined by Ece Temelkuran to explore the need for major change within the UK. Gavin Esler and Samir Puri will hold an interesting discussion about the future of the UK; whilst Lisa Williams, the founder of the Edinburgh Caribbean Association, along with Alex Renton will reflect and discuss the legacy of colonialism and Empire. Sathnam Sanghera, British journalist and author, and Dan Hicks, professor of archaeology, will hold separate events regarding their specialist fields.


News media outlets will also feature this year: The New York Times Series will include panel discussions with Eliot Higgins and Matt Thompson. Helene Cooper, the BBC’s New York correspondent, will discuss the idea of whether intervention can be humanitarian. Vanessa Nakate, a 24-year-old Ugandan activist, joins Leah Thomas, UK ornithologist, along with Mya-Rose Craig, author, and Elizabeth Paton, The New York Times, to discuss climate change.


Kate Aronoff and Pulitzer Prize-winner Elizabeth Kolbert will offer new perspectives on how we can face the challenges engulfing our planet whist Devi Sridhar, a key member of the Scottish Government’s Covid-19 Advisory Group, and Sally Magnusson discuss how political decisions led to differing government responses to the pandemic. GP Gavin Francis and palliative care doctor Rachel Clarke both have frontline experience of the NHS response to Covid-19 and they will join famous novelist Kate Mosse, who has been caring for elderly family members throughout lockdown, to share their personal experiences of the pandemic.


Alan Bett, Head of Literature and Publishing at Creative Scotland, said: “The 2021 offering is an exciting and radical reimagining of the Edinburgh International Book Festival, based and broadcast from their new home at the Edinburgh College of Art. Featuring an inspiring and diverse programme of writers and thinkers, from international voices to home grown talent, the programme will spark debate and bring the joy of reading to audiences across Scotland and beyond. The Book Festival team deserve a huge amount of credit for their hard work, ensuring authors and their readerships meet, either in person or in the digital sphere, to enjoy some of the most vital and valuable literary work the world has to offer.”


This year’s theme is hard but important to understand and the sheer variety of people who have the credentials, the experience and the knowledge of how we can move onwards and upwards is incredibly important. The Edinburgh International Book Festival has worked hard to bring the best voices, best authors and best ideas to the forefront of the festival.


The events will be live streamed around the world so everyone can truly participate and learn more. Or simply kick back with a cup of tea and listen to your favourite author discuss your favourites books.


For more information and details regarding the events, please visit their website here.