Four Literary Festivals You Won’t Want to Miss

Missed out on the events held on World Book Day on Mar. 7? No problem. Here are four other literary celebrations to satisfy your bookish cravings

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A bare lightbulb illuminates second-hand books in one of the many Hay-on-Wye bookshops during the 2011 Hay Festival in Hay-on-Wye, Wales.

Missed out on the events held on World Book Day on Mar. 7? No problem. Here are four other literary celebrations to satisfy your bookish cravings.
Jaipur Literary Festival, January

What makes a dusty provincial capital, known more for pink palaces than literary cafes, a perfect setting for what has arguably become the world’s most electric meeting of literary minds? The infinite Rolodex of co-founder and lordly Indiaphile author William Dalrymple, who seems able to lure half of London back to the Raj each late January — including the likes of Salman Rushdie, Martin Amis, Hanif Kureishi, Danny Boyle, plus international laureates J.W. Coetzee, Orhan Pahmuk, even the Queen of Bhutan and the Dalai Lama. Combine that with the boundless enthusiasm of an emerging country where writers, and reading, are still held in high honor.

Heading toward its seventh year, Jaipur’s panels and discussions are heavily political and sometimes overly Anglo-Indian, but all feel privileged to mingle freely with the famed and the furious beneathflowing orange tents sets on the lawns of a funky, fanciful 19th-century mansion usually catering to backpackers. Only the overcrowding brought by success — alongside the ongoing jealousies between literary superstars — can bring Jaipur’s intellectual adventurism back down to earth. High-so types fly in to mingle with wandering hippie poets-in-waiting at rollicking outdoor parties — happily hybrid as the festival itself -— where the wit and whiskey flow nearly as feverishly as the whirling Rajasthani drummers and dancers. —John Krich

Irrawaddy Literary Festival, February

Burma’s sweeping political and social reforms have made many things possible and for writers the big boon was February’s Irrawaddy Literary Festival. The idea seemed little more than wishful thinking when festival director Jane Heyn — the wife of the British ambassador— first suggested it to opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi in 2011, but the changes came fast and the event took place amid much fanfare at Rangoon’s Inya Lake Hotel.

Heyn and her husband will leave Rangoon this summer, so it’s uncertain whether the festival will be held again in 2014. But if it is, you’ll be in for a treat. The lure of Burma (and Suu Kyi as the festival patron, if she chooses to remain in that role) will ensure a line-up of top international writers. Vikram Seth, Jung Chang and Sudah Shah all appeared at February’s event. Although household names elsewhere, these writers were largely unfamiliar to the 120 Burmese writers who participated. Under the ruling junta, Burma was cut off from the rest of the world for 50 years and only censoredversions of the classics made their way into schools. The three-day festival was a step towards bridging the gap and for many foreigners it was their first chance to read and hear Burmese poetry and literature.

Sessions were held in Burmese and English and ranged from panel discussions on heritage buildings, violence and censorship to poetry readings. The highlight of the weekend was Suu Kyi’s talk on how books gave her courage through her 15 years under house arrest. She even quipped that she could never have been as brave as Harry Potter. — By Kate Whitehead

Edinburgh International Book Festival, August

Founded in 1983, the Edinburgh International Book Festival was the first literary festival in Scotland and, at the time, one of only three in the U.K. Held every two years until 1997, it’s now one of the biggest festivals of its kind in the world, contributing an estimated $7.6 million to the Scottish economy.

With 750 events, visitor numbers have grown from 30,000 to over 220,000, bringing together some 800 authors, as well as journalists, politicians and decision makers from around the world. J K Rowling and Kazuo Ishiguro are among the big names to have received an invite before they became famous, while the American economist Joseph Stiglitz and Doris Lessing make up some of the Nobel Prize winning attendees.

Located in the peaceful enclave of Charlotte Square Gardens in Edinburgh’s world heritage listed Georgian New Town, the tented

literary village takes 15 days to construct and 10 days to take down.

Appropriately enough, in 2004 Edinburgh became the world’s first UNESCO City of Literature, an accolade that has since been granted toother cities such as Sydney, Iowa and Dublin. —Tina Walsh

Hay Festival of Literature and the Arts, May-June

As festival settings go, you’d be hard pressed to find a more scenic one than Hay-on-Wye, a pretty market town on the English-Welsh border. The ‘town of books’ has played host to the Hay Festival of Literature and the Arts since 1988, when it was set up by director Peter Florence and his father Norman with the winnings — so the legend has it — from a poker game. Bill Clinton called Hay “the Woodstock of the mind” after his visit in 2001 and, seven years later, another former US president, Jimmy Carter, followed in his footsteps.

The little town, with a population of just 1,500, explodes in size during the festival, when around a quarter of a million visitors and delegates descend. This year, they’ll include the British novelist John Le Carre, American investigative journalist Carl Bernstein and the Irish folk singer Christy Moore.  Held at a variety of venues in its early days, including the town’s primary school, the festival moved to a location just outside the center in 2005. Expansion hastaken it worldwide and there are now seven sister festivals in cities such as Nairobi, Beirut and Cartagena, Colombia. —Tina Walsh