Frances Sutton: Authors share their visions of freedom at Book Festival

(L-R) Nick Barley, Director, Edinburgh International Book Festival,  Janet Smyth, Director of Children's & Education Programmes, Edinburgh International Book Festival, Roland Gulliver (Associate Director). Picture: TSPL
(L-R) Nick Barley, Director, Edinburgh International Book Festival, Janet Smyth, Director of Children's & Education Programmes, Edinburgh International Book Festival, Roland Gulliver (Associate Director). Picture: TSPL
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All over the world, writers are ­preparing to head to Edinburgh.

These include Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o from Kenya, who in 1978 wrote his classic novel Devil on the Cross on toilet paper while incarcerated as a political prisoner; Yan Lianke, who lives and writes in China although his books are banned in Chinese; Frank Gardner who ­continues to report from around the world despite being seriously injured in a terrorist attack and Afua Hirsch, who argues that while some of our identities, such as race and gender, may be given at birth, we can nevertheless insist on having the freedom to define ourselves.

When we chose the theme of Freedom for the 2018 ­Festival, we wanted to examine the stories behind the headlines and the political turmoil that has brought about momentous changes – refugees risking everything for a new and better life, debates around gender equality, the shift in political power in the USA and across Europe, and, inevitably, Brexit.

We wanted this year’s Book Festival to consider Freedom in all its permutations – freedoms lost and freedoms won. What is a freedom, and what is a right? Why do freedoms gained for some ­elements of society result in freedoms lost to others? A series of debates running through our ­programme invite our audience to have their say on subjects as diverse as ­collective care, education, gender and accessing technology.

Authors across the Festival will share their visions of freedom. Pussy Riot’s Maria Alyokhina discusses the repercussions of her imprisonment with Yanis Varoufakis, Gina Miller gives her unflinching account of what it means to stand up for justice and Chitra Nagarajan brings her ­collection of ­stories about life in Africa as a queer woman. The Unbound festival within a festival will ­welcome poets from ­Catalonia and Brazil, Anthony Joseph telling the story of the ­Windrush generation through the life of calypso music icon Lord Kitchener and voices from across Africa including ­Zimbabwe’s Novuyo Tshuma, Uganda’s Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi and Nigerian poet Donna Ogunnaike.

The Freedom Papers, essays commissioned by the Book Festival from 51 authors across 25 countries, examine LGBTQ+, race, religion, immigration, disability, education and technology. Eight are in languages other than English, some are polemic, some fictional narratives, some are poems and two are illustrations – including one from Iranian illustrator Ehsan Abdollahi. Abdollahi was refused a visa to attend the Book Festival in 2017 and only after a campaign was this decision overturned. Many ­contributing authors attending the Festival will read their papers in free Ten at Ten events.

The Book Festival’s celebration of the Freedom Papers culminates on 27 August with the Freedom Finale, a special event featuring readings of a number of the papers in a narrative steered by Gavin Francis and Esa Aldegheri. They will be accompanied by a live performance of the musical score, ­specially commissioned to accompany the papers, by composer Danny Krass and bassist Seth Bennett, Luke Sutherland, novelist, playwright and guitarist formerly of Mogwai, violinist Gavin Marwick, Ghanian-born percussionist Gameli Tordzro and a pre-recorded performance from Muthoni Drummer Queen from Kenya with readings from Collete Dalal Tchantcho and Joanna Tope.

We are looking forward to two weeks of lively discussions. Come and join us.

• Frances Sutton is press manager for Edinburgh International Book Festival