Sissay, Osman and Slimani to star at hybrid Durham Book Festival

Sissay, Osman and Slimani to star at hybrid Durham Book Festival

Durham's annual literary festival will be headlined by authors including Lemn Sissay, Richard Osman and Leïla Slimani, as the event pivots to a hybrid model following last year's fully digital experience.

Running from 9th to 17th October, Durham Book Festival will see writers, artists and thinkers participate in more than 60 events, either in person at the Gala Theatre or online. The festival will also feature guided walks, podcasts and installations. 

Digital highlights include Osman discussing his sequel to The Thursday Murder Club (Viking), Pat Barker talking about her novel The Women of Troy (Hamish Hamilton) and Francis Spufford and Sarah Winman introducing their new novels, both set against the backdrop of the Second World War.

Nickolas Butler and Willy Vlautin will also feature, while elsewhere Anita Sethi and Musa Okwonga will discuss their memoirs, reflecting on identity and society. 

Theatre events will begin on Thursday 14th October, kicking off with the announcement of the Gordon Burn Prize, which celebrates the year’s boldest works of fiction and non-fiction. Over the evening, each author will introduce and read from their shortlisted book, before the winner is awarded £5,000. 

Sissay will discuss his memoir My Name is Why (Canongate) live with writer Kit de Waal. The event will explore Sissay's quest for identity and belonging, having grown up in the care system, and celebrate the voice of the boy who grew up to become one of the UK's most celebrated poets, the chancellor of Manchester University and the recipient of an OBE in 2021. The memoir is the Durham Book Festival Big Read 2021 and 3,000 copies of the book will be distributed throughout the county.

Appearing on 16th October, McDermid will introduce her new novel, 1979 (Little, Brown), which begins the first new series from the author in almost 20 years. Set in Glasgow and following crime reporter Allie Burns, 1979 draws upon McDermid’s own experiences as a journalist.

As part of its school programme, 2,000 copies of the picture book Look Up! (Puffin) by Nathan Byron and Dapo Adeola will be distributed across Durham, including to every primary school and nursery setting. A free video of the creators, exploring the story, will be available to watch on the festival website throughout October.

Claire Malcolm, c.e.o. of New Writing North, which produces the event, said: “It’s great to be back and to be connecting our audiences again, both in person and online. This year’s varied programme offers all the joys of reading for pleasure, as well as the chance to reflect on our changing society. Literature is a powerful tool for opening up the world to us. It enables us to experience life from different perspectives and to reflect on our own realities; to discover new ideas and address old prejudices; to feel comforted, delighted and inspired. And, of course, to travel infinitely without leaving home. After the year that we’ve had, have books ever felt so essential?"

Commenting on the programme, councillor Amanda Hopgood, leader of Durham County Council, said: “We are very much looking forward to the return of Durham Book Festival and are delighted to welcome some of the world’s best writers to County Durham. Over the past 18 months, books have provided entertainment, escapism and a huge source of comfort for so many people and I know that this page-turning programme of events will continue to bring joy to visitors.

“With events taking place in person and online, we hope to attract avid readers from both County Durham and beyond, and hopefully inspire new readers and writers too. However, the festival not only promotes a love of reading. It also helps to put County Durham on the map as a cultural destination as we bid to become UK City of Culture 2025. We look forward welcoming new and returning visitors and hope the weekend encourages even more people to visit all year round.”