4 Sep 2020
Edinburgh International Book Festival: My Top Picks
The familiar tents in the centre of Edinburgh may be missing this year, but there are still plenty of events taking place for the Edinburgh International Book Festival. The festival has programmed more than 140 online events for adults and children, starting on Saturday 15 August and bringing together more than 200 authors and illustrators.
Among the authors appearing are Arundhati Roy, who will reflect on the implications of the global pandemic, while Bernardine Evaristo will be in conversation with Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.
All events will be free to watch, with a number of them being BSL interpreted and others live captioned. Audiences will be able to enter a live chatroom before and during events, and can ask questions of authors.
When: Saturday 15th August to Monday 31st August 2020
Where can I watch?: Watch through the Edinburgh International Book Festival website.
My Top Picks:
- Olivette Otele & Angela Saini: Pseudoscience and Slavery – Saturday 15th, 4:00 – 5:00 PM
When the statue of Edward Colston was toppled from a plinth in central Bristol and pushed into the River Avon, historian Professor Olivette Otele said, ‘it was like, finally, finally something is happening that is forcing people to reconsider. It’s a moment to recognise, to pause and to see what to do next, but it’s not the end of everything.’ The UK’s first Black female professor of history, Professor Otele is also the Vice President of the Royal Historical Society, and in June of this year she was appointed Chair of Bristol’s Commission on Race Equality.
In her new book, Superior: the Return of Race Science, journalist Angela Saini writes about the disturbing re-emergence of scientific research into biological racial difference, and the effect of social and political forces at work to perpetuate inequality and discrimination. Journalist and historian come together for a conversation with writer and broadcaster Anita Sethi, to reveal the ways in which the history of racism and an understanding of the legacies of slavery have converged with contemporary politics and trends in scientific racism to create a moment of reckoning. An urgent insight into how politics and memory in post-colonial Europe have formed a narrative of race and power that is only now being unpicked. This is a pre-recorded event. Book here
- Amelia Gentleman: Windrush – A Very British Betrayal – Sunday 16th 7:00 – 8:00 PM
From the gnawing dread of the red-stamped letter to the shocking closed-door deportations of our fellow citizens, it’s hard to imagine a tragedy more of our times than the Windrush Scandal. A perfect storm of hostile policy-making and an ‘institutional ignorance and thoughtlessness towards the issue of race,’ were it not for the tenacious reporting of the Guardian’s Amelia Gentleman, the scandal that incensed a nation might have rumbled on unchecked. In The Windrush Betrayal, she expands on her Orwell Prize-winning journalism with a page-turner that fearlessly probes the morality of modern Britain, just as we are forced to examine once again who we are, and how we got here. Amelia Gentleman talks to Matthew Ryder QC, the barrister who represented Stephen Lawrence’s family in their claim against the Metropolitan Police. This is a live event, with an author Q&A. Book here
- Ekow Eshun: Africa is a State of Mind – Tuesday 18th 1:00 – 2:00 PM
Home to more than 1.2 billion people, Africa is the world’s second most populous continent. Gaining a better understanding of this complex and diverse land, according to Ekow Eshun, rests not simply in thinking about its geography but about ‘looking inwards’ to the mindsets of its inhabitants. Eshun is a writer, curator, broadcaster and former director of the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London who recently curated an exhibition of contemporary photography (and a book of the same name), Africa State of Mind. He talks to Whitney Richardson, a former New York Times picture editor and expert on African photography, about selecting the work of over 50 artist-photographers on the continent. Inspired by Senegalese author Felwine Sarr’s poetic meditation Afrotopia and organising the artists’ images thematically, Eshun explores the idea that African identity is reflected in its contemporary art and culture – offering a fresh understanding of the experience of ‘African-ness’ for the 21st century. This is a pre-recorded event. Book here
- Eliza Anyangwe & Emmanuel Iduma: Outriders Africa – Deconstructing the Travelogue – Wednesday 19th 1:00 – 2:00 PM
As part of the Book Festival’s Outriders programme exploring the shifting landscapes of contemporary Africa, writers born in two neighbouring countries interrogate what means to be the ‘other’ in pan-African society. Originally from Cameroon and raised in several countries around the continent before settling in Europe, celebrated journalist Eliza Anyangwe travels regularly across Africa, yet often finds herself confronted by that infamous question: ‘where are you from?’.
