2023 has been a year that has seen buzz and joy surrounding Edinburgh Festivals, and this energy has seeped into the grounds of Edinburgh’s College of Art for the International Book Festival to celebrate 40 years of words and rapture. Impossible to see all that the festival has to offer, SNACK attended a handful of events that were a keen reflection of the variety on offer.
Firstly, Lisa Williams’ Black History Walking Tour was informative, covering much of the Enlightenment, though ambitious amid the noise of the Fringe and the rest of the Edinburgh Festivals. Lisa was great for adding further knowledge and insight into the city and its connection to Haiti’s revolutions, abolitionist Frederick Douglas and warriors who were not willing to allow the slave trade to continue. She also holds these tours throughout the year, so be sure to do this at a quieter time; it unearths a different perspective on the city.
I move next to writer Lauren Elkin and art curator Katrina Brown’s discussion about Elkin’s new book Art Monsters, a feminist consideration of art looking at the disgust and disregard women get in response to using their bodies as art. For example, Carolee Schneemann’s graphic (for its display of genitalia) film, Fuses, and the response at Cannes whereby forty men with razors began ripping up the chairs after seeing the film. Katrina shaped a fabulous discussion with Elkin, and opened up a conversation about feminism in art from all sides of the room.
Victoria Adukwei Bulley and Simone Seales were up next, though Simone was the only one who attended as sadly, Victoria was unwell. The event was a wonderful response to poetry through music, as Simone spent the evening adding feeling via cello to Quiet, Victoria’s poetry collection. StAnza’s Marjorie Lofti offered a beautiful delivery of her work to which Simone then felt and responded. A stunning evening of heartfelt feeling, music and poetry, all that could have improved the night would be that Victoria was there herself to deliver as she intended.
Damian Barr’s Literary Salon was part of the Festival Late Nights series, incorporating Damian’s sublime and lush social soirée in The Wee Red Bar and with a line-up that many cherish. The inimitable yet goofy troubadour and poet Michael Pedersen; award-winning poet Hollie McNish; Schitt’s Creek writer Monica Heisey, who had novel Really Good, Actually out in paperback earlier in the year. Discussing relationships, breakups, AI and loneliness, there was a real sense of humanity to their discussion as well as gorgeous poetry and readings from Michael and Hollie. If this was a brief insight into the warmth of Barr’s Salons, it’s safe to say we’d all be craving more.
Power and Protest was the title given to Angela Saini and Gary Younge’s discussion with Lucia Osborne Crowley. Lucia, through consideration of both Angela’s and Gary’s most recent books (The Patriarchs and Dispatches From The Diaspora respectively), posed questions about rioting, activism, racism and gender. Gary’s notion of working towards a utopia was interesting as we consider those who are actively fighting for a dystopia in this world. His reportage of Haiti and New Orleans was used to illustrate his from-the-scene coverage, and the discussion was a look at racism’s beginnings. Angela’s academic input was much appreciated as she backed statements up with stats and figures. Bold and fresh, considered with punch, this discussion opened up those feelings from the days of protest and demonstrations.
Hannah Lavery and Caitlin Skinner’s The Quines are Back with Clementine E Burnley, Jessica Gáitan Johannesson and Maryam Hamidi was a fond event (once again as part of the Festival Late Nights series) in The Wee Red Bar, where themes such as riot, education, pleasure and loss were discussed (see our interview with the Quines here). With a few tracks from The Delgados’ Emma Pollock to kick off and see out the show, it was entertaining, hilarious, emotional and contemplative. The night was part of Quines Cast, a podcast combining feminist thought with music, theatre and literature. Clementine in particular, offered wider, insightful and the deepest of responses. It was impossible to contain emotion for the hour and a half of this show, as it took us somewhat on a spiritual journey on issues all pertinent to our living.
And all this from a cross-section of six shows from the vast programme that the International Book Festival has to offer. Weighty, literary, and with a great degree of variety, the heft that this programme carries shines on Edinburgh for the month of August, and ensures that the writers keep coming back year and year again, as the Festival looks beyond its 40th year.