In her landmark 2020 Book Festival event, Turkish writer Elif Shafak reflected that, distinct from information, and even knowledge, ‘wisdom requires bringing the heart and the mind together: it requires emotional intelligence; it requires empathy; and for that we need stories and the art of storytelling.’ This year we are delighted to welcome some of the most exciting voices of literature to our stages and screens to impart their wisdom with us. With our newsfeeds crammed with anxiety-inducing stories, and world events often looking like the pitch for a disaster movie, where can we go to find some perspective? Great stories – the ones that stay with us long after the last page is turned – provide unique landscapes and narratives to help us properly process big issues, allowing us to reflect on and embrace different perspectives. Absorbing such stories is indeed absorbing wisdom and we are thrilled to impart some of the best with you this August.
Mariana Enríquez: Argentina's Ghoulish Underbelly
Saturday 14 August 19:15 - 20:15
Mariana Enríquez returns to the Book Festival fresh from her recent shortlisting for the International Booker Prize. Enríquez joins us for a discussion with Argentine author, translator and publisher Carolina Orloff.
Richard Flanagan: Life Support Systems
Monday 16 August 10:15 - 11:00
Hobart-based Booker Prize-winner Richard Flanagan talks to writer Dan Richards about weaving the traumatic story of a family together with the wider issue of our collective need to reconnect with our environment.
Maria Stepanova: Memory Palaces
Wednesday 18 August 13:00 - 14:00
She has won most of the literary awards in her home country of Russia, and this year Maria Stepanova – along with her translator Sasha Dugdale – was shortlisted for the International Booker Prize. Stepanova’s book asks searching questions about the nature of memory, and she discusses it today with reporter and author Amelia Gentleman.
Iman Mersal: The Limits and Pleasures of Egyptian Womanhood
Wednesday 18 August 16:15 - 17:15
Iman Mersal is a major figure in international literature, an Egyptian poet whose work is characterised by her ardently experimental style. Mersal discusses her astounding novel, contemporary Egyptian womanhood, and how translation takes words ‘to new languages and homes’ with poet and writer Mona Kareem.
Alan Warner: Confessions of a Rock Groupie
Thursday 19 August 11:30 - 12:30
1970s England – the days of glam rock, then punk rock; of Multi-Coloured Swap Shop and Branston Pickle. This is the period Alan Warner sets his novel Kitchenly 434. We welcome Warner to talk about his masterful scene setting and his antihero of Kitchenly Manor with V&A Dundee Director Leonie Bell.
David Grossman with Elif Shafak: Duty or Love?
Thursday 19 August 13:15 - 14:15
David Grossman’s latest novel, More Than I Love My Life, is a remarkable exploration of the lives of three generations of women in one family. A sweeping story about the power of love and loving with courage, it is driven by a faith in humanity even in our darkest moments, and asks us to confront our deepest held beliefs about a woman's duty to herself and to her children. Grossman joins us live from Jerusalem today in conversation with Elif Shafak.
Kevin Barry: Looking Across a Bog to the Bluestack Mountains
Friday 20 August 13:00 - 14:00
Sligo, Leitrim and Limerick are some of Ireland’s smaller, less populated counties. So what did they do to deserve the talents of Kevin Barry? The answer lies in the tender and humorous short stories of Barry’s newest collection, That Old Country Music. Join the multi award-winning Barry as he talks to Peggy Hughes about his remarkably atmospheric writing and the land that inspires it.
Pat Barker: The Women of Troy
Saturday 21 August 16:00 - 17:00
Ever since winning the Booker Prize in 1995 for the third book in her Regeneration Trilogy, Pat Barker has demonstrated an uncanny ability to describe the psychology of individuals during times of conflict. Join Barker for the launch of the sequel, The Women of Troy, in a conversation with journalist Lee Randall.
Rachel Cusk: Home Truths
Saturday 21 August 17:15 - 18:15
Today Rachel Cusk joins us to discuss her latest novel Second Place, in which a couple invite a famous male artist, L, to take up residence in a small building next to their seaside property. This is fiction of the highest calibre. We are thrilled to welcome back one of the finest writers on these islands to discuss her book.
Judith Bryan, S I Martin & Nicola Williams with Bernardine Evaristo: Black Britain, Writing Back
Saturday 21 August 17:30 - 18:30
Winning the Booker Prize in 2019 changed everything for Bernardine Evaristo. But as well as enjoying international fame for herself, Evaristo has been able to turn up the volume on something she has been doing for years: championing the work of other Black British writers. Today she interviews three authors whose books were first published in the 1990s and are now republished by Hamish Hamilton as part of a series entitled Black Britain.
Jeff VanderMeer: The End of All Things?
Saturday 21 August 20:15 - 21:15
When he first came to Edinburgh some years ago to discuss his speculative eco thriller Annihilation, we suspected that Jeff VanderMeer would become one of the best-respected science fiction authors of his age. What we didn’t realise was that Cli-Fi (climate-fiction) would become one of the fastest growing genres in publishing. He is joined by Scottish writer Heather Parry to dive headlong into a weird world of subterfuge and intrigue.
