“That’s the thing about books. They let you travel without moving your feet.”
The exploration of unfamiliar lands can happen on the page or on a plane, and in some magical instances, both at the same time. Literary festivals not only bring you closer to amazing writers and journalists, they also highlight how literature engages, shapes and interacts with the world at large. And fortunately for those of us living in Asia Pacific, there are enough regional literary festivals to keep us bibliophilic wanderlusters busy for an entire year.
Mountain Echoes (22 – 25 Aug 2018)
Taking place in Thimphu, the ethereal capital of Bhutan ensconced in the Himalayas, this festival is the ultimate literary adventure. Although the program for this year has yet to be published, among last year’s speakers were Markus Zusak, Padma Lakshmi and even the Queen of Bhutan herself.
Ubud Writers & Readers Festival (24 – 28 Oct 2018)
Hard to say no to a trip to Bali. The theme of this year‘s festival is the Balinese Hindu philosophy of Jagadhita, the individual pursuit of both universal harmony and prosperity, and panel discussions will focus on how to create a world we want to live in. If that sounds too serious for you, don’t worry. Last year featured Pierre-Louis Padang Coffin, best known for co-directing the Despicable Me films, and as the voice of the Minions. Stay tuned to see what’s in store for this year.
Hong Kong International Literary Festival (2 – 11 Nov 2018)
World-renowned, this festival boasts a rich program of panels with authors such as Joshua Ip, Ken Liu, Amy Tan and Helen Oyeyemi. In addition to these international superstars, the festival beautifully weaves in events that focus on Hong Kong’s long- standing literary traditions and complex history.
ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival (24 – 28 Jan 2019)
The world’s largest free literary festival just keeps getting bigger, and has expanded to include performing arts, scientific talks and discussions on civil issues, as well as showcasing India’s literary greats. Several Nobel Laureates and Man Booker Prize winners have attended in past years, including Margaret Atwood and, of course, Jhumpa Lahiri.
The Bookworm Literary Festival (Mar 2019)
Born from a bookstore in Beijing, this independently run and privately funded festival is an oasis of creative expression in China’s otherwise well-scrutinized literary scene. Challenging topics, such as gender issues and tech privacy, are regularly included in the program. In addition to a wide range of notable Chinese writers of fiction and nonfiction, previous years’ speakers have included big names like Chang-rae Lee, Amitav Ghosh and David Sedaris.
Sydney Writers’ Festival (29 Apr – 5 May 2019)
Regularly attracting audiences of over 100,000 people, the Sydney Writers’ Festival is not to be missed. Its star-studded program focuses on more than just books and literature, with sometimes heated events on podcasts and politics. Highlights from 2018 include a discussion on historical fiction between Jennifer Egan and Min Jin Lee, award-winning journalist Ben Taub speaking on the crisis in Syria, and an Icelandic lullaby.
Auckland Writers Festival (14 – 19 May 2019)
Don’t let the relative isolation of New Zealand fool you. This festival, now nearly 20 years old, is a major event that often features some of the most talked-about contemporary writers, such as Roxane Gay, Haruki Murakami and Paul Beatty. There is also a wonderful emphasis on family friendly programs and free events for school children.
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An Irish-American residing in Singapore, Laura Jane O’Gorman Schwartz is a writer of fiction and non-fiction. Her work has been featured in publications such as The Wall Street Journal and The Shanghai Literary Review.