Meanwhile, the language barriers faced by Lagos-born travel writer Emmanuel Iduma, author of the 2019 Ondaatje Prize longlisted A Stranger’s Pose, have seen him viewed suspiciously by fellow Africans as a ‘mute observer’. Interrogating what travel writing represents for Africans on the margins, the two writers set off on an island-hopping journey from Madagascar to Comoros, finally ending up in Uganda before their trip was cut short as a result of COVID-19. Today, they share some of their stories from the journey. With a special introduction by Kenyan feminist and writer and performer Anne Moraa, who reads from Black Woman, Everybody’s Healer by Hawa Y Mire. In partnership with pan-African writers collective Jalada Africa, the place to discover specially curated new writers and voices. This is a pre-recorded audio-only event. Book here
- Maaza Mengiste: When Italy Invaded Ethiopia – Wednesday 19th 5:30 – 6:30 PM
In Maaza Mengiste’s latest novel, the shadowy nature of figures from the past is played out in complex and interlocking ways. The Shadow King is powerful, stirring historical fiction that centres women within stories of war and battle that have traditionally excluded them, eliding their contribution and their fight. Against the backdrop of Italy’s 1935 invasion of Ethiopia, this is a story of Africa and Europe, of resistance and exile, of tradition and modernity, that is sweeping in vision and intimate in affect.
A Fulbright scholar and the author of Beneath the Lion’s Gaze — named by the Guardian as one of the 10 best contemporary African books — Mengiste talks to Jess Brough about giving life to the stories of her parents and grandparents, and unpicking ‘faded documents’ to better understand the heroism and loss of the past. This is a live event, with an author Q&A. Longlisted for the 2020 Booker Prize. Book here
- Wanjiru Koinange & Donna Obaseki-Ogunnaike: Outriders Africa – Sub-Saharan Swiping – Friday 21st 11:30 AM – 12:30 PM
As part of the Book Festival’s Outriders programme exploring the shifting landscapes of contemporary Africa, we turn to The Gambia and Senegal, where, like everywhere else, a maelstrom of taps and swipes has seen modern dating change beyond recognition. Seeking to decode where love lies for women in modern Africa are two of its literary scene’s most charming characters: Donna Obaseki-Ogunnaike, an Energy Law expert, poet, writer and theatre practitioner, previously dubbed the ‘queen of spoken word poetry in Nigeria’; and Wanjiru Koinange, a Kenyan writer, raised on a farm on the outskirts of Nairobi, whose mission to restore Nairobi’s iconic public libraries with her social enterprise Book Bunk has received wide praise. During surprising, funny and moving conversations, they quizzed a vast array of women across the West African region about hookup culture, how their cities inspire companionship, and whether romance really is dead. Joined by writers Renee Akitelek Mboya and Efua Oyofo, two of the women they met along the way, Obaseki-Ogunnaike and Koinange today share their responses from these unforgettable interviews. With a special introduction by Kenyan feminist, storyteller, writer and performer Aleya Kassam, who reads M Neelika Jayawardane’s The Sportsman. In partnership with pan-African writers collective Jalada Africa, the place to discover specially curated new writers and voices. This is a pre-recorded audio-only event. Book here
- Lola Olufemi & Minna Salami: Critical Reflections on Feminism – Friday 21st 7:00 – 8:00 PM
Since 2010, the award-winning blog MsAfropolitan has connected feminism with critical reflections on contemporary culture from an Africa-centred perspective. Its founder is Nigerian-Finnish writer and lecturer Minna Salami, a powerhouse of feminist thinking and organising whose first book of essays is Sensuous Knowledge: A Black Feminist Approach for Everyone.
