Cheltenham Literature Festival – past, present, and future

As Cheltenham Literature Festival celebrates is 70th birthday, Lyndsey Fineran, Programme and Commissions Manager and one of The Bookseller’s Rising Stars of 2019, reflects on a strong history and a visionary future. Cheltenham Literature Festival will be running from 4th to 13th October.

This year, as The Times and The Sunday Times Cheltenham Literature Festival celebrates its 70th Anniversary, we have had the pleasure of looking back over our archives and tracing some of the key moments from the Festival’s legacy that have created such as rich heritage.  Reflecting on the Festival’s past has also provided us with an opportune moment to consider our plans for the future. As we look forward and outward, I wanted to share a glimpse of some of the incredible new home grown and international talent being welcomed this year, as well as some of the inspiring new projects that we hope will shape the Festival’s future.

Many names who have spoken at Cheltenham over the last seven decades made their first appearances in shoebox-size venues and returned a few years later as major headline names – from Edna O’Brien winning a Cheltenham novel competition with one of her early works, Hollie McNish triumphing in the Cheltenham Poetry Slam as a young poet, and of course, JK Rowling appearing with her first book about a certain boy wizard. We wanted the 70th anniversary to draw attention to the first novels at this year’s Festival, as in all likelihood these authors will be returning to the Festival as headline names one day!

To celebrate some of these dynamic debuts we will be hosting a Debuts and Cocktails event as part of our big opening night, including Ronan Hession’s Leonard and Hungry Paul, Season Butler’s Cygnet and Jessica Andrews’ Saltwater. We’ve also worked with Guest Curator Anthony Anaxagorou to handpick a stellar debut poetry showcase featuring Jay Bernard, Rebecca Tamas, Ollie O’Neill, Mary Jean Chan, and will be hosting Proof Parties from Vintage, Dialogue, Faber and Doubleday where they will introduce their highly anticipated novels of 2020.

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Alongside our showcase of new talent, we are also thrilled that as part of 70th Anniversary we will be celebrating our relationships with literary festivals around the world. What you will see at Cheltenham this year as part of our ‘7 at 70’ project are both the results of conversations with international festivals, and the foundations for exciting programmes and collaborations for the Festival’s future.

Firstly, we will be celebrating this vibrant global network of ideas, debate and cultural exchange with seven international festivals that we admire, who have nominated a brilliant writer from their country/city to join our programme. Writers who will be joining us this year are: poet Chris Tse (Verb Festival in Wellington, New Zealand), writer and artist Kanako Nishi (Tokyo International Literature Festival, Japan), poet and journalist Wana Udobang (Ake Arts and Book Festival in Lagos, Nigeria), writer Nicole Flattery (International Literature Festival Dublin), novelist and essayist Esme Weijun Wang (Litquake, San Francisco), novelist Sarah Henstra (Toronto International Festival of Authors, Canada) and writer Hernán Ronsino (FILBA in Buenos Aires, Argentina).

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Our second international project is the ‘Read the World’ reading list, where we’ve asked 70 literary festivals from around the globe to each nominate a title they think Cheltenham audiences should add to their bookshelves. As a part of this project we have launched an interactive map to help you add books from Moscow to Melbourne, Bali to Bogota to your Autumn reading piles. We hope this project will allow to connect festivals and authors all over the world.

The Festival’s 70th Anniversary celebrations will capture our extraordinary legacy, whilst continuing to enthral festival goers with distinctive experiences and delivering a glimpse at the inspiring plans for our future. We look forward to seeing you there.

Published by Francesca Baker

Passionate about music, the world, exploring, literature and smiling. Writing, marketing and events for all my favourite things.

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