ILFDublin 2020: one for the books

“Terrifying”. “Challenging”. “Absorbing”. “Exhilarating”. Are these the jacket blurbs for an airport thriller or the experience of organising a literature festival – or any festival – in the second half of 2020?

After a hectic six months, we unveil our programme for this year’s International Literature Festival Dublin that will run from October 22nd-28th, with a whole new social lexicon as a backdrop: a world of lockdowns, social bubbles, herd immunity and circuit breakers. Unimaginable 12 months ago, these bizarre-sounding social actions have leapt from the pages of a sci-fi novel to become the social norm. They also run counter to the essential idea of a festival, which is to bring people together in public spaces to share a common passion or interest.

Our strapline, then, for this year’s festival is “One for the books”, which captures the mood for a number of reasons: activity will largely take place online, with live streamed international events alongside Irish writers broadcasting from a stage in Dublin. We’re also moving – temporarily – to late October, with certain events swapping from our original dates in May. And we’re building new partnerships: this year the winner of the International Dublin Literary Award will be unveiled at the festival for the first time. In the run up to the festival, you can download exclusive podcasts with the shortlisted authors, including Nobel Prize winner Olga Tokarczuk and recent Booker Prize winner Anna Burns.

How writers should respond to the pandemic, and when, has become an urgent topic of conversation. Will there be years of reflection, before the novels slowly appear, as was the case with 9/11? And how do you write about the present when reality itself seems to outstrip the powers of fiction?

One artist for whom lockdown has a particular resonance is Ai Weiwei, a figure whose work encapsulates issues around freedom of expression. During May, Weiwei began selling limited-edition face masks on eBay, with proceeds going to human rights charities. Weiwei, whose famous works include Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn (1995) and Sunflowers (2010), his installation at Tate Modern in London, will speak at the festival on October 23rd.

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