Salami joins our event alongside writer and activist Lola Olufemi, author of Feminism, Interrupted. Olufemi is an organiser with the London Feminist Library and co-founder of FLY, Cambridge University’s network for women and non-binary people of colour. In conversation with feminist historian Jade Bentil, Salami and Olufemi discuss the big ideas around empowerment, inclusion and activism and how (in Salami’s words) ‘we see ourselves, our history, and our world’. This is a live event, with an author Q&A. Book here
- Bernardine Evaristo with Nicola Sturgeon: The Triumph of Girl, Woman, Other – Saturday 22nd 8:30 – 9:30 PM
Following her Booker Prize win last November, Bernardine Evaristo’s writing has won deserved and long-overdue acclaim across the globe. Girl, Woman, Other charts the intersecting lives of twelve characters, from a teenager working in a supermarket to a sixty-something playwright facing a career-defining moment. It is a sophisticated novel that – among other things – illuminates the complex forms discrimination can take. The worldwide protests after the murder of George Floyd underlined the novel’s topicality and it recently became the first novel by a Black British woman to top the UK paperback fiction chart.
In this event, Evaristo discusses her work and ideas with Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon – a politician who has consistently championed the importance of books and reading even under the extreme stresses of leading her country through the Coronavirus crisis. Sturgeon, who recently described Evaristo as ‘one of our most compelling contemporary writers,’ takes time out from her day job to join us live in our Edinburgh studio for this very special event. This is a live event, with an author Q&A. Book here
- Nadine Aisha Jassat & Tsitsi Dangarembga: Outriders Africa Following in their Footsteps – Monday 24th 11:30 AM – 12:30 PM
As part of the Book Festival’s Outriders programme exploring the shifting landscapes of contemporary Africa, rising star of Scottish poetry Nadine Aisha Jassat embarked on a poignant journey across the south-east of the continent with Zimbabwe-based writer and film-maker Tsitsi Dangarembga, whose 1988 debut Nervous Conditions was included in the BBC’s 2018 list of the 100 books that shaped the world. Fascinated by the rich tradition of storytelling in their shared Zimbabwean ancestry and the voices erased within it, they set out to retrace the funereal route of David Livingstone, whose body was carried from modern day Zambia to the coast of Tanzania by his two attendants, Susi and Chuma.
Their adventure took an unexpected turn when Jassat was forced to return to the UK at short notice during the height of the pandemic, leaving Dangarembga to complete the journey solo. They share their unforgettable experience, and some of the writing it inspired, with researcher Kate Simpson, whose own work seeks to bring the stories of the women of Livingstone’s expeditions out from the shadows. With a special introduction by Zimbabwean poet Tinashe Tafirenyika, who reads her poem Sarah Baartman. In partnership with pan-African writers collective Jalada Africa, the place to discover specially curated new writers and voices. This is a pre-recorded audio-only event. Book here
- Alain Mabanckou: Rewriting the Congolese Story -Wednesday 26th 8:30 – 9:30 PM
On 18 March 1977 at 14.30, the third President of the People’s Republic of the Congo, Marien Ngouabi, is assassinated. In the frenzied aftermath, blame flies and ethnic divides widen, and far away, a family member is murdered for their alleged involvement. At least, that’s how things seem to Michel, the naive teenage comrade at the centre Alain Mabanckou’s new fictionalised retelling of this historical moment. The Death of Comrade President sees Mabanckou back on the fruitful terrain of his 2015 International Man Booker contender, Tomorrow I’ll Be Twenty, offering up another philosophical, fleetingly absurdist portrait of the Congo’s postcolonial transition. The luminary Mabanckou talks to award-winning writer, critic and cultural journalist Maya Jaggi, reflecting on the highs and lows of a career spanning four decades, and his enduring ability to boil the sweeping grand narratives of African history into exuberant, mischievous family dramas. This is a live event, with an author Q&A. Book here
- Nikita Gill & Nic Stone: Writing Resistance – Thursday 27th 5:30 – 6:30 PM
A profound knack for storytelling has seen Nic Stone become one of the most important voices in young adult fiction, tackling vital themes of race relations, sexuality and self-discovery. The New York Times bestselling author of Dear Martin appears in conversation with international poetry and social media sensation Nikita Gill to discuss how writing can ignite change and challenge stereotypes.
