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The Joy of Words: Unveiling the 2023 Programme of the Edinburgh International Book Festival

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The 2023 programme of the Edinburgh International Book Festival has been unveiled, commemorating The Joy of Words and the festival’s 40-year tenure as the premier global celebration of written expression.

Taking place from August 12th to August 28th, 2023, this year’s festival promises to bring together eminent writers, artists, and intellectuals from around the world to foster uplifting conversations that honour exceptional new works of fiction, spoken word performances, and non-fiction works.

Attendees can look forward to a diverse range of events, including outdoor excursions led by renowned endurance athletes like Emily Chappell, a climate-positive series featuring the prominent climate activist Greta Thunberg, engaging discussions on comedian Sara Pascoe’s debut novel, and memoir presentations by Judy Murray, Rob Delaney, and Munroe Bergdorf. Furthermore, Festival Late Nights hosted by Damian Barr will offer a delightful evening experience for all attendees in August. With such a broad array of offerings, the festival guarantees an enriching experience catering to diverse interests and tastes.

“This year’s Book Festival programme is called The Joy of Words, and it’s been truly a joy to bring it together. My team and I have aimed to build an uplifting festival that is packed with exceptional thinkers from all over the world. At a time of polarised opinion and deep divisions, we hope to rediscover the pleasure of conversation; the satisfaction of spending time with people who can offer positive insights into the world today. This is my fourteenth and final programme for the Book Festival and I’m very excited by the prospect of 18 days in August with such a cornucopia of brilliant writers.”

Nick Barley, Director of the Edinburgh International Festival

This year the Book Festival returns to the Edinburgh College of Art (ECA) with a programme of nearly 600 live events featuring more than 470 authors, writers and thinkers from 49 countries. More than 100 events will be live streamed and Festival Late Nights will return for the first time in three years, including special salons hosted by Damian Barr and Gemma Cairney. As ever, there will be free children’s events and workshops across the site and everyone’s favourite authors, as well as rising stars, will be on hand to sign books at the Book Festival Bookshop brought to audiences by Waterstones. Think Tanks encourage people to have robust conversations over food, wine (or soft drink) e and the Festival gears up to host the “Loud Poets Grand Slam Final” run in partnership with I Am Loud Productions.

Bernardine Evaristo, Jackie Kay, Val McDermid, Elif Shafak, and Ali Smith talk about how their experiences have informed their writing careers in a series called What Makes a Writer and, in its 40th year, the Festival has selected 40 writers for New Writers, New Worlds. This strand highlights 20 emerging Scottish authors including Heather Parry and Em Strang, and international writers like Jenny Erpenbeck and Leila Slimani. 2023 also sees the return of three authors who attended the first-ever Festival in 1983  — Alastair Moffat, Michael Rosen, and A.N. Wilson.

Seven Booker Prize winners also join the lineup including 2022 winner Shehan Karunatilaka, Eleanor Catton, Ben Okri, James Kelman, Ian McEwan, and Anne Enright with her brand new novel The Wren, The Wren. Former International Booker winner David Diop will also appear, as will this year’s winners, the Bulgarian author Georgi Gospodinov and translator Angela Roden. Other international stars include the Prime Minister of Iceland, Katrin Jakobsdottir, who joins Ragnar Jonasson to discuss their crime novel Reykjavik.

A stellar lineup of Scotland-based authors features heavily, with established names such as Irvine Welsh, Jenny Colgan, Denise Mina, Chris Brookmyre and Alexander McCall Smith discussing their books. They are joined in the festival by leading British authors including Deborah Levy, Sebastian Faulks,and Katherine Rundell; and writers from further afield including Colson Whitehead, Chika Unigwe, Eileen Myles, Isabella Hammad, Ayobami Adebayo, Yiyun Li, Iman Mersal, Clemens Meyer, and Raja Shehadeh

Laura Cumming’s Thunderclap, Raynor Winn’s Landlines and Malorie Blackman’s Just Sayin’ are three of a series of memoirs to be demystified by their authors on stage this year, alongside Jenni Fagan who was part of the first Book Festival Outriders project in 2017. Twenty years in the making Ootlin is Fagan’s highly anticipated memoir, offering a very personal insight into her experiences of growing up in the care system. 

