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Cambridge Literary Festival celebrates 20 years with celebrity line-up





The 20th anniversary of the Cambridge Literary Festival will see a huge line-up of famous authors and celebrities coming to the city - including Jon Snow, Andrew Marr, Jack Monroe, Pattie Boyd, Carol Ann Duffy and Maggie O’Farrell.

The festival will take place across five days, from Wednesday, April 19 to Sunday, April 23, with more than 50 events and 74 speakers.

Jacqueline Wilson. Picture: James Jordan
Jacqueline Wilson. Picture: James Jordan

Alongside established and emerging writers of fiction and poetry, there are household names from the world of politics, food, music, television, art, environment and wellbeing.

Festival director Cathy Moore said: “For the last 20 years I have been inspired by books, captivated by words, transformed by well-crafted argument, and rail-roaded into the digital world. I have loved every moment of it and wouldn't change a thing.

“I have seen the festival grow into an inspiring alchemy between town and gown where everyone from Nobel Laureates to TV personalities mingle with academics and our intellectually curious audiences. We have evolved with our audiences, and are particularly excited to launch three new elements this year: the A Room of One’s Own lecture, the Cambridge Series and our State of the Nation lecture. Long may it continue.”

Among the many highlights of the festival, award-winning author Maggie O’Farrell introduces her latest novel The Marriage Portrait; Curtis Sittenfeld, critically acclaimed and best-selling author of American Wife and Rodham, joins Alex Clark to share her latest book, Romantic Comedy.

Curtis Sittenfeld in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Picture: Ackerman + Gruber @ackermangruber
Curtis Sittenfeld in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Picture: Ackerman + Gruber @ackermangruber

Literary lunches and afternoon tea at hotel partner University Arms are back for 2023, with a discussion between leading crime writers Janice Hallett and Sophie Hannah; and another with Bonnie Garmus, whose debut Lessons in Chemistry shot to best-selling success in 2022.

Matthew Hollis delves into T S Eliot’s timeless masterpiece in discussion on his book The Waste Land: A Biography of a Poem and literary biographer Claire Harman joins the line-up to discuss and re-examine the legacy of modernist writer Katherine Mansfield to mark the centenary of her death. Visitors can also discover the hottest new talent through Ali Smith’s Debut Writers’ Panel and Granta’s Best of Young British Novelists panel.

Cressida Cowell. Picture: Debra Hurford
Cressida Cowell. Picture: Debra Hurford

Under the banner of health and human experience, Jack Monroe and Kit de Waal share first-hand experiences demonstrating that the current cost-of-living crisis is nothing new. Doctor and campaigner Louise Newson sheds light on the menopause and perimenopause. Julia Hollander explains the benefits and joys to be found in singing. Manni and Reuben Coe tell their life-affirming story of hope, resilience and repair; Reuben, who has Down’s syndrome, lived in a home for adults with learning disabilities during Covid, leading to a transformative moment in the brothers’ relationship.

A standout element for this April’s festival is the inaugural A Room of One’s Own Lecture, a joint initiative of Cambridge Literary Festival with Newnham College, Cambridge. It offers an annual opportunity for the foremost women writers of our day to share their work and to ask how far we have come since Woolf said: “Lock up your libraries if you like; but there is no gate, no lock, no bolt that you can set upon the freedom of my mind.”

Ali Smith will deliver the first lecture on the evening of Sunday, April 23, to be introduced by Dr Bonnie Lander Johnson. All attendees will receive a commemorative pamphlet containing Smith’s text.

Pattie Boyd
Pattie Boyd

This year, the festival’s New Statesman Debate tackles the timely and controversial motion: “This house believes it is time for Britain to abolish its monarchy.” Speaking for the motion are award-winning journalist Tanya Gold, historian author and Professor Anna Whitelock, and author, broadcaster and academic Gary Younge (who will also host a separate event to discuss Dispatches from the Diaspora). Speaking against are journalist and author Robert Hardman; broadcaster, author and The New Statesman’s political editor Andrew Marr; and Tomiwa Owolade, author and contributing writer to The New Statesman. Marr will also deliver the inaugural State of the Nation Lecture, reflecting on where we are politically after the last few chaotic years.

Jon Snow. Picture: John Wright Photography
Jon Snow. Picture: John Wright Photography

Jon Snow – the face of Channel 4 News for 30 years - brings The State of Us, his personal rallying cry for tackling inequality, fighting injustice, and recovering our sense of community. Influential poet and activist Linton Kwesi Johnson delves into Time Come, his first prose selection bringing together his most powerful writings. Pattie Boyd (My Life in Pictures) – the inspiration behind timeless classics Layla, Wonderful Tonight and Something - shares fascinating recollections of her life and changing times with George Harrison, Eric Clapton, Twiggy, David Bailey and more.

Kit de Waal
Kit de Waal

There is also a jam-packed programme of household names in children’s literature to keep families entertained. Dame Jacqueline Wilson discusses how she started her writing career, how she created some of her best loved characters, and details about her brand-new book. Michael Morpurgo returns with a brand-new story celebrating the new monarch, King Charles III. Both Wilson and Morpurgo will also be presented with a Cambridge Literary Festival award for their outstanding contribution to children’s reading.

Jack Monroe. Picture: Patricia Niven
Jack Monroe. Picture: Patricia Niven

A special free schools event – Refugee Tales – will be hosted by Ali Smith and Bernardine Evaristo. There are writing and drawing tips from Cressida Cowell, an interactive session with author and performance poet John Agard, and a talk from Emma Carroll.

For more information and tickets, visit cambridgeliteraryfestival.com.



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