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For the past 10 years this fascinating ancient Italian city has hosted a five-day literary extravaganza set among its historic squares and palaces. This year it opens on September 7, and as before the programme features a wide range of short events, often no more than half-an-hour long. Apart from the range of writers and thinkers who will visit the town, the 2007 festival has a special focus on the late Primo Levi, with short daily workshops on aspects of his work – lager, chemistry, poetry, clarity, memoirs, animals, grey areas and Judaism are among the topics mentioned.
Cheltenham Literary Festival
Booking is now open for this year’s 10-day event, which takes place from October 5 to 14. With more than 400 writers on the programme the range is huge, but this year’s guest directors A.C. Grayling and Armando Iannucci have chosen an over-arching theme: “What Does Change Mean to Us? Each of the festivals is eager to stress the variety of its offerings, and Cheltenham is no exception: “For every reading by Seamus Heaney, there’s a debate about graffiti art. For every discussion about the Trojan war, there’s late-night gothic storytelling. And for every appearance from Michael Palin, there’s one from The Gruffalo.” This enormous festival, based around the imposing town hall in the city centre, does seem to provide something for everyone, including family days and tentsful of children’s events.
The now famous Hay-on-Wye literary festival has gone (modestly) global, with an offshoot, for the second year running, in the Spanish town of Segovia, sitting on its picturesque walled hilltop some 60 miles north-west of Madrid. Since literature is a branch of tourism these days, the pleasures of attending this festival include the city’s cuisine (it is famous for cochinillo, or suckling pig) and its monuments (Segovia has been described as “a theme park of Castilian architectural history”), as well as the lazy pace of life. The four-day event takes place from September 27 to 30, but unfortunately the programme is as yet unpublished online.
Jewel of Russia Festival
From October 27 to 31 a cross-cultural, multimedia happening in Russia’s most beautiful city aims to bring together figures from across the English-speaking media world – not only literature but also music, art, philosophy and film – to parlay with some of their Russian counterparts as well as with each other. The latest brainchild of the young literary impresario Pablo Ganguli, whose ambitious festival-making has so far encompassed events in Morocco, Delhi and Papua New Guinea (with plans afoot for Jordan, Turkey and Malta), this should be an especially interesting event in the context of the current intellectual climate in Russia, where freedom of speech is increasingly becoming an issue. The programme is not yet final but expect the likes of V.S. Naipaul, Jasper Conran, Hanif Kureishi, Sarah Lucas, Martin Amis, Valery Gergiev, Charles Saumarez Smith, John Tusa and Jon Snow among the performers and debaters, talking about issues from climate change to glossy magazines. As this festival has a strong musical side it will include the Russian premiere of Thomas Adès’s chamber opera Powder Her Face, and much else.
Ilkley Literature Festival
A multi-faceted books-fest, with themes running from Bollywood cabaret through the slave trade to graphic novels, takes place from September 28 to October 14. Its associations with the late Ted Hughes, as well as such vividly alive and highly popular figures as Alan Bennett, give this part of Yorkshire a powerful literary bent, and the festival programme fields a fine line-up of writers. Apart from Bennett, there are Brian Patten, Roger McGough, Maggie O’Farrell and Esther Freud on the home team, while visitors from overseas include Michael Ondaatje and Caryl Phillips. The ubiquitous broadcasters – Germaine Greer, James Naughtie, Giles Brandreth – always make for lively discussions.
Small Wonder Festival
A specialised festival devoted to the art of the short story, this runs from September 19 to 23 at Charleston Farmhouse, the home of Bloomsbury-ites Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell. It is very much a writer’s festival, for practitioners and participants as well as readers: alongside the readings and discussions (expect Fay Weldon, Yiyun Li, Monica Ali, Colm Tóibín) there are a two-day workshop run by Esther Freud and James Lasdun, an open-mic Slam (a competitive story-telling session) and a Short
Story Surgery in which the Open University’s creative writing tutor will take a scalpel to your own cherished prose.
Looking ahead to 2008
The litfest year kicks off with Hay-on-Wye’s other outstation, in Cartagena, Colombia, from January 24 to 27. Cartagena, on the Caribbean coast 400 miles north of the capital Bogotá, is an old colonial town on a bay so beautiful it has been declared a World Heritage Site, and – not coincidentally – also the home of Gabriel García Márquez, magical realist and Nobel laureate. www.hayfestival.com/cartagena
In the UK, it would almost be hard now to name a substantial English town that does not host a festival of some sort. There are hundreds; the most interesting include Bath (March, www.bathlitfest.org.uk), Oxford (April, www.sundaytimes-oxford literaryfestival.co.uk), Hay-on-Wye itself (May, www.hayfestival.com), Dartington in Devon (July, www.wayswithwords.co.uk).