Chaired by writer and broadcaster Gemma Cairney, It’s Not Too Late to Change the World features Greta Thunberg and takes place at the Edinburgh Playhouse on Sunday 13th August and is one of the Climate Positive series events that looks at the health of our planet. Featuring writers who offer an energetic call to action and ideas about how humanity can, and must, step back from the brink, it includes an event with Mikaela Loach, activist and author of It’s Not That Radical, who is also a medical student at the University of Edinburgh. 

To mark the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement – Irish foreign correspondent Fergal Keane (who reported on The Troubles) will be joined by Aoife Moore and Jan Carson to discuss the fragility of peace. Continuing in a political vein, heavyweights including former Prime Minister Gordon Brown, Labour front-bencher Wes Streeting MP, Conservative peer Ruth Davidson, and former Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale discuss the options for this country’s political future. Continuing the tradition of the Scottish leader conducting an interview at the Book Festival, First Minister Humza Yousaf will interview Hashi Mohamed, who arrived in Britain as an unaccompanied child refugee from Kenya – and is now one of Britain’s leading housing barristers. 

Also in 2023, the NHS marks its 75th anniversary and Sarah Brown will lead a conversation about the challenges facing the system, while Devi Sridhar and Gavin Francis will discuss the cost of the cure. This event is part of the Outside the Box strand which introduces audiences to the innovators whose ideas genuinely offer new approaches to resolving humanity’s challenges and also includes an event with David Farrier and Karine Polwart in which they interrogate how to transform planning for the future.

This year’s poetry lineup features stars from the USA including Claudia Rankine and Eileen Myles, as well as Canadian poet Dionne Brand. From Britain Zaffar Kunial and Alice Oswald come together on stage to present not-yet-published new work, while Liz Lochhead reads from her New and Selected Poems. Carol Ann Duffy presents poems from her new collection Politics, and Don Paterson will discuss his memoir of growing up in Dundee. There’s also multilingual poetry from Marcas Mac an Tuairneir, who writes in Gaelic and English, alongside Sam O’Fearraigh, who writes in Irish and English. Gerda Stevenson will present poetry in a variety of languages and formats in her event with JL Williams, and audiences will enjoy events featuring spoken word from Leyla Josephine and Michael Mullan

Many authors appearing this year have been inspired by human rewilding: getting close to the earth and playing their part in restoring its ecosystems. Whether it’s Raynor Winn’s stories of her hikes with partner Moth or Merryn Glover walking the Cairngorms in the footsteps of Nan Shepherd, audiences can join those who are not only getting out into nature but who are also exploring the sustainability of humanity. 

Embracing the convivial spirit of this year’s programme, Think Tanks is a series of events offering audiences the chance to ‘deep-dive’ into topical issues such as the ethics of AI, with leading scholar Kate Crawford, or how the law can improve government with The Good Law Project’s Jolyon Maugham KC, whilst also enjoying food and wine (or a soft drink).

A new study, The Edinburgh Readerbank, is the product of a major new long-term research partnership between the Book Festival and Durham University. This study asks the question: ‘What is the relationship between reading, imagination, and mental health?’ Audiences can hear from experts as they share perspectives on belief, perception, and imagination, and can also participate in this potentially game-changing study by contributing their data at a special drop-in data centre on-site. 

In the festival’s unique Outriders Europe project, four pairs of authors undertook intrepid journeys across Europe, travelling in the mountains of Transylvania and along the contested border of the island of Cyprus. In two special events, audiences can hear from authors like Scottish storyteller Mara Menzies who, alongside Sami playwright Rawdna Carita Eira, trekked across the Sápmi lands of northern Finland, Sweden and Norway, and from other writers with connections to Scotland – Dean Atta, Cal Flyn, and Victoria McNulty -who join to talk about their own amazing journeys with writers from elsewhere in Europe.

Throughout the year the Citizen programme provides a space for conversation and creativity in North Edinburgh, Musselburgh, and Tollcross. As part of the programme writers in residence Eleanor Thom and Ryan Van Winkle deliver everything from zine-making to podcasting. Continuing the Festival’s 40th-anniversary celebrations, Our City, Our Stories will take place on the three weekends of the Festival and invites writers from across the Citizen programme (and other community-based groups including Intercultural Youth Scotland and Open Book) to perform brand new stories helping to create a love letter to Edinburgh.  

