FT Weekend Oxford Literary Festival highlights

The FT Weekend Oxford Literary Festival takes place from March 21 to March 29 in venues including the Bodleian Library, the Divinity School, the Sheldonian Theatre, and Christ Church and Corpus Christi Colleges. A selection of festival highlights is listed below; for more details, and the full programme, visit oxfordliteraryfestival.org. Tickets are available from the website, from the festival box office in the Blackwell’s Marquee, or by telephone: 0870 343 1001.

Lunch with the FT: Simon Schama
Saturday March 21, 12.30

Bodleian: Divinity School, tickets £65

Join the historian and broadcaster Simon Schama and Caroline Daniel, the editor of FT Weekend, for lunch in the Bodleian’s 15th-century Divinity School. After a Prosecco reception and a two-course lunch with wine, Schama, professor of history and art history at Columbia University and an FT contributing editor, will talk to Daniel about his life and work. The author of numerous books and essays on art and history, he has also written and presented acclaimed documentaries for the BBC, including A History of Britain, The American Future: A History and, most recently, The Story of the Jews.


Roger Penrose: Before the Beginning and Beyond Eternity
Sunday March 22, 12 noon
Corpus Christi College, tickets £12

Roger Penrose is a physicist and mathematician whose distinguished career includes groundbreaking work with Stephen Hawking on the nature of black holes. His most recent book, Cycles of Time, proposes that the history of our universe, from Big Bang to infinite expansion, is merely one in an endless succession of such cycles. In this illustrated talk, introduced by FT science editor Clive Cookson, he discusses his mind-stretching ideas.


Amitav Ghosh: History and Fiction
Monday March 23, 6pm

Sheldonian Theatre, tickets £12-£25

The multi-award-winning Indian writer Amitav Ghosh is the author of seven novels in English, including Sea of Poppies and River of Smoke, the first instalments in a trilogy set against the backdrop of the 19th-century Chinese opium wars. The third and final instalment, Flood of Fire, will be published in the UK in May. At the invitation of the chancellor of the University of Oxford, Lord Patten of Barnes, he will talk about his work and the interplay between history and fiction with Chris Clark, regius professor of history at the University of Cambridge and author of the acclaimed The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914.


Port Meadow

‘My favourite place in Oxford is an open space, Port Meadow. It is ancient grazing land owned by the city since the time of King Alfred. Though medieval developers nibbled away at it and recently the University has done its best to wreck one aspect of it with an ill-judged student accommodation complex, it remains a vast and potent area of wildness, home to wandering cattle and horses as it has been for two and a half thousand years, within a step of a teeming city. At dawn, when the horses gallop like a cavalry regiment on their own impulse, and the waterfowl chatter in their hundreds, it is an exhilarating private world.’

Diarmaid MacCulloch is a historian of religion, and will talk about the Reformation at the Oxford Martin School on March 24


Tim Harford: How to Run — Or Ruin — An Economy
Monday March 23, 6pm

Oxford Martin School, tickets £12

Tim Harford is an author, columnist for the Financial Times and presenter of Radio 4’s More or Less. His first book, the bestselling The Undercover Economist, was a quirky and illuminating look at the world through the lens of microeconomics; his latest, The Undercover Economist Strikes Back, turns to the big picture, to macroeconomics, to explain how major economies work. Here he discusses what it takes to run an economy, what would happen if everyone’s debt was cancelled, and what the future holds for the euro.


Keble Chapel

‘When I lived in College in the 1980s, my room was next to Keble Chapel. The scale and style of that building are not to everybody’s taste, but I always loved the place. Holman Hunt’s painting “The Light of the World” was quietly moving; and whenever I attended quiet prayer services I always found the chapel to be a special, sacred place. My wife and I met when we were Keble undergraduates. And when, last December, we attended a hauntingly beautiful Christmas concert in the chapel, I was reminded again of the distinctive preciousness of that daunting space.’

Richard English, author of ‘Modern War: A Very Short Introduction’, will be speaking at Blackwell’s Marquee on March 25


Martin Wolf: The Shifts and the Shocks
Wednesday March 25, 6pm

Oxford Martin School, tickets £12

Martin Wolf is chief economics commentator of the Financial Times and author of The Shifts and The Shocks: What We’ve Learned — and Still Have to Learn — from the Financial Crisis. Here he discusses the imbalances and fragilities that triggered the crisis of 2008, warns that governments’ failure to deal with fundamental problems in the world’s financial systems makes future shocks a real possibility, and outlines the reforms that policy makers should be pursuing.


