With a number of longer established and larger festivals such as the Fringe and the International Festival competing for your attention, it is too easy to overlook the joys of the Edinburgh International Book Festival, held in the University of Edinburgh’s College of Art and in venues close by, in the second half of August each year.
The Book Festival started life as a biennial festival in 1983, becoming an annual event in 1997. Now the world's biggest book festival, the Edinburgh International Book Festival sees capacity audiences, not just for world-renowned writers and thinkers, but also for new and international authors little known in the UK.
In 2022, following two years of restrictions due to Covid, the Book Festival returned to Lauriston Place with over 600 events, including 150 in the Baillie Gifford Children’s Programme and 18 created especially for schools. 200 events were live streamed on the Book Festival website. Over 100,000 tickets were sold across the in-person and livestreamed events, with people watching from 65 countries. 45 events were available to watch for free on a big outdoor screen in the Festival’s courtyard area. (Continues below images...)
Audiences enjoyed sessions with authors from every genre, welcomed exclusive previews of upcoming new books, as well as enjoying first sightings of new writing. the 2022 programme, though smaller than in pre-Covid years, brought together over 600 authors and participants from politicians to graphic novelists, from actors to chefs and from sports stars to scientists.
The overarching theme of the 2022 festival was 'All Together Now', with discussions on Our Planet and Us, Legacies of Colonialism, The Heart of Europe, Transatlantic Conversations, Scotland's Stories Now, a Celebration of LGBTQIA+ Voices and more. 2022 also saw the Festival offer more BSL interpreted and screen captioned events than ever before, and there was a team of dedicated staff to assist visitors with access needs. A number of events were designated Pay What You Can.
Families and children had a choice of events across the Baillie Gifford Children's Programme including appearances from Yvette Fielding, Katie McLelland, Neill Cameron, Anthony Burt, Juno Dawson and Cressida Cowell. There were music sessions, craft workshops, morning story time sessions, Bookbug sessions as part of the Scottish Book Trust's Early Year's Programme, a Woodland Wonderland and more.
The Book Festival is the largest public celebration of books and ideas in the world. Since the success and international prominence of the 2004 Book Festival, there has been rapid progress in developing Edinburgh's status as a major year-round literary centre. This resulted, in October 2004, in UNESCO's declaration of Edinburgh as the world's first ever City of Literature. Work has now begun on establishing an international network of such cities, based on the Edinburgh model.
The core of the festival are the events that bring together authors and their readers. These include a series of book signings throughout the festival, as well as talks, interviews, discussions and more, all held in a series of venues in the College of Art itself and in nearby Central Hall. Refreshments are also on offer at several locations around the festival, including in the excellent College Cafe.
A bookshop also operates as part of the festival and a wide range of books are on offer. Coverage is good, including signed copies on sale from authors who have attended the festival. Books from and about Scotland are well represented, with a section comprising the latest publications from a number of Scottish publishers. You can browse to your heart's content. And because the bookshop is owned and operated by the festival, all profits made from the books you buy go straight back into making the festival better, for readers and writers alike.
Or you can simply sit back and relax, taking in the unique atmosphere generated by a gathering of like-minded people interested in understanding more about the world of books. Space is made available just to sit and talk or read, both under cover and outside on the grass, where you can also enjoy the (hopefully) blue skies of Edinburgh in August.