Durham Book Festival 2020: programme overview

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Attending the Durham Book Festival has been a longstanding annual tradition for Durham’s bibliophiles. However, this year of volatility has meant that this beloved celebration of writing and reading is going to look quite different. For many of us, escaping into volumes of poetry and prose is a dependable coping mechanism during tempestuous times, and the event’s organisers, New Writing North, have found a way to provide such escape despite the obvious impediments. From 9th to 19th October, the Durham Book Festival 2020 will be exploring the comforting and confronting powers of literature in a jam-packed week of free and virtual discussions and dialogue.  

For many of us, escaping into volumes of poetry and prose is a dependable coping mechanism during tempestuous times

The programme this year boasts of a line-up of readings and discussions with acclaimed authors such as Britt Bennett, Fatima Bhutto, and Lily King. will be discussing her novel The Vanishing Half on 11th October, which tells a hauntingly beautiful tale that deals with race and identity. The same evening, Bhutto, author of The Runaways, will be discussing her exclusive piece A World on Fire, commissioned by the organisers New Writing North in partnership with English PEN. King will be discussing her acclaimed novel Writers and Lovers on 15th October, which traverses themes of grief, love, and creativity. 

The programme outlines a diverse choice of standalone events and discussions. Within the same day you have a range of different options laid before you: for example, on 10th October, you could explore a new literary genre and join Clare Chambers and Louise Hare as they discuss fiction set in the 1950s, take a virtual tour of Durham and its important literary landmarks in a Guided Walk, or attend a masterclass on ‘Writing Your Memoir’ by Colin Grant. 

Additionally, ‘The Big Ideas’, one of the festival’s series of events, promises to meet our historic moment by engaging with topical cultural ideas and movements. On 14th October, Layla F Saad will be discussing her remarkable and culturally pertinent book Me and White Supremacy, and on the 16th, feminist author Laura Bates will be discussing her enlightening book Men Who Hate Women

To congregate and bond over the things we read is a form of therapy that is requisite in our current climate, and dutifully, New Writing North have delivered with three Bibliotherapy sessions. Join writers like Cathy Rentzenbrink, Sara Collins and Jen Campbell on their Twitter pages on 10th, 11th and 18th October to receive book recommendations that you can add to your reading list. Another event that seems to offer similar therapeutic comfort is ‘Notes from a Biscuit Tin: Poetry and Philosophy for Confusing Times’ on 17th October, an event that brings together poet Gillian Allnutt, music philosopher Jennifer Judge and philosopher István Zárdai to honour Newcastle’s late philosopher Mary Midgley and her stirring ideas.  

Another important event to look out for is the heavily anticipated announcement of the Gordon Burn Prize 2020, and this year, attendance is free for all. The prize is an annual event that rewards ground-breaking and gripping literary pursuit; 2019’s nominees included Bernadine Evaristo for Girl, Woman, Other and Nafissa Thompson-Spires for Heads of the Colored People. This year, the shortlisted nominees are Jenn Ashworth, Lemn Sissay, Deborah Orr, Paul Mendez, Peter Pomerantsev, and Lisa Taddeo. Each year, the event is spectacularly organised and promises to be a thrilling evening of literature, spirited conversation and celebration; it isn’t one to miss. 

If you’re reading this, it’s likely that this year’s instability has left you desperately clinging to your hardbounds and paperbacks (or your e-readers). With our attention being demanded all at once and in innumerable different directions, to take temporary residence in a distant land and immerse yourself in the layers of a good narrative has been the perfect antidote. At the same time, reading is often a way to exercise ourselves in empathy and education, and engage with the various voices of this historical moment. This year’s Durham Book Festival promises to be a commemoration of just that: the soothing escapism and radical empathy that is gifted to us by the books we read and the people who write them. 

The full programme for Durham Book Festival can be found here.

Image: summonedbyfells via Flickr

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