Wytham Woods

‘For me, the most special place in Oxford has to be Wytham Woods, where I have been going on and off for nearly a quarter of a century. For one thing, there are the guaranteed great views over the dreaming spires (and always with a handy bench nearby). The real pull for me, though, is all the wildlife that one normally sees, with deer being especially common. That and a great country pub by the main entrance make for the perfect local getaway. Just make sure to get your pass from the Lord High Gatekeeper.’

Charles Spence, professor of experimental psychology at Oxford, will be talking about the links between music and food at Corpus Christi College on March 25


AC Grayling: The Challenge of Things
Thursday March 26, 12 noon

Sheldonian Theatre, tickets £12-£25

Philosopher AC Grayling discusses some of the ideas in his new book, The Challenge of Things: Thinking through Troubled Times, a collection of his recent writings on the world at a time of war and conflict. Grayling, founder and master of the New College of the Humanities in London and a regular contributor to TV and radio, does not shy away from the dark side of modern life, but also explores ways of overcoming the habits and prejudices that enmesh us in conflict.


Karen Armstrong: Fields of Blood
Thursday March 26, 2pm

Sheldonian Theatre, tickets £12-£25

Karen Armstrong, one of Britain’s foremost scholars of religion, debunks the idea that religion has been the cause of all major wars. Setting out the argument in Fields of Blood: Religion and the History of Violence, her most recent book, Armstrong looks at medieval crusaders, modern jihadis, the pacifism of Buddha and the vision of Jesus, and contends that the underlying reasons for war often have little to do with religion. She also speaks about her earlier book, A History of God, at the same venue on March 25.


Trinity College

‘John Aubrey matriculated at Trinity College in 1642, shortly before the outbreak of the English civil war. He loved the college’s leafy grove, where he wandered with his undergraduate friends. He remembered seeing it filled with the courtiers and soldiers who followed Charles I to Oxford after the Battle of Edgehill. He heard 19-year-old Lady Isabella Thynne, daughter of the Earl of Holland, playing her lute there delightfully. He said that during the civil war the President of Trinity, Ralph Kettell, complained that the grove had become like Hyde Park in London.’

Ruth Scurr is an award-winning biographer and historian. She talks about her latest book, ‘John Aubrey: My Own Life’, at Corpus Christi College on March 26


Jessye Norman
Friday March 27, 6pm

Sheldonian Theatre, tickets £12-£25

The distinguished American soprano Jessye Norman talks to Paul Blezard about her journey from childhood in the segregated southern US to performing great operatic roles on the world’s biggest stages. She will also select pieces of music that have a special meaning for her, and which will be performed by the Orchestra of St John’s, conducted by John Lubbock.


Philip Pullman: His Dark Materials
Saturday March 28, 12 noon

Sheldonian Theatre, tickets £6-£15

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the publication of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, now regarded as a modern classic of children’s literature. In this special event, which will feature readings and clips from the movie of The Golden Compass, Pullman will talk about his award-winning trilogy and his life as a writer with Nicolette Jones.


Matthew Engel: Engel’s England
Saturday March 28, 12 noon

University Church of St Mary, £12

FT writer Matthew Engel explores the 39 historic counties of England — in his view the most confused and complicated country in the world. Engel finds each county a unique slice of a nation that has not quite lost its diversity, from the well-dressers of Derbyshire to the goddess-worshippers of Somerset and the Hindus and huntsmen of Leicestershire.


Magdalen College

‘My favourite place in Oxford is probably Magdalen College: not only does it have wonderful buildings, but it also has the truly beautiful Addison’s Walk, running beside the river and the deer park. It is the first place I was introduced to the snake’s head fritillary, an enchanting small red-purple spring flower with a delicate chequerboard pattern. I still remember that wonderful timeless place, where scholars have walked for centuries, whenever I see that flower now.’

Margaret Rayman is a nutritionist and expert on the relationship between diet and dementia. She discusses her work at the Oxford Martin School on March 29

Photographs: Alamy

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