Literary Festivals Respond to COVID-19

A woman in a full auditorium leans forward in her seat, resting her head on her hands and her elbow on her knees

Change is at the forefront of our minds these weeks, as the global COVID-19 health crisis forces us all to rethink and rework our daily lives. The literary festival community is also navigating uncharted territory, as festivals large and small, near and far, face the question: How do we keep bringing readers and writers together in a socially distant world? Limits on public gatherings, travel restrictions and very real concerns about health and safety, are among many the factors compelling festivals to make unprecedented decisions. Some are cancelling their 2020 programming, others are postponing, while many more are adjusting their celebrations to suit these changing times.

We know first-hand that a tremendous amount of time and effort goes into the creation of a book festival. We appreciate that none of these decisions are being made lightly, and that most are accompanied by a great deal of economic risk and personal heartbreak. For these reasons, we applaud our festival community and commend those who have decided to put the health and safety of the book-loving community above all else.

To show our support, here is a roundup of some of the extraordinary spring festivals that have been impacted by COVID-19. Learn how they are adapting to the current situation, and how you can still join them in celebrating words and ideas.

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Page and Flesh

By David Bradford

Delegates banner David Bradford

The Delegate Programme is an opportunity for local authors and journalists to enrich the level of discussion at select events throughout the International Festival of Authors. David Bradford—author of Call Out and contributor to The Unpublished City—wrote about his experience as an IFOA 2017 delegate and for him, it turned the reader-writer relationship into a tangible experience.


“Every time I failed at something,” Eileen Myles told the Brigantine Room audience over Skype, “I could write.” It’s an old, truthful thing Andre Alexis and Kia Corthron seemed to recognize, one which I know well from my better nights, as well as my worst ones.

In a room full of honest-to-God readers, though, I found myself wondering how well they may have recognized Myles’s sentiment for themselves. I wondered how they might connect it with their own failures, and their own reach for that personal thing that wouldn’t let them down—how often that something might have been in the words of others. It reminded me that we writers all started, and hopefully remain first and foremost, readers. That often what we write begins with something we read—out of an impulse to look in a book for something we’ve failed to find elsewhere.

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Attention to Detail: The Art of Research

By Alexandra Grigorescu

Delegates banner - Alexandra Grigorescu

The Delegate Programme is an opportunity for local authors and journalists to enrich the level of discussion at select events throughout the International Festival of Authors. Alexandra Grigorescu—author of Cauchemar—wrote about her experience as an IFOA 2017 delegate and for her, a panel on research caught her attention.


I’ve been attending the International Festival of Authors for years. First, as a student enamoured with the writing life, then as a writer looking for pointers, then as a giddy participant, and now as a delegate. I played against my genre-loving type and chose a disparate set of panels: Keep It Short, The Lives of Underdogs, and Writing an Informed Story. Of these, the last one resonated most with me.

Deborah Dundas’ thoughtful questions took the audience behind the scenes of three distinct worlds and the facts that grounded their authors’ flights of fancy. What inspired me most was the way these three writers—Helen Humphreys, Claire Cameron and Roberta Rich—all began with a germ of an idea.

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