Edinburgh International Book Festival announce 2024 programme

Amid controversy about its commercial chief sponsor, the Edinburgh International Book Festival launches the 2024 programme. With a new festival director, a new venue and a new outlook, it’s all change

Article by Jamie Dunn | 05 Jun 2024
  • EIBF Director Jenny Niven launches 2024 programme

The main theme of this year’s new look Edinburgh International Book Festival is 'Future Tense' but there’s been plenty of present tension too. Last week, the festival announced the end of its 20-year partnership with its chief commercial sponsor, the Edinburgh investment firm Baillie Gifford, after receiving mounting criticism for working with the company because of the makeup of its investment portfolio. Over 800 writers and editors including the likes of Amy Liptrot, Sally Rooney and Naomi Klein signed an open letter calling for Baillie Gifford to divest from the “fuel industry and from companies that profit from Israeli apartheid, occupation and genocide,” and some writers due to attend this year’s festival had threatened a boycott.

The news of EIBF breaking ties with Baillie Gifford was followed up by a second open letter by a different set of prominent writers, claiming the protests over the sponsorship of Edinburgh International Book Festivals were “deeply retrograde”. Signees for this letter included authors like Liz Lochead, Val McDermid and Andrew O’Hagan.

The literary world is clearly divided on this issue, and it was a difficult decision for EIBF and new director Jenny Niven, who says the actions may “undermine the long-term future” of the festival. Not ideal circumstances for Niven to launch her inaugural EIBF programme, but this is going to be a massive year of change at EIBF and there’s lots to look forward to.

As well as a new director, EIBF has a new HQ: the Edinburgh Futures Institute, which is located within the refurbished old Royal Infirmary building on Lauriston Place. The new venue will offer outdoor spaces hosting children’s events, food vendors, a buzzing bar and — we’re very excited about this — a return of the Spiegeltent for late-night literary shindigs.

Over 500 events, featuring authors from over 40 countries, have been announced so far, with much of the programme centred around the central concept of Future Tense. “Our programme Future Tense speaks to the complexity of the moment we're in,” says Niven, “but hopefully also brings some optimism — the world is full of brilliant, insightful people working in so many imaginative ways. We're excited to showcase some of that incredible thinking and writing, and the ways people are working together to solve problems and keep learning.”

Future Tense programme

The Future Tense programme is split into six sub-themes – A Toast To The Future; Generations; AI, Data And Complex Systems; Future Economica and Politics; Imaginative Realm; and Future Library – each exploring an aspect of how we can, or should, change our individual and collective futures. In A Toast To The Future, writers like Martin MacInnes, Naomi Alderman and Richard Holloway will explore their vision of the future with seven-minute-long ‘toasts’. The Generations strand, meanwhile, will take the form of a series of conversations between people who span generations – eg poets Roger McGough and Hollie McNish – who will discuss "our responsibilities to those who come next and acknowledge that we can only plan effectively for the future by understanding what came before.”

Another fascinating-looking strand in Future Tense is AI, Data And Complex Systems, which features a range of events digging into the fears and potential opportunities AI gives to the future of the written word. One such event is Page Against the Machine, an interactive challenge where authors pit their skills against an AI live. Who will triumph?

There’s also Future Economica and Politics, which will see authors ask questions like “How is capitalism changing?”, “How are we going to finance the green tech revolution we need?” and “With a more unequal world than ever before, how much wealth is too much?” The Imaginative Realm, meanwhile, is concerned with sci-fi writers and authors of speculative fiction, who have been imagining the future for decades and probably have a better clue than most on where we may be heading; R F Kuang, Adrian Tchaikovsky and Irenosen Okojie are some of the genre writers who’ll be sharing their wisdom.

And there’s Future Library, which marks the tenth anniversary of the Future Library project, a public artwork that aims to collect an original work by a prominent writer every year from 2014 to 2114, which will remain unread and unpublished until 2114. Margaret Atwood was the first contributor to the Future Library project, and she'll be in Edinburgh to explore her concept of ’Practical Utopia’. The strand also includes an announcement of the 2025 Future Library contributor.

Other Highlights

Outwith this main theme, there’s much to look forward to, including a celebration marking the 200th anniversary of James Hogg’s landmark Scottish novel The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner. EIBF has commissioned a series of pieces exploring Hogg’s masterpiece’s relevance and resonance today, including an immersive walking tour through Edinburgh’s Old Town from theatre company Grid Iron (featuring a narration by Louise Welsh).

Foodies will want to rush to Table Talks, a strand made up of food demos and conversations with chefs and food writers (from Palestinian chef and author Sami Tamimi to Julius Roberts aka that dreamy farmer off of Instagram). And in this year of many, many elections there’s Voterama: Elections, Democracy and Geopolitics, which explores both UK and international politics and the changing face of democracy; Jess Phillips, John Swinney, Caroline Lucas, Andy Burnham and Alistair Campbell are among the guests.

All that, plus a whole host of amazing authors will present their new work at the festival. Just a few of the household names that jump out at us include Colm Tóibín, Salman Rushdie, Lauren Groff, ​​Karl Ove Knausgård, Michel Faber, Richard, Ayoade, Fern Brady, Irvine Welsh, Jenni Fagan, Grant Morrison, David Nicholls, Sara Pascoe, Graeme Macrae Burnet, Lemn Sissay, and Paul Lynch.

There’s loads more to explore. Head over to edbookfest.co.uk to see the full programme.

Tickets for all events go on sale at 10am on 20 June