Catch Up on Book Festival’s Success

Sian Bevan
Communications & Community Support
Edinburgh City of Literature Trust

2 September 2021

The 2021 Edinburgh International Book Festival has drawn to a close, but you can still catch up on all this year’s action online.

The theme of this year’s Book Festival was ‘Onwards and Upwards’ and the team certainly rose to this challenge, taking the successes of last year’s online Festival and adding them to the usual Book Festival magic. The programme successfully blended in-person, online and pre-recorded elements to create a positive and accessible experience for all. The 2021 programme consisted of 250 events with over 300 authors, which attracted a footfall of over 25,000 to the new Edinburgh College of Art site over 17 days - a ringing endorsement of the Book Festival’s new home. 56,000 in-person and online tickets have been bought by audiences across 83 countries, with that number expected to rise in the coming days as audiences catch up on-demand.

The Baillie Gifford Children’s and Schools Programme included interactive sessions with authors, illustrators and dancers. The Schools Programme saw events broadcast to schools across Scotland, culminating with a virtual Gala Day on 31st August with eight events for primary school pupils.

Most of the events from this year’s Book Festival are available to watch on-demand on their website. We’d recommend catching Harry Josephine Giles and Ely Percy in conversation about writing in their own dialects (Orcadian and Scots), and Helen McClory’s take on the New Edinburgh Gothic. The full list of on-demand events is available here, and events can be watched until the end of September.

Debut writers Doireann Ní Ghríofa and Shola von Reinhold were the winners of this year’s James Tait Black Awards, the UK’s longest-running literary awards, in the biography and fiction categories respectively. Shola von Reinhold’s winning book in the fiction prize, Lote, follows the narrator Mathilda's fixation with the forgotten Black Scottish modernist poet, Hermia Druitt – a bohemian socialite of the 1920s. They said of their win: “Right now, I can't stop thinking of Hermia Druitt, who was alive a century ago when this prize was conceived, encountering many of the modernist winners and shortlistees but herself a Black, Afro-Scottish writer, unlikely to have been shortlisted for any such thing - so there's a strange joint sense of poetic mourning and justice for her and what she represents in the book."

Nick Barley, Director of the Edinburgh International Book Festival, said “This year was a year of transition and experimentation. I am extraordinarily proud of the team that has conceived, programmed and delivered a festival under the restrictions and uncertainty that we experienced right up until the beginning of August. We were at the very forefront of live events coming back, and there was understandably a nervousness amongst many of our regular audience in coming together in the same space. As the Festival went on we saw visitors, and confidence, growing. The world is a very different place from when we all came together in 2019, however our new home in the Edinburgh College of Art, the beginning of a long-term strategic partnership with the University of Edinburgh, has allowed us to ease gently back into our Festival, and we are now in a good place to grow and build upon what we have learned. It is a time to look forward, not backwards, to consolidate and to celebrate not only what we have all achieved in this of all years, but also to take what we have learned and apply it to future Festivals.”

The 2021 Edinburgh International Book Festival was an amazing achievement under difficult circumstances, and we send our congratulations to all the staff at the Book Festival who have worked tirelessly behind the scenes to deliver another exciting and ground-breaking celebration of the written word, literature and ideas.