Wole Soyinka and Sally Rooney will headline the Southbank Centre’s autumn season, while the organisation has also announced its London Literature Festival, which this year takes its theme and title from Rooney’s novel Conversations With Friends (Faber).
The season will see Nobel-Prize winning author Soyinka launch his first novel for 48 years, to be published in the UK by Bloomsbury. Also on the bill are novelists including Ruth Ozeki and Helen Oyeyemi, plus new talent Caleb Azumah Nelson, Vanessa Onwuemezi and Naomi Ishiguro.
The UK virtual launch of Soyinka's latest work, Chronicles from the Land of the Happiest People on Earth, will be live streamed from the Southbank Centre in partnership with Guardian Live. The novel will be published on 28th September, the same day as the event, by Bloomsbury and PRH US, backed by a major publicity campaign.
Rooney will appear in conversation with author Emma Dabiri about her forthcoming novel, Beautiful World, Where are You, in an event attended by a live audience and available as a live stream on 7th September.
Kicking off the autumn season, actor and director David Harewood will discuss his memoir and the impact of racism on Black mental health with David Olusoga, in partnership with Black Minds Matter, on 2nd September. Bernardine Evaristo will reveal how she stayed true to herself and made history in the process, celebrating her new book Manifesto on Never Giving Up (Penguin) in conversation with author and journalist Afua Hirsch on 3rd October.
Other season highlights include author and LGBTQI+ activist Armistead Maupin in conversation with Graham Norton, and an appearance from author and cook Nigella Lawson, launching her new book at Royal Festival Hall.
Running from 21st to 31st October, London Literature Festival will see children’s author and poet Michael Rosen, poet and specialist nurse practitioner Romalyn Ante and writer and former nurse Christie Watson share their experiences of the National Health Service, in an event chaired by novelist Kate Mosse.
Kate Clanchy, psychologist Robin Dunbar and writer and social commentator Musa Okwonga will join forces to discuss the state of contemporary friendship and what it reveals about society as a whole, while presenters of BBC Radio 4’s "Open Book", Elizabeth Day and Johny Pitts, discuss how books can foster friendships.
Jade L B will talk about her noughties viral coming-of-age story Keisha the Sket, along with Candice Carty-Williams and Aniefok Ekpoudom, who have contributed essays to the print edition. Hosts of "The Receipts" podcast, Tolani Shoneye, Audrey Indome and Milena Sanchez, will mark the launch of their new book Keep the Receipts – a Love Letter to Sisterhood for Women (Headline), while artist and activist Ai Weiwei will also appear in conversation about his forthcoming memoir.
Speaking to The Bookseller about the programming, Ted Hodgkinson, head of literature and spoken word at the Southbank Centre, said: “We needed to come back with a programme that really mattered, and embodied everything that is good about literature, and give more people a celebratory, joyful experience.
“I wanted the festival to be an opportunity to reconnect and see people, particularly friends, who bring so much joy and meaning to our lives but don’t often get all the credit they deserve. Iconic friendships in literature have taken on a new significance in recent years, but the theme of it, while it runs through so many novels, is often underexplored, and the focus is on family and romance and marriage. For many of us, friendships are the defining relationships in our lives. The festival is an opportunity to really explore the whole terrain of friendship and the challenging aspects of it too—the programme includes discussions on the effects of social media, and how that hall of mirrors can distort and destroy those bonds.”
Hodgkinson anticipates hybridity will become “an integrated part” of the festival moving forward. “Streaming is not something that will completely replace the experience of being in a room with your favourite writers and poets,” he said. “The popularity of live literature events is in some sense a response to the screen-based life. We seek out interactions with writers in a congregational setting because there's very little distance. It's a very intimate experience and a fundamental part of what we do, but the digital dimension has opened up accessibility, and our events are reaching people far beyond the city.
"Our new streaming partnership with DICE means our most sought after events continue to be more accessible than ever, while the collective experience of being in the same room as a beloved author or poet remains at the heart of what we do.”