The Edinburgh International Book Festival Announces 2021 Programme

Published: 06 Jul 2021

A stellar line-up of writers and thinkers from around the globe have been announced for the Edinburgh International Book Festival, under the banner Onwards and Upwards - Ideas and Stories for a Changing World. All 250 events for adults, children and families are available online, and tickets for a limited, socially distanced audience will also be on sale.

Edinburgh International Book Festival 14 - 30 August Live and Online with an illustration of a woman watering a plant

The Book Festival runs from Saturday 14 to Monday 30 August from the Festival's new home in the University of Edinburgh's Edinburgh College of Art on Lauriston Place with almost half of the speakers planning to appear in person in Edinburgh, while others are joining digitally from their homes around the world.

Nick Barley, Director of the Edinburgh International Book Festival, said: "We are incredibly excited to produce our first 'hybrid' festival with authors and audiences joining us both in person and online. We welcome a mix of Scottish and international voices to discuss their ideas, hopes and dreams and we aim to explore together how to move 'Onwards and Upwards' from this devastating pandemic.

In our new home at Edinburgh College of Art we have created three broadcast studios, two of which can accommodate limited audiences. These new facilities enable us to offer author conversations to worldwide audiences and to those closer to home who are unable to join us in person, as well as welcoming a limited In-Real­ Life audience.

"The Book Festival is at the forefront of the re-emergence of public events, and we have a duty of care to our authors, audiences and staff. It is important that we help rebuild confidence and we have therefore chosen to retain lmetre social distancing for audiences in the studios. This gives us a reduced capacity of 100 in the New York Times Theatre (in Sculpture Court) and 60 in the Baillie Gifford Theatre (in West Court).

Outside in the courtyard we are recreating the 'village green' element of the Book Festival that our audiences enjoy with a bookshop, cafe, family play area, seating spaces and a big screen upon which a number of the live events will be shown. The Book Festival has always aimed to be an oasis of calm and, as ever, this will be a space for audiences to chat, relax, read a book and while away the hours in the summer sunshine."

The Book Festival welcomes Nobel Prize winners Amartya Sen and Kazuo Ishiguro as well as NgugI wa Thiong'o, a writer hotly tipped for Nobel recognition. Booker Prize winners include Salman Rushdie who investigates Truth with BBC Journalist Allan Little, Douglas Stuart talking about Shuggie Bain with First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, Bernardine Evaristo who introduces her exciting selection of new Black British writing and Richard Flanagan speaking live from Australia. The 2021 International Booker Prize-winning author David Diop and translator Anna Moschovakis also discuss their winning novel and the winners of the University of Edinburgh's James Tait Black Prizes are announced in an event celebrating all the shortlisted authors.

Kate Aronoff and Pulitzer Prize-winner Elizabeth Kolbert offer new perspectives on how we can face the challenges engulfing our planet. Devi Sridhar, a key member of the Scottish Government's Covid-19 Advisory Group, discusses how political decisions led to differing government responses to the pandemic with Sally Magnusson. GP Gavin Francis and palliative care doctor Rachel Clarke, both with frontline experience of the NHS response to Covid-19, are joined by novelist Kate Mosse who has been caring for elderly family members throughout lockdown, to share their personal experiences of the pandemic.

Culture Minister Jenny Gilruth said, "This year's Book Festival offers excellent online and in-person experiences that will connect audiences all over the world to an impressive line-up of writers and events. This year we are supporting our talented writers in the Reading Scotland series by providing £120,000 from Scottish Government's Festival's Expo Fund, a great initiative that will see Scottish writers team up with young Scottish filmmakers to create short films based on their novels. I want to congratulate everyone involved for responding to the many challenges presented by the pandemic and thank you all for the massive amount of work that has gone into arranging the festival again this year."

Bringing books to life through performance is a key element of the Book Festival and this year the Festival's Playing with Books partnership with the Royal Lyceum Theatre Edinburgh returns with special one-off interpretations of Sea State by Tabitha Lasley, The Long Drop by Denise Mina and a new writing commission, The Yellow Door by Kathleen Jamie. Former Scots Makar Jackie Kay brings blues singer Bessie Smith to life with her new biography and is joined by acclaimed jazz and blues vocalist Suzanne Bonnar to sing some of Bessie's best loved songs. Author Jenni Fagan has worked with the Stellar Quines Theatre Company and actors from the Citizens Theatre WAC Ensemble to create a new adaptation of You've Never Slept in Mine by Scottish author Jessie Kesson, which will be performed as a rehearsed reading. Songs from Scotland celebrates the poetry of Edwin Morgan in a stunning choral arrangement composed by Gavin Bryars, co-commissioned by the Book Festival and Celtic Connections, and premiered by Glasgow ensemble Capella Nova.