As part of its commitment to increasing the accessibility of the Book Festival for the people of Edinburgh, the Festival has developed a long-term partnership with The Alternative School at Spartan’s Community Football Academy, and since August author Chris Barkley has been based at the club three days a week working with young people. Chris has helped these young people explore their local area, how adults perceive them and what they want for the world, and they have recently written their own film script and worked with filmmaker Rory Easton to make it a reality. Audiences are invited to join them for Letters of Hope, which will feature the world premiere of their film and words from Chris and the young people about their dreams for the future. 

“Without words there would be no books so the theme for this year’s Edinburgh International Book Festival is well chosen. With the world’s greatest writers and thinkers gathered in Edinburgh, there really is something for everyone. 

“The Scottish Government is proud to support the festival as it celebrates its 40th anniversary with £182,500 from our Expo and PLACE Funds.”

Culture Minister Christina McKelvie

“Huge congratulations to Nick and the team at EIBF on an outstanding programme for their 40thanniversary year. Featuring an impressive range of international and homegrown talent, this year’s programme provides an opportunity for people from all walks of life to experience the joy of words. 

“I’d also like to take this opportunity to thank Nick, as he steps down later this year, for everything he has achieved during his time as Director of the EIBF. 

“Nick and his book festival team have been instrumental in bringing people together from around the world to explore and debate contemporary issues of our time, underlining the fundamental role that literature in all its forms plays in influencing and shaping public debate.”

Iain Munro, CEO of Creative Scotland

Headlining this year’s Young Adult offering is Alice Oseman who will be talking about her bestselling Heartstopper series with Benjamin Dean. We also welcome poet Nikita Gill, Scottish authors David Fenne, Emma Grae and Catriona Child, as well as fantasy sensation Samantha Shannon and a special event with playwright Alan Bissett, novelist Holly Bourne and screenwriter Emma Dennis-Edwards who will discuss the thorny issues around consent.

Alongside the Baillie Gifford Schools Programme unveiled earlier in the year, firm FREE favourites return in 2023 including Are You Sitting Comfortably in The Storytime Yurt every morning and workshops in the Creation Station with partners Craigmillar Books for Babies, Edinburgh Libraries and Dad’s Rock. Also returning in 2023 is an animated outdoor space with Sprog Rock once again rocking the courtyard on the first Sunday of the Festival alongside beatboxer Bigg Taj, and everyone’s favourite costume characters (including a brand new addition – the mighty Supertato!)visiting the Festival Village every Saturday and Sunday morning. On the final weekend, there will also be a Dragon Hunt, where 10 dragons illustrated by Cressida Cowell will be placed around ECA for families to find, to celebrate 20 years of How to Train Your Dragon.

Leading children’s authors including long-standing Book Festival fan Julia Donaldson and Children’s laureate Joseph Coelho also return, alongside events featuring Dapo Adeola and Nathan Bryon, Tracey Corderoy and Steven Lenton

As well as our animated courtyard performances and character appearances we have an array of interactive workshops with leading authors, illustrators and comic book creators again this year. Children will have the chance to learn how to draw manga, preserve plant specimens, make explosions with food, and write the story of their life (so far!) and much, much more.”

Rachel Fox, Edinburgh International Book Festival Children’s Programme Director

Once again, while the Festival gears up to welcome audiences and visitors on-site at ECA, it will also be taking lots of authors off-site to spread the joy of the Book Festival to those who can’t join in person. Award-winning author and illustrator Rob Biddulph will visit children on the wards of the Royal Hospital for Children and Young People and poet Leyla Josephine will run a workshop with the hospital’s youth group. For the third year in a row, a programme of events will be live-streamed to The Birks Cinema in Aberfeldy and the Festival continues its work in prisons with authors visiting six across Scotland. 

Once again the Festival seeks to make events more open and easier to attend and offers a range of Pay What You Can, BSL interpreted, and Live Captioned events. A series of free events across the adults, children and communities programmes run throughout the festival, and a brand-new £10 ticket concession for those under 26s has been introduced

In 2023 the Book Festival Bookshop is brought to audiences by Waterstones.

For more information on the Edinburgh International Book Festival visit: https://www.edbookfest.co.uk/   

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