Marilynne Robinson: The Prodigal Son
Sunday 22 August 14:15 - 15:15
We are thrilled to welcome the Pulitzer Prize-winning Marilynne Robinson to the Festival as she beams in remotely from Iowa to talk about her quietly monumental literary project with fellow novelist James Runcie.
Jessie Greengrass & Gwendoline Riley: The Agony of Love
Monday 23 August 13:00 - 14:00
Greengrass and Riley discuss the intertwining nature of love and pain with writer and campaigner Caitlin May McNamara.
Jon McGregor: Writing Taken to Extremes
Monday 23 August 13:15 - 14:15
What happens when three explorers lose each other during a terrifying storm on a glacier in the Antarctic? Jon McGregor’s novel Lean Fall Stand answers that question in a thrilling opening sequence. McGregor shares the challenges of writing in the extreme conditions both of Antarctica and the uncharted terrain of the human mind.
A L Kennedy: We Are Not Dead Yet
Wednesday 25 August 11:30 - 12:30
A L Kennedy’s insightful and piercing gaze, evident in all her books, is probably at its most unflinching in her short stories. We are thrilled to welcome her back to the Book Festival with her short story collection We Are Attempting to Survive Our Time. Appearing alongside her is one of Ireland's greatest writers Bernard MacLaverty, another consummately gifted wizard of prose. Expect a hugely entertaining, often hilarious view of our strange times as they talk to Scottish author and journalist Stuart Kelly.
Jonas Eika & Federico Falco: Destroying Literature's Safety Net
Wednesday 25 August 13:15 - 14:15
Meet two of the sharpest, funniest, most ferociously precocious talents in international literature. Jonas Eika is one of Denmark’s notable younger talents, drawing breathless plaudits from fellow writers. Argentine writer and publisher Federico Falco has been described as ‘the master of the short story’ by Scottish author Martin MacInnes. Eika and Falco offer new modes of storytelling in an era when the old ones may no longer suffice.
Elif Shafak: If Trees Could Speak
Wednesday 25 August 14:30 - 15:30
The Island of Missing Trees is set in Cyprus, where two people from opposite sides of the country’s conflict fall in love. They meet secretly in a derelict taverna, their only witness a fig tree growing through the broken roof. Later, the couple take a cutting from the tree and smuggle it to their garden in London where it thrives and is loved by their daughter. Always a joy to hear, Shafak shares her research into the surprising links between humans and the natural world with her usual insight and eloquence.
Willy Vlautin: The American Nightmare
Wednesday 25 August 19:00 - 20:00
We are absolutely delighted to welcome Vlautin back to the Festival to discuss his latest novel, and to speak up for the people whose American Dream has turned sour.
Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o: The Myth of Human Progress
Wednesday 25 August 19:15 - 20:15
One of the greatest living writers, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o joins us by a live link from his home in Kenya. Join Thiong’o as he seeks to highlight and undermine different languages of power.
Samanta Schweblin: Tales from the Uncanny Valley
Thursday 26 August 13:15 - 14:15
When Samanta Schweblin burst onto the English-language literary scene in 2017, her evocations of the horrors that tinge everyday life struck a deep chord with readers. In this event she discusses the wildly-imaginative Little Eyes with Book Festival director Nick Barley.
Elizabeth Knox: The Political Force of Fantasy
Friday 27 August 13:15 - 14:15
A huge hit already in Knox’s New Zealand and Knox’s 13th novel, The Absolute Book is truly thrilling: a melting pot of genres that is matched in its size (600+ pages) as it is in its imagination and entertainment. Knox joins us live from New Zealand to speak to writer Alice Tarbuck about the force of magic for good.
Katie Kitamura: Familiarity and Contempt
Sunday 29 August 17:15 - 18:15
Join us today to hear Kitamura discuss her hotly anticipated new book 'Intimacies', it isn’t published until August, but it has already enjoyed a cornucopia of praise.
Kazuo Ishiguro: On Being Human
Sunday 29 August 19:00 - 20:00
Having added 2017’s Nobel Prize for Literature to his 1989 Booker Prize, the unassuming Kazuo Ishiguro has quietly been established as one of the world’s greatest living authors. Hear from a true modern master in this unmissable hour of discussion.
Leone Ross: All the Flavours of Love
Monday 30 August 13:00 - 14:00
Leone Ross is a novelist, short story writer, editor and journalist: she joins us to discuss this, her third novel – one that will linger long in the memory. Chaired by tv and radio presenter Gemma Cairney.
Hari Kunzru: The Breakdown of Truth
Monday 30 August 19:15 - 20:15
Exploring the slippery relationship between facts and truth, he joins us to discuss what it means to be ‘redpilled’ and what difference – if any – the election of Joe Biden might make.
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Natasha McEnroe will explore how to collect and preserve objects that convey the impacts of COVID-19 on science, medicine and wider society, whilst that same pandemic rages around them.
This online course, run by the Edinburgh Sculpture Workshop, gives you the skills to create your own clay portrait sculpture working from images, drawings or paintings of a person of your choosing.