For the first time in three years, despite the change in venue, it truly felt like the Edinburgh International Book Festival was back in its best form yet. Spanning over two weeks, a full programme of events, all in person and some online, it was a hybrid festival that allowed many to shield and others to revel in the atmosphere of the courtyard in the Edinburgh College of Art, inclusive of the Wee Red Bar. The festival hosted pertinent discussions, indulged in the joy of writing and literature, and offered a simple space for those wanting to be at home with the arts. EIBF was a joy to attend in all its redeemed glory.
The Fire People and the editors and writers behind it was the first of the events I attended. Lemn Sissay, Salena Godden, Kayo Chingonyi and Malika Booker were at Edinburgh’s grand Central Hall to discuss the importance of a book like The Fire People – that came out in the ‘90s – during a time when many writers of colour were regularly rejected and couldn’t find space for their writing. Edited by Lemn, it was deemed a ground-breaking collection of poems, and a real joy to witness some of the poets on stage reading their work and reflect upon the significance of this title.
Next, also in the biggest venue for the festival, Central Hall, was Jarvis Cocker in conversation with writer and Extra Teeth editor, Heather Parry. Reading and conversing in front of a sold-out venue, Cocker knew his audience, and kept his hour wonderfully anecdotal while he refused to sit still on the stage. It was a brilliantly entertaining show that can be expected from a performer of this calibre, followed by several hours in a signing queue, whilst he conversed with each of his fans. An amiable and wild hour within the calm of the book festival.
Over in the more intimate Northside Theatre was the next event on my itinerary. A conversation between two writers, Wendy Erskine and Chris Power, with readings from Wendy’s Dance Moves was highly funny, performative and got us thinking about the impact that the audio book can have. A collection of stories with a thread of pathos running through, poignant tales from Belfast; Wendy regaled and read with such a power that it recalled the joy of storytelling. It was a moving yet hilarious hour that has us all transfixed.
Moving over to the Baillie Gifford Sculpture Court, an apt venue for award-winning poets, Joelle Taylor and Hollie McNish discussed taboo-busting with the imitable Edinburgh Makar, Hannah Lavery. In the quick-paced hour both Hollie and Joelle read their poetry on butch women, masturbation, ovulation and motherhood. It was a beautiful space for a mutual joy of each other’s work, respectful, dynamic and with optimism.
Over in the Wee Red Bar, the energy continued but intensified as we sat down to watch a performance adapted from David Keenan’s novel set in Airdrie, This is Memorial Device. Directed by Graham Eatough, starring Paul Higgins, and with music from The Pastel’s Stephen Pastel, it was every bit the piece of defiant counter-culture unexpected not at an esteemed affair like the Book Festival. Beguiling, transformative, psychedelic and languishing, it was a trippy hour or so. Being sat behind the author himself only intensified the whole experience. Higgins had us all transfixed for the hour, with film and music on hand to aid the storytelling. A project in conjunction with the Edinburgh’s Lyceum, it was wonderful to leave the grounds of the ECA to delve into the chaos of Keenan’s head.
And last but by no means least was the event to promote This Woman’s Work (as you guessed, inspired by Kate Bush’s track), a book of essays about women and music, edited by Sinead Gleeson and Kim Gordon. Sinead and Ottessa Moshfegh, in conversation with Chitra Ramaswamy, both read from their own sections and discuss the need for texts that give space to women in music. They cover topics such as Ottessa’s musical ability, family history as well as Sinead’s work as a music journalist and appreciation for the reclusive Wendy Carlos. Hitting home with a mansplaining moment on who released DJ Shadow’s music, it was demonstrative of a need for these discussions.
EIBF flaunted its finest iteration. Their movement towards diversification, accessibility, supportive staff and hard-hitting programme suggests further pivotal change, and we’re so excited to see how far the next festival will go, aside from the Futures Institute, just doon the road.