What about a journey that takes travelers to the authors behind great books? A literary festival is an invitation into the intellectual life of a place, a way to experience its history and culture in the company of some of the world’s brightest minds. If that piques your interest, then these nine events are good places to start in 2019.
PEN World Voices Festival, New York City
Salman Rushdie co-founded the PEN World Voices Festival with two friends in the wake of the September 11 attacks, with the goal of broadening dialogue between the United States and the rest of the world. Last year, Chelsea Manning and Laurie Anderson had a discussion about art, technology, and activism. This year’s events will include a talk by the French writer Édouard Louis, known for his autobiographical novel The End of Eddy, at the Center for Fiction’s brand-new, 17,500-square-foot facility in Brooklyn. May 6–12.
Hay Festival, Hay-on-Wye, Wales
Thirty years ago, this little Welsh town organized its first literary festival. It was never small—sponsored by the Sunday Times, it drew 8,000 people. Over the years it has grown into what Bill Clinton called a “Woodstock of the mind,” featuring notable authors like Ian McEwan, P. D. James, Zadie Smith, and Margaret Atwood, among others. This year you’ll find Leïla Slimani, the French Moroccan author of the Prix Goncourt–winning novel The Perfect Nanny, whose first novel, Adèle, is now available in English, and Anna Burns, whose novel Milkman won the 2018 Man Booker Prize. May 23–June 2.
Borris House Festival of Writing and Ideas, Borris, Ireland
Visiting the village of Borris feels like stepping inside a classic novel––tearooms and public houses line the tiny streets––but there is nothing provincial about the Borris House Festival of Writing and Ideas. It attracts international writers who converse with one another on a range of topics––last year included talks on organized crime in Russia and the art of Lucian Freud. The 2019 festival will feature the Pakistani writer Fatima Bhutto, whose most recent novel, The Runaways, was released in the U.K. in March; the art historian, curator, and writer William Dalrymple; and the investigative journalist and Watergate reporter Carl Bernstein. June 7–9.
Nantucket Book Festival, Nantucket, Massachusetts
Bibliophiles visiting Nantucket can mingle with both local and world-famous authors on the island from which Ishmael, Ahab, and Starbuck set sail. Writers here are typically paired onstage to discuss each other’s work or to read from their most recent books. This year’s iteration will feature the journalist Susan Orlean and the novelist Ben Fountain, who won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk in 2012. June 14–16.
FLIP (Festa Literária Internacional de Paraty), Paraty, Brazil
Brazil’s largest literary festival unfolds each year in Paraty, a colonial beach town on the Costa Verde, where past attendees have included Colson Whitehead, Don DeLillo, and the Rwandan author Scholastique Mukasonga. The 2019 festival will honor the 19th-century Brazilian author Euclides da Cunha, known for Os Sertões, which the poet Robert Lowell ranked above War and Peace. This year’s featured author is Kristen Roupenian, whose debut story collection, You Know You Want This, includes her viral New Yorker story “Cat Person.” July 10–14.
Sun Valley Writers’ Conference, Sun Valley, Idaho
Bookworms love the Sun Valley Writers’ Conference for the intimacy it cultivates between writers and their fans, keeping things small with a crowd of about a thousand people. This year’s speakers include novelists Dave Eggers, Alice McDermott, and Min Jin Lee, whose historical novel Pachinko was a cult hit and a finalist for the National Book Award in 2017; and the philosopher Kwame Anthony Appiah, the New York Times Ethicist columnist. Full passes are sold out, but individual tickets to a selection of talks will go on sale in mid-June. July 20–23.
In any given year at the Melbourne Writers Festival, you will find some of the leading lights of Australian literature, like Peter Carey, Germaine Greer, and Rich-ard Flanagan; but don’t go expecting only writers from Down Under. Last year’s guests included Ronan Farrow, whose investigative journalism has been a catalyst in the #MeToo movement, and Ta-Nehisi Coates, one of the most trenchant writers on race in the United States today. This year’s lineup will be announced this month. August 30–September 8.
Open Book Festival, Cape Town
The Open Book Festival features writers from Africa and beyond and hosts special events for poetry and comic books. This year will draw Rachel Cusk, known for her Outline Trilogy, Carmen Maria Machado, whose debut story collection, Her Body and Other Parties, was a finalist for the National Book Award in 2017, and Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah, author of Friday Black, which George Saunders called “an excitement and a wonder.” September 4–8.
Few literary festivals can match the one held every winter in India’s Pink City for scale and spectacle. Walking the gardens of the Diggi Palace, the 150-year-old haunt of Jaipur’s nobility, you may just bump into a Nobel laureate like Orhan Pamuk or J. M. Coetzee. Oprah and the Dalai Lama have also made appearances in the past. Those who can’t make the main festival in India should check out the smaller spin-offs staged in Britain in June, Australia in November, and in Boulder, Houston, and New York in September. Jaipur, India, January 23–27, 2020.