Kazuo Ishiguro with Yaa Gyasi
Sunday, May 2
When bestselling novelist Kazuro Ishiguro won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2017, the Nobel committee described him as having “uncovered the abyss beneath our illusory sense of connection in the world.” Now here’s your chance to ask this “poet of the unspoken” (New York Times) your questions about his vision, writing life, and his first novel since winning the Nobel. Reserve your spot now and get your copy of that novel, Klara and the Sun (complete with a signed bookplate for the first 250 ticket-holders).
From Remains of the Day (“an almost perfect book,” said The New Yorker‘s James Wood) to Never Let Me Go (deemed “a page-turner and a heartbreaker” by Entertainment Weekly), Ishiguro’s equal fluency with wildly imaginative surrealism and the delicate bonds of relationships has changed the literary world’s perception of what a novel can do. Klara and The Sun is no exception. Grounded in a futuristic milieu, this “dazzling genre-bending work” (Publishers Weekly) sheds powerful beams of light on everything from environmental destruction to the secret sorrows of childhood, through the adventures of “Artificial Friend” Klara, a solar-powered humanlike robot designed to be a child’s companion. Ishiguro’s partner for this conversation is rising literary star Yaa Gyasi, a PEN/Hemingway award winner for Homegoing, whose newest novel, 2020’s Transcendent Kingdom, was called “a book of blazing brilliance” by The Washington Post.
These renowned authors come from two very different generations, backgrounds, and literary styles, but they share an uncanny ability to lay bare the secrets of the human heart. And we can’t wait to share their unforgettable presence with you in this much-anticipated headlining event.
Each ticket includes private access to the event recording for 10 days following the live event. Signed copies are limited to the first 250 buyers of that ticket type and all copies will be shipped by Green Apple Books in San Francisco. We can only accept book orders that ship within the United States.
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Presented in partnership with
When Everything Falls Apart, How Does the Heart Survive? Orville Schell and Yiyun Li on China, Tolstoy, and the Power of Art, with Adam Hochschild
Orville Schell and Yiyun Li, moderated by Adam Hochschild
Sunday, May 2
In a heartstopping scene from Orville Schell’s My Old Home, trained musician Li Tongshu sits at his piano, eyes closed, playing “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring,” as Red Guards storm his home. They’re there to arrest him as a bourgeois traitor, but what they don’t know is that the legacy of Li’s music, and the loyalty of his young son, Little Li, is not easily snuffed out. A journalist and renowned expert on China, Schell has penned his first novel, drawing not only on his deep knowledge of Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution but on his conviction that art and love can outlive brutality.
Joining him is MacArthur “genius” and award-winning writer Yiyun Li, who came of age during the bloody Tiananmen Square crackdown, emigrated to the U.S. at 23 as a young scientist, and eventually took the literary world by storm with her fiction, memoir and essays. Li regularly turned to reading Tolstoy for solace during tough times in her own life, so in the early days of the pandemic she collaborated with A Public Space—the literary magazine, publisher, and academy—to lead a free virtual book club where thousands of people, isolated under shelter-in-place, read War and Peace together over three months. The project, which garnered worldwide attention, now has been made into a book, Tolstoy Together, a guided experience for past and new readers.
This “Writer to Writer” conversation—moderated by award-winning journalist, historian, and author Adam Hochschild, a lifelong friend of Orville’s and a Russian-speaking Tolstoy fan—will explore how art truly can light a lamp in the dark.
Interior Chinatown, Tinseltown, and Other Worlds Imagined: Charles Yu on Showbiz and Storytelling, with Lodge 49’s Jim Gavin
Charles Yu in conversation with Jim Gavin
Monday, May 3
When Trevor Noah of The Daily Show asked Charles Yu why he wrote his National Book Award-winning novel, the devastating “parable for outcasts” (Kirkus) Interior Chinatown, in the form of a screenplay, Yu deadpanned, “I work in Hollywood, so I already had the software.” A veteran of several TV series (including HBO’S Westworld), Yu honed his hilarious, convention-defying masterwork with an insider’s insight and an outlier’s genius. Yu found an oasis in the writer’s room of fellow novelist Jim Gavin’s (Middle Men) AMC cult-favorite series Lodge 49, an underdog’s hymn that channels Thomas Pynchon, counts Patton Oswalt and Tom Hanks as diehard fans, and “makes as good an argument for the existence of a kind of shabby everyday magic as you’ll find anywhere” (NPR).
