From South Asia’s most inspiring writers speaking in Jaipur to literary heavyweights entertaining crowds at Hay, book festivals are now a truly international affair. Bibliophiles can get their cultural fix across continents and throughout the year, taking their pick between huge extravaganzas and intimate gatherings. Here are some of the highlights in 2016:
Billed as the ‘largest free literary festival on Earth’, Jaipur is a blockbuster among book festivals. Directed by William Dalrymple and hosted in an ornate heritage hotel, Diggi Palace, the 2016 festival features Sunjeev Sahota, Margaret Atwood and Man Booker Prize winner Marlon James.
Cartagena’s brightly painted buildings and cobbled streets offer a radically different backdrop to Hay’s UK-base on the edge of the Brecon Beacons, but the line-up in Colombia is no less stellar. In 2016, speakers will include Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, director Stephen Frears and writer Lionel Shriver. Talks and concerts are hosted in the city’s splendid Teatro Adolfo Mejia and on the historic Plaza de la Aduana.
Featuring plenty of homegrown talent plus big-name writers from around the world, including Tash Aw, Jeffery Eugenides and David Mitchell, Tokyo’s annual festival offers a small but thoughtful programme. Panel events staged in city theatres and cafés debate love stories and showcase contemporary Asian writing, while Granta magazine will launch a special Japan issue.
Feb 28–Mar 9
Self-styled as a ‘creative festival’, Port Eliot’s programme covers food, music and art as well as words. But its imaginative literary events and spectacular setting on the ancient Port Eliot estate make it distinctive among the UK’s many book-oriented festivals. Journalists, poets and novelists perform to laid-back crowds on the ‘Bowling Green’ stage and in the estate’s walled garden. Festival-goers can also take a dip in the River Tiddy or watch bands play in one of Cornwall’s oldest churches.
Forest-clad mountains, pristine coastline and colonial buildings make Paraty a hard-to-beat backdrop for a literary festival. Listen to highbrow guest authors speak in round-table discussions, then while away the afternoon on an unspoiled beach. Running since 2003, FLIP is firmly established on the international literary circuit with past headliners including Julian Barnes and Don DeLillo. Film screenings, exhibitions and plays give it a broad, vibrant focus.
June 29–July 3
If book readings on Bondi Beach appeal to you, head to Sydney in May. With other venues including heritage wharves, the Opera House and the Blue Mountains, the city’s annual festival is a scenic celebration of the written word. A jam-packed programme features over 400 international writers and events are attended by 80,000 avid readers each year. Programme details go live in March.
16–22 May 2016
Every August, Edinburgh’s tranquil Charlotte Square Gardens transform into a huge tented village dedicated to all things literary. Founded in 1983, the city’s book festival hosts around 800 speakers a year, from bestselling authors to debut novelists and performance poets. Children’s workshops and storytelling sessions entertain fledgling bookworms, while grown-ups can be inspired by Nobel Prize winning scientists and writers. Line-up announced in June.
City museums, theatres and cultural institutes host an impressively global programme during Berlin’s ten-day annual literature festival. Founded in 2001, the festival enters its sixteenth year next September and will feature a cast of writers from most continents, performing readings and speaking in panel events.
Since this hip New York borough is home to so many prize-winning writers (from Paul Auster to Jhumpa Lahiri), it’s no surprise that it’s also the location of New York’s largest free literary festival. The Brooklyn Book Festival, which takes place in a Downtown park, features authors from over twenty countries in conversation and panel discussions. Past speakers include Salman Rushdie and Joyce Carol Oates, and the festival’s ‘Children’s Day’ celebrates literature for under-11s. Programme details are released from January onwards.
Now programming its fourth annual instalment, the Mandalay-based Irrawaddy Literary Festival is an inspiring platform for writers from Myanmar and beyond. The not-for-profit festival’s distinguished patron, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, is also its headline speaker. She will speak at the serene Mandalay Hill Resort alongside international novelists and historians, as well as over a hundred of Myanmar’s leading authors. If you need to stretch your legs between events, wander to the grand Royal Palace, or explore Mandalay Hill’s monasteries and pagodas.