Jenni Fagan also undertakes a series of walking tours through Edinburgh's Old Town and shares the secrets and places that inspired her latest novel Luckenbooth. Other walking tours around the city, a new venture for the Book Festival this year, include a fun family trail around the Meadows in the company of Macastory, a Black History Walking Tour led by Lisa Williams and a self-guided city centre tour which has been developed alongside Tollcross Community Action Network together with photographer Alicia Bruce and Writer in Residence Eleanor Thom as part of the Book Festival's Citizen project.

The Citizen project, supported by players of People's Postcode Lottery through the Postcode Culture Trust and through the PLACE Programme, is committed to diversifying audiences and expanding engagement across Edinburgh. Events in the 2021 programme include Stories & Scran which returns with a community meal for Citizen participants, followed by a showcase of readings, stories and short films, and a celebration of the new edition of One City, scheduled for publication in early 2022, with contributors Irvine Welsh, Anne Hamilton and Ian Rankin. Award-winning theatre director, Ross MacKay heads up R-Words: Infectious Poetry for Everyone tracing the spread of his idea to infect people with poetry from conception to completion in a nationwide game of poetry consequences.

Laura Chow, Head of Charities at People's Postcode Lottery said: "It's exciting to hear that the Book Festival will be back in a new location, with players of People's Postcode Lottery supporting its Citizen programme and activities. The Postcode Culture Trust's mission is to inspire learning, understanding and appreciation of arts and culture, which is exactly what the Citizen project will be doing for the local community in Edinburgh."

Families can enjoy a visit to the Book Festival at its new home at Edinburgh College of Art where there is a children's play area, a selection of children's books in the Festival Bookshop and a big screen in the open courtyard showing events from across the Baillie Gifford Children's Programme, including superstar dancer Oti Mabuse who makes her debut in Edinburgh with a virtual interactive dance-along. Authors, illustrators, poets and performers join the 2021 line-up including Festival-favourites Michael Morpurgo, Cressida Cowell, Julia Donaldson, Malorie Blackman, Philip Ardagh, Debi Gliori and Neil Gaiman with Chris Riddell.

In a series of special events for industry professionals, the Book Festival presents The Business of Books. Bringing together publishers, booksellers, editors, agents, writers and arts professionals, these free events explore the future of the publishing industry from Rethinking Diversity to Creating Book Events for People with Learning Disabilities. In addition, there is a masterclass on Book Cover Design and a Scottish Publisher Showcase, also in the public programme, giving audiences a taste of the breadth of Scotland's vibrant publishing landscape from the shores of Leith to the Isle of Lewis.

Alan Bett, Head of Literature and Publishing at Creative Scotland, said: "The 2021 offering is an exciting and radical reimagining of the Edinburgh International Book Festival, based and broadcast from their new home at the Edinburgh College of Art. Featuring an inspiring and diverse programme of writers and thinkers, from international voices to home grown talent, the programme will spark debate and bring the joy of reading to audiences across Scotland and beyond. The Book Festival team deserve a huge amount of credit for their hard work, ensuring authors and their readerships meet, either in person or in the digital sphere, to enjoy some of the most vital and valuable literary work the world has to offer."

A new Bookshop on site at Edinburgh College of Art will be complemented by the Festival's online bookshop which features titles from all authors in the 2021 programme in addition to showcasing a range of books from Scottish publishers. As well as book signings with authors who are appearing in person in Edinburgh, there are a selection of live online book signings for authors who are joining digitally where audience members are able to chat face-to-face and get their book signed after the event.

The Edinburgh International Book Festival receives funding from The Scottish Government, UK Gov Scotland, Creative Scotland, City of Edinburgh Council, EventScotland and the Culture & Business Fund Scotland. The Edinburgh International Book Festival is hosted at the Edinburgh College of Art as part of a long-term partnership between the Festival and the University of Edinburgh. The Book Festival would like to thank the University of Edinburgh for their support in making this year's Festival possible.

Councillor Donald Wilson, Culture and Communities Convener for the City of Edinburgh Council, said: "We are proud to support the Edinburgh International Book Festival as we look Onwards and Upwards. As the world's first City of Literature, we know how much Edinburgh's book lovers welcome the Festival each year and its new home at Edinburgh College of Art provides excellent studio and theatre facilities for both online events and activities as well as the planned live programme. Public health and safety will of course remain a priority, and we continue to be impressed by the resourcefulness and resilience displayed by the Festival throughout the last year and in the planning for such an exciting programme for 2021."

Edinburgh International Book Festival takes place at Edinburgh College of Art from Saturday 14 to Monday 30 August 2021. All events are streamed live online and can also be watched on demand through the Book Festival's website. The Book Festival is operating a Pay What You Can scheme for all online events and limited numbers of in-person tickets for selected events will go on sale at midday on Thursday 22 July. Full details of all events, and how to book tickets for both watching online and in-person can be found at

All tickets must be booked online through the Book Festival's website. Events across the programme will be BSL interpreted, and further events will be live captioned. Online audiences can mingle with each other before and during events by entering a live chatroom, and most events offer a Q&A session with the authors. Anyone watching online can post questions to authors and vote for their favourites from other audience members.