In SLAM: You’re Gonna Wanna Hear This, Gill has collected words from poets who are breaking new ground and making their voices heard, empowering you to do the same. Both writers have an extraordinary ability to charge their words full of meaning, so prepare for an electric session chaired by poet, author and SLAM contributor Dean Atta, followed by a live Q&A. This is a live event, with an author Q&A. This event will not be available to watch on demand after the scheduled live broadcast. Book here
- Wayétu Moore: Setting Liberia’s History Free – Friday 28th 1:00 – 2:00 PM
In 19th century Liberia, extreme powerlessness meets extraordinary powers in Wayétu Moore’s magical and magisterial debut She Would Be King. Melding historical record with magic realism and fantastical elements, Moore weaves an extraordinary retelling of the formation and early years of Liberia. This is exhilarating storytelling: the horrors of slavery met by a trio of prototypical superheroes; Gbessa the immortal, Norman the invisible, and June Dey the invincible.
Part alternative history, part genre-transcending epic, it’s hard to believe this accomplished rally for justice is a first book. As well as being an adept writer, Wayétu Moore is the founder of a publishing non-profit dedicated to providing culturally relevant books to children who are underrepresented in literature. Moore is joined in conversation with the founder of Fringe of Colour, Jess Brough. This is a pre-recorded audio-only event. Book here
- Brit Bennett: How the Other Twin Lives – Friday 28th 7:00 – 8:00 PM
For a novel that begins in 1968, Brit Bennett’s The Vanishing Half may well be the timeliest fiction book of the year. Back in 2014, following the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, Bennett wrote an essay for Jezebel called ‘I don’t know what to do with good white people.’ Her passionate scepticism about hollow allyship and performative grief about police brutality and white supremacy were incendiary.
Now, in her second novel, the line Bennett draws between history and the present day are unmistakable and heartbreaking. Her beautiful and bestselling book follows twin sisters – one who returns to their childhood town in Louisiana, the other who reinvents herself as a white woman – and traces the nature of identity and belonging, of Blackness and diverging lives. It is one of the books of the year. In conversation with Melissa Cummings-Quarry and Natalie Carter, co-founders of Black Girls Book Club, Bennett will answer audience questions following the discussion of The Vanishing Half. This is a live event, with an author Q&A. Book here
- Paul Mendez & Derek Owusu: Thorny Intersections – Sunday 30th 7:00 – 8:00 PM
How do you get the upper hand on a world you don’t yet understand? That’s the burning question at the heart of two striking debuts that scrape away the coming-of-age clichés, breathing through the aches and pains of growing up. With echoes of early Baldwin, Paul Mendez’s Rainbow Milk, one of the Observer’s top 10 debuts of 2020, mines the author’s upbringing as a lapsed Jehovah’s Witness and, later, sex worker, to tell an intergenerational story of two men stalled at an impossible intersection of sexuality, spirituality and race. Derek Owusu’s ‘virtuosic debut’ That Reminds Me — the first novel to be released on Stormzy’s new imprint #Merky Books — pieces together the fragments of K’s short life, as memories of addiction, racism and trauma threaten to flatline an already faltering recovery. Join Owusu and Mendez as they interrogate the forces that seek to cast a shadow over the blossoming of young Black men in the UK today with former Lord Mayor of Sheffield Magid Magid – and fall in love with two writers soon to be on the tip of everyone’s tongue. This is a live event, with an author Q&A. Book here
- Kayus Bankole & Kei Miller: Outriders Africa from East to West -Monday 31st 11:30 AM – 12:30 PM
As part of the Book Festival’s Outriders programme exploring the shifting landscapes of contemporary Africa, hear from award-winning writer Kei Miller, whose barnstorming latest poetry collection, In Nearby Bushes, was tipped as one of the best books of 2019 by the Telegraph. He’s joined in this special event by writer-musician Kayus Bankole, a founding member of Edinburgh’s own Mercury Prize-winning band Young Fathers. Together they reflect on the journey they embarked on together across Ethiopia and Ghana earlier this year. Contrasting the spiritual home of the Rastafari in Ethiopia with their ancestral links to West Africa, Miller and Bankole recall the people, religious sites and music that has served as inspiration to them ever since. Returning from their trip just before the COVID-19 global pandemic struck, they found themselves with plenty of time to reflect on their adventure, and in this event offer a sample of the work that has emerged from the experience. With a special introduction by Kenyan born, Nairobi based performing artist and writer Laura Ekumbo, who reads from Abiy’s Day by Linda Yohannes. In partnership with pan-African writers collective Jalada Africa, the place to discover specially curated new writers and voices.This is a pre-recorded audio-only event. Book here