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Literary Travels: The Best Book Festivals Around the World

Book your literary holiday for the spring and summer!

From the banks of the Irrawady to the Book Town of Wales, some of the most remarkable book festivals across the world.

Hay Literature Festival

It’s been a delightfully busy time for us bibliophiles. After the drama and debates at the Jaipur Literature Festival came the quaint charm of not one, but two literary meets in Kolkata. We’d  just about managed to catch our breath when it was time to declare our love for the New Delhi World Book Fair.

As we received the mistry to install yet another stack of shelves for our new acquisitions, a pleasing thought struck us – wouldn’t it be wonderful to combine our twin passions of travel and reading, to not just visit the quirky and celebrated bookshops in the towns we holiday at, but to actually plan our travel around a book festival? (Incidentally, the carpenter is torn between joy and  bemusement, but he did warn us that the  next installation will have to be in the balcony or the bathroom)

Here, then, is a two part list of some of the most remarkable literary festivals in the world. With locations ranging from Mandalay to Los Angeles, these events celebrate not just books and book lovers but also various other performing arts. So as you try and decide whether to spend this year’s summer in Rome or Johannesburg, why not use these festival dates as a handy guide? Bonne exploration!

Spring (February  – April)

New Delhi International Book Fair, New Delhi :  14 – 22 Feb 2015

Now in its 44th year, the oldest book festival in India has brought together publishers from nearly 30 countries this year, ranging from neighbour Pakistan to far off Cuba. While most people head to the Fair to avail of the heftily discounted titles, we recommend you also visit the Foreign Pavilion to pick up crime fiction from Sweden and Persian literature from Iran. The Children’s Pavilion also has zillions of books and heaps of fun activities & book readings for your kids.

For more about Delhi, check out our unique pop culture guide to the City of Djinns.

Emirates Festival of Literature, Dubai: 3 -7 March 2015

A new entrant to the literary scene, the Emirates Lit Fest has nonetheless managed to establish itself as the largest gathering of bibliophiles in the Middle East. This year’s edition has an impressive ensemble of best-selling authors, from Alexander McCall Smith to David Mitchell, Jasper Fforde and Markus Zusak. Learn secrets of the craft from your favourite writer or illustrator, or simply enjoy their natter.

Irrawady Literary Festival, Mandalay: 28 – 30 Mar 2015

Aung_San_Suu_Kyi,_Festival_Patron,_and_Jane_Heyn,_Festival_Founder

Image via Wikimedia Commons

Started in 2013 by the wife of the then British Ambassador to Myanmar (nee Burma) and held under the patronage of Aung San Suu Kyi, the Irrawady Literary Festival is a fantastic platform for Burmese writers to interact with their international counterparts. The previous two editions have featured writers such as Thant Myint U, Timothy Garton-Ash, Vikram Seth and William Dalrymple. This year’s line up includes, amongst others, Ian McEwan, Anne Pasternak-Slater and Annalena McAfee. Now wouldn’t it be wonderful if they can rope in Amitav Ghosh, the man who conjured up The Glass Palace for us much before we saw the original in Mandalay!

Also visit: Yangon, which is oddly reminiscent of an erstwhile Kolkata that we have never seen, but often imagined; and the picturesque Inle Lake.

Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, Los Angeles : 18 – 19 April, 2015

Started in 1996 by the LA Times to “bring together the people who create books and the people who love to read them”, the Los Angeles Festival of Books has evolved into two days of fiction, poetry, music, food, photography, art and plenty of other fun activities. Best of all, entry is free! You can easily fit this into a longer trip to California, and if you have the time, do consider volunteering for an exhilarating experience.

Need some help in planning a trip to Los Angeles? Here’s a driving itinerary for the Pacific Coast Highway, one of the most brilliant drives in the world.

Summer (May – August)

PEN World Voices Festival, New York : 4 – 10 May 2015

PEN (Poets, Essayists and Novelists) is a global association of writers and editors, and this year’s edition of the World Voices Festival celebrates African writing. The star studded line up is enough to dazzle anyone – Tom Stoppard and Richard Flanagan are expected to open proceedings, and a host of other celebrated writers will be discussing topics ranging from gender, poetry and genocide to our very own Priya’s Shakti. But what has us most excited is that MBRB favourite Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is co-curating the festival and delivering the closing lecture!

It’s always Showtime in New York. Here’s a lyrical ode to the Big Apple.

Hay Festival of Literature & Arts, Hay-on-Wye, Wales:  21 – 31 May  2015

Bill Clinton famously called it “The Woodstock of the mind”.  In its own words, the Hay Festival “gathers people together to think about the world as it is and to imagine how it might be”. Book readings, musical performances, stand up comedy, art and photography exhibitions come together in a picturesque field in Wales – the ideal venue for re-imagining the world. The carnival has spread its wings all over the world, from Beirut to Cartegena and the backwaters of Kerala, but the original remains a must-do for die hard book lovers.

Also visit: FLIP Brazil International Literary Festival from 1- 5 July  2015 in Paraty (Rio de Janeiro), which is inspired by the Hay Festival. 

LETTERATURE – International Literary Festival, Rome: 1 May – 30 June 2015

Letterature Festival Rome

Image courtesy: Letterature Fest via Flickr

A month long celebration of books and arts amongst the ruins of one of the most famous landmarks in the world – now that’s a bibliophile’s dream come true! Originally held in the iconic Forum in Rome, and now relocated to the equally historic Piazza del Campidoglio, Letterature invites writers to share their unpublished work with book readers, often around a theme. In true Italian style, there are a host of musical performances and lots of great food. No wonder the likes of Margaret Atwood, Jhumpa Lahiri and Joshua Ferris have made their way to Roma in the past!

Find inspiration for your Roman Holiday in this wine-soaked itinerary across Italia.

Old Peculiar Crime Writing Festival, Harrowgate: 16 – 19 July, 2015

Regular readers will be familiar with our devotion to crime fiction, so it should come as no surprise that Europe’s biggest festival dedicated to crime writing makes it to this list. Participate in the numerous crime writing workshops if you’ve always dreamed of writing (or producing) a whodunnit,  pitch your work to the best crime writers in the world, or simply soak in the decadent luxury of the Yorkshire Hotel that plays host to the festival. If you’re eagerly awaiting the next Jo Nesbo, then Harrowgate is where you need to be this summer.

South Africa Book Fair, Johannesburg: 31 July – 2 Aug 2015

South Africa’s largest book fair is shifting base from Cape Town to Johannesburg this year. Expect a festival of the scale of the New Delhi International Book Fair, with thousands of international publishers, author interviews, writing workshops, poetry slams, live performances and special activities for children.

Edinburgh International Book Festival: 15 – 31 August, 2015

August is the month to be in Edinburgh! If Brazil has the Rio Fest, Germany the Oktoberfest and Spain La Tomatina – then the UK has the Fringe Festival, a month long exhibition of every kind of performing art. After you’ve had your fill of the comedies and the tragedies, head to the picturesque Charlotte Square Gardens, just off historic Princes Street, to loose yourself in a good book. The special attraction at this year’s edition is the presence of Kazuo Ishiguro as he discusses his highly anticipated novel, The Buried Giant.

In Part Two of this post, we’ll help you plan your Literary Travel for the Fall & Winter.

What are some of the memorable literary festivals you have attended? Tell us in the comments below or share your recommendations on Facebook or Twitter. And keep returning to MBRB as we delve into the world of books, pop culture, travel and more. 

Cover image courtesy Finn Beales via Hay Festival

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