10 Online Literary Festivals for the End of 2020

The necessity of ‘staying safe at home’ has changed things. Even I, one of the least social people outside of cave-dwelling hermits, have occasionally felt the sting of solitude. A couple of months ago I even made an uncharacteristic effort at sociability and set up a Zoom appointment with a friend from my school days, someone I hadn’t seen for about 25 years. Jenny is an Irish citizen who was in Melbourne when Covid-19 struck and she’s been forced to stay in situ for the year, keeping herself busy with online work. We ended up chatting for an hour and having a good laugh and catch up. It was interesting and inspiring to hear about some of her adventures—abseiling up windmills on the North Sea, living in tree houses in Oregon and setting up an organization promoting women in trades in Ireland.

One of the interests we have in common is reading and she warmly recommended, since I’m in Northern Ireland, the Dublin Book Festival. Dublin is only a quick train ride from Belfast but the predicted second wave came along and in-person events are once more out of the question. My interest was piqued, however, and I realized that the festival is going full-steam ahead in a virtual format. Last night I decided to check out a—completely free—talk between Séan Rocks and three authors: Roddy Doyle (The Commitments, Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha, Love), Christine Dwyer Hickey (Tatty, The Narrow Land) and Kevin Barry (Nightboat to Tangier, City of Bohane). The three authors were really good talkers and the conversation was thought-provoking and funny.

In fact, I enjoyed it so much that I decided to look and see if there were any other things going on this month. As it happens, there are! So if you’re interested in finding about new books and authors from around the world, go ahead and check out one of these events!

1. Dublin Book Festival

November 26-December 6

A meeting of Irish writers in all genres. Featured authors include Doireann Ní Ghríofa, Mike Chinoy, Louise O’Neill and Dr. William C. Campbell.

2. Georgetown Literary Festival: Through the Looking Glass

November 26-29

This one has nearly finished but it’s a good chance to check out what’s going on on the Malaysian literary scene and many of the talks are conducted in English. The theme is looking at the role of art and literature in a time of crisis. Highlights include a talk on the centenary of Paul Celan’s birth and a conversation with Filipino writer F. Sionil José. Have a squiz at the program here.

3. Palestine Writes

December 2-6 2020

An event that brings together writers, artists, publishers and others to discuss the intersection between culture, struggle and politics. More than 70 international scholars, writers, artists and activists will take part, including, Kenyan poet and playwright Shailja Patel; prize-winning historian Robin D.G. Kelley; Oglala Lakota educator and poet Mark Tilsen; and indigenous scholar and Red Nation activist Nick Estes.

4. Indo-American Arts Council Literary Festival “Stories of Humanity”

December 4-3

A celebration of literature from and influenced by the sub-continent. Featured authors include Dr. Madhu Bazaz Wangu (The Immigrant Wife), Megha Majumdar (A Burning) and essayist Sejal Shah (This is One Way to Dance).

5. Twenty in 2020

Saturday, December 5  14.00-19.00 GMT

This event, from independent publisher Jacaranda, showcases 20 Black British authors. Tickets are available here. Among the twenty are crime-writer Stella Oni (Deadly Sacrifice), novelist Berni Sorga-Milwood (Under Solomon Skies) and Somali poet Hibaq Osman.

6. Crater Literary Festival: “The Literary Agenda”

December 14-16

Crater is a publisher that supports new writing with a particular focus on Southeast Nigeria. The theme of this year’s edition of the festival is “The Literary Agenda”. Topics of discussion include Publishing in a Digital Age, Igbo Literature and Book Clubs. The program includes chat sessions with authors Deji Yesufu, Abigail Anaba and Tayo Agunbiade, a virtual art exhibition by Ifedilichukwu Chibuike and a live stream of a short drama about the 1949 Iva Valley Massacre.

Abigail Anaba

7. Vita Nova in Turin

December 4- 8

For Italian-speakers, the Salone Internazionale del Libro (International Book Festival) goes online this year. In response to the challenges that this year has brought, this event has a theme that encourages us to look at life anew, to realize that “reality is not a list of opponents, but of elements that we must learn to integrate with each other, to reconcile, to coordinate.” All events will be livestreamed free on Facebook here. I’m particularly interested in a talk by Romeo Castellucci on the 700th anniversary of the death of Dante. You can read more about it here.

8. Ann Arbor Jewish Book Festival

November 30-December 22

Cookbooks, children’s stories, biographies and more–this festival has everything! Featured novelists include Eshkol Nevo (The Last Interview), David Hopen (This Orchard) and Myla Goldberg (feast your eyes) See the schedule here.

9. AIM Children’s Literary Festival

Live from London December5 11am-1pm GMT

Brought to you by children’s book publisher Author In Me, this event celebrates work for and by young people. One of the speakers is thirteen-year-old Anoushka Sabnis (Once Upon a Verse–because poems tell stories), who published her first book at the age of ten. The Facebook link is here.

10. Lockdown Lit Fest

This event is a bit different, you might even say ‘unprecedented’, because it’s an ongoing online hub “born in the time of Covid-19” to provide writers and readers with literary entertainment and inspiration in the form of author interviews. It’s all free, though donations are welcome. One of their most recent interviews was with Xialu Guo (A Lover’s Discourse and Village of Stone) and you can access all their previous sessions on the website by clicking the link ‘All Authors.’

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