A ceramic turquoise mug sits next to a computer showing a virtual conference on the screen

Virtual word nerds

Literary events go online

A definite pandemic perk has been all kinds of normally not-so-accessible events going virtual. From yoga classes and drag shows to author readings and pub quizzes, I’ve really enjoyed being able to participate in things that would otherwise be too far away, too pricey, or simply too inconvenient.

And sharing the experience with geographically-distant friends and family is flat out fantastic!

Here are a few recommendations for wordy events on the internet, including the next Literati meeting in a couple weeks time.

From the Queen’s realm

A lot of the literary world has transitioned their programming online, with the Edinburgh International Book Festival as a shining example of how to do it right. The Festival was live from August 15-31, with many of the sessions streamable in real-time. Now almost the entire program (and a bunch of sessions from previous years) is available for video replay. The website isn’t the most elegant, but there’s a filter function and a huge number of sessions are captioned, making them even more accessible. And… all of the events are free.

This year’s offerings from Edinburgh include authors like Elif Shafak, Hilary Mantel, Bernardine Evaristo, Arundhati Roy, and so many more. One of the highlights for me is Hear Her Roar: Fighting for Feminism, a themed lineup featuring feminist voices.

I’m exciting about another upcoming festival from the UK: the Cheltenham Literary Festival, which runs from October 2-11. Registration is required, but then all the live sessions are gratis. They’re also available for replay for with a festival-wide pass that costs £20, which generally wouldn’t be enough to cover one in-person show!

Elif Shafak is the festival’s Guest Curator and facilitates a number of panels. Other speakers that piqued my interest include Malcolm Gladwell, Caitlin Moran, and Tsitsi Dangarembga (whose book This Mournable Body is on the 2020 Booker Prize shortlist).

If you’re watching from Europe, don’t forget that the UK is one hour behind. I made that mistake this summer and missed more than half of the event 🙁

From the Americas

Starting today, the Library of Congress in the US puts on their National Book Festival. It runs until September 27 and most of the sessions will be available as free Video on Demand replays. I’ve got my eye on the ones with Emily St. John Mandel, N.K. Jemisin and Amy Tan (all of whom have come up in previously Literati discussions) and there’s lots of programming for younger readers, too.

My hometown hosts the Vancouver Writers Fest, which is entirely online this year from October 19-25. The nine hour time change makes it a little harder to join in from Europe (despite my huge love for Ivan Coyote, I don’t think I’ll be able to keep my eyes open for their keynote at 8pm Vancouver time!), but there’s plenty of programming earlier in the day and a few podcast recordings that will be available anytime. Most of the sessions are pay-what-you can with pre-registration required.

Authors like Kiley Reid, Colson Whitehead, Joyce Carol Oates and Curtis Sittenfeld (all noted in Literati discussions) for are taking part in the Brooklyn Book Festival’s Virtual Festival Day on October 4. Sessions are free with donations enthusiastically welcomed and registration required.

The Virtual Festival is a super full day of literary goodness (seriously, it runs from 10am until 11pm) featuring panel discussions on a huge range of topics and probably the single largest number of authors I’ve ever seen on a one-day bill.

Local (well, for me)

It’s actually mostly in person and mostly in German, but Zürich Liest deserves a mention here, too. It’s on from October 21-25 and registration is required for all events. Most of the sessions have a small fee and the venues are scattered throughout canton Zurich and Winterthur.

Our own virtual gathering

The next meeting of The Literati is on Thursday, October 15. The original hope was to get together in person in Zurich, but cooler, wetter weather has ruled out an outdoor gathering and rising COVID-19 infections in Switzerland (and pretty much everywhere else) have made an indoor function less than ideal. So we’re going virtual to talk about all things literary around the topic of ‘vulnerability.’

The online format does come with some advantages: no commuting time, cheaper drinks (although you do have to serve yourself), log in from anywhere, and no masks required—or pants for that matter!

Sign up for an upcoming Literati meeting below. You’ll receive a registration confirmation, which includes the Zoom link for any online gatherings.


Photo by Chris Montgomery on Unsplash. Thanks for capturing Zoom at its finest 🙂

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