Edinburgh International Book Festival Launches 2019 Programme

Eddie Izzard, Harry Hill, Deborah Levy and Roddy Doyle are among those heading to this year’s Edinburgh International Book Festival, which launches under the banner 'We Need New Stories'

Feature by Jamie Dunn | 06 Jun 2019
  • Edinburgh International Book Festival Day 1

A serene calm away from the madness of the Fringe, Edinburgh International Book Festival returns this August with a programme that invites authors and audiences to find new stories to give meaning to the world. The festival put the concept of this 'We Need New Stories' theme quite elegantly in today’s press release: “Stories are to society what DNA is to human life – small strings of information which become bound together to make up a shared understanding of humanity’s place in the world.”

We're told the programme for the 2019 edition brings together the creators of these stories, with authors from all across the world – it’s the most international EIBF ever with over 60 nations taking part – set to come to Edinburgh this year to participate in a series of conversations, debates, workshops and performances. “Stories are devices that help humans make sense of a complex world,” says Nick Barley, Director of the Edinburgh International Book Festival. “At a time of uncertainty, simple narratives such as ‘Make America Great Again’ or ‘Take Back Control,’ may be enticing to some, but do they tell us what’s truly achievable?

"The 2019 Book Festival looks at seismic changes in 21st-century society, including the impact of technology; the collapse of trust in who’s telling the truth; and the increasing dominance of certain languages at the expense of others. These have long been the terrain of science fiction, but this Festival’s theme is not only focusing on fiction. Whether we’re listening to scientists and politicians or mythmakers and poets, to understand the world around us We Need New Stories.”

Authors heading to EIFF: Salman Rushdie, Ann Cleeves, Deborah Levy

The Book Festival is always an occasion for major book launchs by some of the world’s most celebrated authors. Among the mint fresh novels being presented there this year are new works by Salman Rushdie, Cressida Cowell, Tracy Chevalier, James Meek, and Deborah Levy. Crime-writer Ann Cleeves (whose gripping Shetland series became hit show Shetland) will be in town to introduce The Long Call, which features a new detective. And there’s more new fiction from Kate Atkinson, Harry Hill, Clare Balding, Tim Winton, David Nicholls, Joanne Harris and Mark Haddon. The great Irish author and screenwriter Roddy Doyle (The Commitments) will also be here with new novel Charlie Savage, and will be in conversation with Blindboy, one half of the Irish comedy hip-hop duo Rubberbandits.

Talking of comedy, Eddie Izzard is part of the Fringe with a one-man performance based on Dickens’ Great Expectations, and he’ll be popping down to Charlotte Square to discuss the audio recording he did for the book that inspired the show. Also making their EIFF debut is award-winning Indian author and activist Arundhati Roy, who’ll be in conversation with Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.

Sturgeon isn’t the only Scottish politician taking part in this year’s Book Festival. Her opposite number, Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson, will be in conversation with Olympian Katherine Grainger, Channel 4’s Cathy Newman, Labour MP Rachel Reeves and broadcaster Mariella Frostrup – they'll be discussing novels by inspirational women. Former PM Gordon Brown, meanwhile, will sit down with American-Serbian economist Branko Milanovic.

Stories around race and identity

Race and identity will also be explored at this year’s festival, not least by DeRay Mckesson, a key voice in the US protest movement Black Lives Matter, who makes his first appearance in Edinburgh as one of the 2019 Guest Selectors. Mckesson's talks include chats to Texan writer Casey Gerald about growing up underprivileged, black and gay in Dallas; Ibram X Kendi, founding director of the Antiracist Research and Policy Center in Washington DC, who launches his new book How To Be an Antiracist; and Fatima Bhutto and Regina Porter about why everyone, no matter who they are, should have a role in making a better society.

There’s also an appearance from Colson Whitehead, who’s followed up his Pulitzer Prize-winner The Underground Railroad with The Nickel Boys. Similarly anticipated is Crossfire, the latest from former Children’s Laureate Malorie Blackman. Also look out for a visit from Oman’s Jokha Alharthi, the recent winner of the Man Booker International Prize for the novel Celestial Bodies. Other international authors coming to Edinburgh with new work include Mexico’s Emiliano Monge, musician Rita Indiana from the Dominican Republic, Sulaiman Addonia who originates from Eritrea and Khalid Khalifa from Syria.

Another must-attend event looks to be Margaret Busby's introduction to her collection New Daughters of Africa – she’ll be joined by contributors Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor and Bernardine Evaristo.

Poetry: Simon Armitage, Rachel Long, Lemn Sissay

Poetry-heads are in for a treat too, with one highlight looking to be the visit from the newly appointed Poet Laureate Simon Armitage. Activists and poets Lemn Sissay and Benjamin Zephaniah will also be at EIBF, sharing the stage to discuss their lives and the issues that inspire their work. Dub poetry ledgend Linton Kwesi Johnson, meanwhile, will discuss the work of his friend Michael Smith, whose life was cut short when he was killed at a political rally in Jamaica. Other poets visiting EIBF include Rachel Long, Tania Nwachukwu and Hibaq Osman from the Octavia poetry collective. There's also an impressive line-up of international poetry in The Divan Sessions.

Indigenous languages celebrated

As well as celebrating international talent, Throwing Voices is a strand dedicated to indigenous languages. It's described as "a unique collaborative project looking at how local language, culture and tradition can resonate across linguistic divides." Five pairs of authors have shared words and objects and worked with a musician to create a boundary-crossing performance. Among them, Basque writer Uxue Alberdi and Irish poet Ciara MacLaverty have collaborated with harpist Rachel Newton; Sami writer Linnéa Axelsson and Inuit poet and throat singer Taqralik Partridge share their experiences with folk musician Kate Young; and Gaelic poet Rody Gorman and New Zealand writer Tayi Tibble have worked with Scottish Indian beatbox artist Bigg Taj. As part of the Scotland goes Basque programme the Festival welcomes leading figures in the Basque literary scene including Harkaitz Cano, Miren Agur Meabe and Bernardo Atxaga.

Late night stand Unbound

Another element of EIBF that delights every year is the eclectic late-night readings and performances that take part in EIFF's Spiegeltent under the banner Unbound – look out for the full announcement of the Unbound events in the July issue of The Skinny.

The above is just a fraction of the 900 participants from over 60 different countries heading to EIFF tented village in Charlotte Square Gardens and on George Street. EIFF runs from Saturday 10 to Monday 26 August, and the full lineup can be found at edbookfest.co.uk