Belly up to the bar and raise a drink with these two friends and fellow-travelers as they toast to creating worlds for page and screen, making the ordinary extraordinary, and finding strength—and hilarity—in difference and struggle.
Carol Edgarian and Vendela Vida, moderated by Cherilyn Parsons
Tuesday, May 4
From the Barbary Coast to the Summer of Love to the tech takeover, San Francisco has always been a city in flux, a writer’s dream, and a favorite setting for literature. Its boom-and-bust drama and breathtaking beauty also make it a perfect backdrop for coming-of-age stories: especially ones about girls who can’t be pigeonholed.
Who better to chronicle the city’s growing pains—and those of two unforgettable teenage women—than two leading ladies of the Bay Area literary scene? Carol Edgarian, publisher of Narrative Magazine, has delivered “that rare novel you’ll want to buy for loved ones” (Andre Dubus III) with Vera, a pulse-pounding, often hilarious saga of a fierce 15-year-old, the daughter of a bordello owner, amidst the 1906 earthquake and fires. (Nob Hill, Pacific Heights, Market Street, the longed-for “fire escape” ferry to Oakland—they’re all here.)
We wonder what Vera would have to say to Eulabee, the protagonist of Vendela Vida’s funny, poignant We Run the Tides, who comes of age during the pre-tech-boom days of the 1990s (Eulabee haunts “Sea Cliff,” China Beach, the Haight). Vida, co-founder of The Believer magazine, 826 Valencia, and other Bay Area literary institutions, puts Eulabee squarely in the middle of a web of lies instigated by her fabulously-named friend Maria Fabiola, a social climber (also very San Francisco).
Whether you know San Francisco or not, whether you long for its “good old days” or still find it magical, these stories and this conversation, part of the Festival’s “Writer to Writer” series, will hit home for anyone who has undergone the harrowing journey of growing up.
Free of charge, but you must register to receive the viewing link.
This event is also part of the Festival’s Women Lit series
Green Rabbits Glowing at the End of the World: Annalee Newitz and Nathaniel Rich on What Happens When Civilizations Fail
Annalee Newitz and Nathaniel Rich, moderated by Bonnie Tsui
Wednesday, May 5
More than 150 years ago, long before intimations of a warming planet had begun, Ralph Waldo Emerson made a prescient statement: “The end of the human race will be that it will eventually die of civilization.” While some of us might not consider our current culture to be terribly civilized, one thing is clear: we’ve been propelling our own species, along with millions of other life forms, toward extinction as a result of human-generated climate change.
To probe our own “end times,” we’ve brought together two highly respected journalists who also happen to be speculative fiction writers. Annalee Newitz is an award-winning novelist (The Future of Another Timeline) and a science, technology and culture writer whose fascinating new book, Four Lost Cities: A Secret History of the Urban Age, explores the rise and fall of four urban-centered civilizations, from medieval Angkor in Cambodia to the indigenous metropolis Cahokia in present-day Missouri.
Fast forward from ancient times to 2018, when the New York Times Magazine devoted an entire issue to journalist Nathaniel Rich’s chronicle of the world’s failures to listen to scientists who began seriously sounding the alarm about climate change in 1979. That article became the book Losing Earth, which Rich has now followed up with the deeply reported, riveting Second Nature: Scenes from a World Remade. Where do we go from here? Scientists are no longer asking how we can return to the world we’ve lost—we’ve irrevocably changed every inch of our planet—but what we can create in its place in order to survive. Their answers rival the wildest science fiction.
Albert Camus (The Plague) wrote, “the purpose of a writer is to keep civilization from destroying itself.” Moderated by Bonnie Tsui, author of Why We Swim, this conversation with two leading writers will give you a blast from the (long lost) past along with a staggering vision of the future.
