Book festivals to attend from your own home

Image: Ryan MacEachern

From concerts to theatre performances, the coronavirus crisis has seen the cancellation of live events across the world.

Included in those are book festivals and events, which offer an opportunity for readers to meet and hear from new and established authors and illustrators.

But while bookshops aren’t able to host authors and festivals aren’t able to take place, there are still book events you can “attend”, all from the comfort of your own home. Virtual festivals, some created specially for lockdown and others from live events which have had to move online, are the perfect way to meet writers and illustrators old and new.

Here are eight book festivals and events you can attend on your own time and, best of all, it’s guaranteed that your view won’t be blocked by someone taller than you. 

Hay Festival Digital

Hay Festival will go online this year, from 18 May to 31 May, and all events will be free to watch. Authors taking part include Roddy Doyle, who will be previewing his forthcoming novel, Love; Margaret Atwood, who will share a daily Festival poem; and Elif Shafak, who will join lawyer and writer Philippe Sands to deliver the English PEN Platform, and will also take part in a film series where internationally acclaimed writers and thinkers will share their thoughts on a post Covid-19 world.

Sessions will be streamed live via Crowdcast, and readers can register for free on the site. Registered users will have the chance to pose their questions to speakers. 

There will also be a five-day programme for primary and secondary school children, from 18 May to 22 May, with films being broadcast on Hay Player. 

When: 18 May to 31 May

Where can I watch?: Register for the festival here

At Home With Penguin

Not only can you watch At Home With Penguin from your own space, you'll also get a glimpse into the homes of some of your favourite authors. Each At Home With Penguin broadcasts live from a writer's home, with the author talking about their current reading, what they've been doing in lockdown and answering questions from the audience. So far, authors who have taken part include Marian Keyes, Melissa Hemsley and Caroline Criado Perez. But don't worry if you missed the live events, you can catch up on YouTube here. Forthcoming At Home With Penguin events include Anthony Horowitz, Dolly Alderton and Richard Osman. 

When: Every Tuesday at 5.30pm

Where can I watch?: Click here to watch the latest episode

Women of the World

Women of the World Festival, which celebrated its 10th anniversary this year, is holding two virtual festivals this year.

First, on 16 May and 17 May, is the WOWxBBC Festival. Held in partnership with BBC Arts, people appearing include Don’t Touch My Hair author Emma Dabiri, who will take part in a session with Sandi Toksvig and Maxine Peake on their favourite women from history whose stories have been silenced. A full programme can be found on the BBC Arts website, where events can also be viewed. Many of the events will be available on catch up on BBC iPlayer following the event.

Then on 27 June and 28 June, WOW will hold Women of the World’s 24 Hour Global Virtual Festival. It will bring together women and girls across the earth over a 24-hour period to share their local stories, celebrate achievements and together look for learnings to map out new ways to think and act in the future.

When: 16 May and 17 May

Where can I watch?: Events will be available to view via BBC Arts

The Big Book Weekend

The Big Book Weekend has been co-founded by Kit de Waal and Molly Flatt.

The Big Book Weekend has been co-founded by Kit de Waal and Molly Flatt. Image: Karen Karn

A three-day virtual book festival, The Big Book Weekend was co-founded by authors Kit de Waal and Molly Flatt, and supported by the BBC and Arts Council England. It brought together a number of book festivals from across the UK which have had to cancel, and included interviews, performances and panel discussions. Authors who took part included Abir Mukherjee talking to Kia Abdullah about social divisions in fiction, Marian Keyes interviewed by Women's Equality Party co-founder Catherine Mayer, and Bernardine Evaristo, who was in conversation with Mairi Kidd.

Where can I watch?: All the events are available to view in the MyVLF theatre; registration is free

Lockdown LitFest

Lockdown LitFest aims to being a "real-world festival experience to your home screens". It has an ongoing programme of events, which are bring added to regularly. The festival has created a number of "tents", including ones for fiction, non-fiction and children's, and will be setting up more as the festival grows. All events, which are free to view, are broadcast live, and then archived so people can watch at their own convenience as well.

Where can I watch?: Visit the Lockdown Lit Fest website to see past events, and find out about forthcoming ones

Everywhere Book Fest

Everywhere Book Fest is a children's and YA festival which took place on 1 and 2 May. Events included a picture book draw-off, where illustrators will have a minute to draw illustrations from prompts sent by viewers, and a panel of authors discussing how their work speaks to the bigger picture of feminism.

Where can I watch?: All events can be viewed on the Everywhere Book Fest website

HistFest: Lockdown

Hallie Rubenhold "appeared" at HistFest: Lockdown.

Hallie Rubenhold "appeared" at HistFest: Lockdown. Image: Sarah Blake

HistFest, which usually takes place in April, has been rescheduled to September. But the event's organisers put on a mini virtual festival – HistFest: Lockdown – for history fans, featuring speakers including Michael Palin, Hallie Rubenhold, Greg Jenner and Sunny Singh covering topics from 19th century shipwrecks to the history of celebrity. 

Where can I watch?: All events can be viewed on the HistFest YouTube channel

Your Culture Fix from Southbank Centre

Southbank Centre may be closed, but it's giving audiences the chance to get their "culture fix" with a weekly release of podcasts and events from the archive, featuring authors, illustrators, musicians, poets and more. It's also putting on new events online, including one with writer David Wallace-Wells, who spoke about climate change with broadcaster Samira Ahmed (watch here).

Where can I watch?: Visit the Southbank Centre website to watch events

Primadonna Festival

Primadonna Festival held its inaugural event in 2019, featuring authors including Bernardine Evaristo and Diana Evans. Its 2020 festival has been cancelled, but organisers are taking their love of books online, including with a book club running via the Primadonna Instagram account. The festival’s organisers will also be announcing virtual events for this year in the coming weeks, so keep an eye on its website for more information. 

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