A New Global Association of Literary Festivals Officially Launches

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A timely development for international literary festivals during the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, the new association opens with more than 30 member-festivals onboard.

Delegates to the organizational conference in February at the Emirates Festival of Literature in Dubai. Image: GAOLF

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

‘To Have the Vital Conversations’
As Publishing Perspectives readers will remember, there was a conference of literary festivals held during early February’s 12th Emirates Airline Festival of Literature.

The purpose of that conference was to give representatives of some 19 literary festivals the chance to discuss common challenges and issues they were encountering, and to consider setting up an organization of organizations, if you will, in which these festivals could work together this way more frequently to share insights and viewpoints, observations and experiences with each other.

Little did those representatives know the extreme pressure their events would be experiencing within weeks under the brunt of the international coronavirus COIVID-19 pandemic. At that point in the first week of February, the depths of the threat were still largely not understood and the United Arab Emirates had registered very little in the way of virus caseload. Indeed, from the shot of the delegates to the conference, it’s clear that social distancing wasn’t yet a fact of life.

Today (May 12), the establishment of the Global Association of Literary Festivals is being announced with more than 30 public-facing member-festivals listed in its membership.

And a quick look through the new membership shows what’s happening for many.

  • Stratford Literary Festival has, like many events, announced a digital iteration of its program, starting May 9
  • The Sydney Writers’ Festival has an April 28 notice: “Tonight was supposed to be the opening night …”
  • Amsterdam’s Read My World Festival is supposed to be staged in October, but is messaging its followers, “We don’t yet know what the festival will look like.”

“The global pandemic has made such an association even more pressing,” says Isobel Abulhoul, CEO of the Emirates Literature Foundation. “It’s been heartbreaking to see literary festivals, one after the other, have to cancel their 2020 festivals.”

‘We Manage on a Shoestring’

Delegates to the February ‘Literary Conversations Across Borders’ event at the Emirates Festival of Literature in Dubai. Image: GAOLF

A founding member of the Emirates foundation, it turns out, has agreed to cover setup costs for the new association for its first four years. The group plans a biennial conference, with a meeting in Nigeria at the Aké Festival in 2022 and then one at Flip Brazil in Paraty in 2024.

And, as Abulhoul says, even in the best of times, literary festivals—many of the created as nonprofit ventures freighted with heavy responsibilities in fund-raising—are hardly easy to operate.

“Those of us in this industry,” she says, “know all too well how long it takes to plan a festival, with myriad complex and moving parts. We do it for love: love of literature, love of people, and love of reading.

“To have all those painstaking preparations dashed” in the sorts of cancellations many festivals are having to make “is devastating. We manage on a shoestring, relying on the generosity of sponsors and ticket and book sales, so without the normal income stream, it’s going to be so tough to survive the next months.”

This, of course, is reflected in the experience of the Hay Festival, a member-festival which—as we reported last week—had to go to the mat to raise funds this spring when it had to cancel its customary flagship outing in Wales for this month and mount instead a digital edition of the program. Having raised closed to £200,000 (US$246,885), the Hay organization in the UK is on relatively stable footing now as it prepares its virtual evocation for May 21 to 31. But it was difficult even for that organization, and it’s probably the largest of the festivals so far represented by the new association.

The site will be a resource to share knowledge and ideas, and anything of interest to our industry,” Abulhoul says. “It will give us the medium through which we can have the vital conversations, discuss the challenges facing us, and work together to overcome them.”

Member-Festivals of the New Global Alliance

Initial sessions in the February 2020 conference of literary festival representatives in Dubai included discussions on crisis management and ‘Breaking Down Stereotypes.’ Image: GAOLF

At its inception, then, here is a list of the festivals involved in the new international association announced today:

  • Aké Festival, Nigeria
  • Auckland Writers Festival, New Zealand
  • Bangkok Edge, Thailand
  • Bay Area Book Festival, California
  • Brooklyn Book Festival, New York City
  • Chipping Norton Literary Festival, UK
  • Emirates Festival of Literature, UAE
  • Filba Internacional, Buenos Aires
  • Flip Brazil, Paraty
  • Hay Festival, UK
  • Head Read, Tallinn, Estonia
  • International Literature Festival Berlin
  • Jaipur Literature Festival, India
  • Lockdown LitFest, UK
  • NGC Bocas LitFest, Trinidad and Tobago
  • Southbank Centre, London
  • Stratford Literary Festival, UK
  • Toronto International Festival of Authors, Canada
  • Vancouver Writers Fest, Canada
  • International Literary Festival for Young Poets, Nicosia
  • Ideogramma, Nicosia
  • Read My World, Amsterdam
  • Virginia Festival of the Book, Charlottesville
  • Portland Book Festival, Oregon
  • Festival Literario, Lousã, Portugal
  • Bergen International Literary Festival, Norway
  • Calabash International Literary Festival, Jamaica
  • Hong Kong International Literary Festival
  • Passa Porta International Festival of Literature, Brussels
  • Boston Book Festival
  • Decatur Book Festival, Georgia
  • Bloody Scotland, Glasgow

More about the program and contact information is here.

At this writing, the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center reports 4,171,859 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the world, with 285,690 deaths.

A map indicates the locations of the charter member-programs of the Global Alliance of Literary Festivals. Image: GAOLF


More from Publishing Perspectives on literary festivals is here. And more from us on the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on international book publishing is here and at the CORONAVIRUS tab at the top of each page of our site.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's 2019 International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for trade and indie authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson also has worked as a senior producer, editor, and anchor with CNN.com, CNN International, and CNN USA, and as an arts critic (National Critics Institute) with The Village Voice and Dallas Times Herald.

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