Lager and Love Can’t Pay the Bills: 2020 Booker Prize Winner Douglas Stuart on his Masterpiece, Shuggie Bain
Douglas Stuart in conversation with Casey Gerald
Thursday, May 6
Douglas Stuart enraptured readers worldwide in 2020 when his heart-stopping debut novel, Shuggie Bain, took the world’s top literary award, the Booker Prize. While Stuart may have seemed like an overnight success, Shuggie Bain was a labor of love that drew from his own history of childhood poverty, hardship, and devotion to a mother whose addiction struggles were intensified by a broken system. This tender and wrenching story has been compared to Angela’s Ashes in its emotional power and mesmerizing writing style. Shuggie Bain may have been translated into over 20 languages, but it’s the author’s own Glasgowian dialect—immediate, accessible, hypnotic—that’ll take up residence in your mind forever.
Stuart is interviewed by Casey Gerald, who gained fame with a viral TED talk, “The Gospel of Doubt.” Like Stuart, Gerald grew up queer, shaped by poverty and parental addiction. He’s another “success story,” having made his way through Yale and Harvard Business School, but his memoir There Will Be No Miracles Here, praised by Marlon James as “the most urgently political, most deeply personal, and most engagingly spiritual statement of our time,” refuses to reduce his story to an “American dream” parable. This conversation between two rare souls will question myths, mine deep emotional territory, and examine how we break old cycles while still honoring where we came from.
- Science Fiction & Fantasy
How to Dream the World You Want: Nnedi Okorafor and Jeff VanderMeer on Resistance and Transformation
Jeff VanderMeer in conversation with Nnedi Okorafor
Friday, May 7
Forget the new normal. What we need right now is literature that turns the whole concept of “normal” on its head, building worlds that put the status quo in the rearview mirror. Fantasy and sci-fi, once relegated to “niche” status in the book world, have become leading and widely-read literary genres that meet the historic moment we’re in, centering diversity and disrupting complacency in ways no other form can do. If you haven’t read much in this genre, there’s never been a better time to discover it.
At the helm of this brave new era is novelist and Marvel Comics scribe Nnedi Okorafor, whose groundbreaking Africanfuturism—including her latest novel, Remote Control—demands big-screen renderings (fittingly, two of her books are currently being adapted as series by HBO and Hulu). Nebula Award winner Jeff VanderMeer (Hummingbird Salamander), author of the bestselling Southern Reach trilogy that was adapted into the film Annihilation, also is no stranger to meeting (and even anticipating) the moment: Esquire called him “the prophet of climate fiction.” In this “Writer to Writer” conversation, you’ll meet two literary pioneers we need now: subversive, audaciously imaginative, and unafraid to steer us into uncharted territory.
There’s a Revolution Outside, My Love: Mourn, Heal, and Take to the Streets with Former U.S. Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith and Others
Tracy K. Smith, Reginald Dwayne Betts, Camille T. Dungy, moderated by Ismail Muhammad
Saturday, May 8
The iconic Lawrence Ferlinghetti, revered poet and co-founder of San Francisco’s City Lights Books, famously claimed, “Printer’s ink is the greater explosive.” Ferlinghetti died at age 101 just a couple of months ago, but his spirit lives on in poets such as the literary revolutionaries featured in our Saturday night headliner event. The power of words to spark change and detonate oppression has never been more needed than it is today.
Pulitzer winner and former U.S. Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith and literary critic and author John Freeman invited some of America’s most socially engaged and beloved writers to pen letters, essays, poems, lamentations, and exhortations in response to our tumultuous time in history. There’s a Revolution Outside, My Love is an “eloquent and urgent” (Kirkus) distillation of what we’re living through as a country, a transcription “from the inner chambers of the heart” (Literary Hub). The writers express grief, seek hope, and demand total transformation of society after this plague year when so many people literally have struggled to breathe, whether from a policeman’s knee on their neck or virus in their lungs, not to mention the truly “breathtaking” display of dysfunction in government. Smith envisions that the book may “serve a use for you like that of a road map for a nation that is no longer idling.”
Stepping off the table of contents and into our living rooms are Smith herself; criminal justice reform advocate, Obama appointee, and award-winning poet Reginald Dwayne Betts; and National Book Critics Circle Award finalist Camille Dungy. Guiding the conversation is Ismail Muhummad, story editor for the New York Times Magazine and a member of the Festival’s program committee. Show up as an ally, a citizen, and a fellow survivor of an unprecedented and explosive year.
Your ticket includes the book!
Joyce Carol Oates and Irvin Yalom, MD
Sunday, May 9
“Mourning is the price we pay for having the courage to love others,” opens the extraordinary memoir by renowned psychiatrist Irvin Yalom (Love’s Executioner) and his late wife, Marilyn Yalom, the esteemed feminist scholar and writer. Exploring universal questions of intimacy, love, and grief, A Matter of Death and Life recounts the final months of the couple’s 65-year marriage after Marilyn’s cancer diagnosis. The book is written in alternating sections until Marilyn’s death, after which Irv, the “therapists’ therapist,” revisits his decades’ worth of writings as a way to cope with his own grief.
There could be no better partner for this conversation than Joyce Carol Oates, one of the most honored authors in American letters, whose more than 100 books—fiction, memoir, essays, poetry and more—masterfully delve into love, loss, mortality, and other core human experiences. Her memoir A Widow’s Story (2011) depicts her own struggles after the loss of her husband of 47 years. Both of her latest books, the poetry collection American Melancholy and short story collection The (Other) You, explore how circumstances and choices indelibly shape how we live and find meaning.
We present this conversation on Mother’s Day, after a year that taught us all to cherish human connection more than ever. Today we pay tribute to the women we love, but also to the many people this year who have cared for us (since mothering comes in many forms).
If you’re a mom, a professional caretaker, or an essential worker—or if you’ve just now decided to tell your loved ones afresh how much they mean to you—we invite you to use the code CARE in checkout to get 50% off the ticket price for this event. Please also consider getting a ticket for a loved one and buying Irv’s and Joyce’s books—you’ll be glad you did!
Avni Doshi, Maaza Mengiste, Alia Trabucco Zerán, moderated by Karen Phillips
Sunday, May 9
In 1968, poet Muriel Rukeyser famously wrote, “What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? The world would split open.” More than half a century later, women themselves feel split into a million pieces. This past year has been especially challenging for women, typically society’s primary caretakers. Indeed, mothers have been carrying an especially heavy load. Speaking one’s truth is hard when you’re totally exhausted.
So what better Mother’s Day gift for women (and all who love them) to spend an hour, free of charge, with three brilliant female authors, writing from and about multiple corners of the globe—India, the Middle East, North Africa, South America, the United States—with woman-focused stories? And these aren’t just any stories: the work of all three novelists was shortlisted for the Booker Prize or the Booker International Prize, the most prestigious literary awards in the world.
In Burnt Sugar, Dubai-based Indian author Avni Doshi explores the intimate dynamics of mother-daughter conflict and postpartum depression with an ambivalence and caustic wit that ruffled some feathers. It’s that fearless artistry that landed her on the 2020 Booker Prize shortlist with Ethiopian-American novelist Maaza Mengiste, whose novel The Shadow King (“a masterpiece,” said the Washington Post) features a female soldier fighting fascism during Mussolini’s invasion of Ethiopia. The story is inspired by the author’s great-grandmother, one of those women who, in Mengiste’s words, “stepped forward out of the shadows and made themselves known.” Chilean author Alia Trabucco Zerán, trained as a human rights lawyer before turning to literary work, wrote The Remainder, a finalist for the 2019 Man Booker International Prize, to delve into the legacy of Chile’s military dictatorship. Her new novel, Las Homicidas, to appear in English translation in 2021, explores an arguably even more dangerous topic: how rage against injustice can be so profound that it drives some women to kill, and how that rage, as with the frustrated anger of any oppressed group, is often minimized and deflected.
This conversation offers a Mother’s Day like no other! The event is co-presented by Words Without Borders and moderated by Karen Phillips, its executive director. Words Without Borders expands cultural understanding through the translation, publication, and promotion of the finest contemporary international literature.
Free of charge, but you must register to receive the viewing link.
This event is also part of the Festival’s Women Lit series