UK and Ukraine book festivals partner to protect freedom of expression

Hay festival’s CEO describes partnership with Lviv BookForum as ‘an act of solidarity’ as Ukrainian writers look to ‘tell our true story and why we are fighting’

Ukraine’s largest book festival is to partner with Hay festival for the first time, with Hay’s CEO describing it as an “act of solidarity across art, culture and audiences”.

Lviv BookForum, organised by Ukraine’s Publishers’ Forum, is in its 29th year and will take place from 6-9 October, both in person and online.

As digital partner, Hay will broadcast all the festival’s 15 events free online, and has also curated a number of events with an international digital audience in mind.

Julie Finch, who has replaced Peter Florence as CEO of Hay festival, said she hoped the events would “bring a new audience to Ukrainian writers and their work, while offering a space for a dynamic exchange of ideas between different cultural perspectives”.

She went on to describe the partnership as “an act of solidarity across art, culture and audiences”.

Lviv BookForum will have a hybrid programme this year, with guests appearing in person or in virtual live appearances. It will “blend the greatest contemporary Ukrainian writers with internationally acclaimed literary figures in conversations ranging from art in times of conflict, memory, gender-equality, loss, corruption, imperialism, and hope”, said an announcement from Hay.

Sofia Cheliak, programme director at Lviv BookForum, said the festival would give people the chance to learn more about Ukraine. “Using culture and literature is a way we can explain what is going on [here],” she said. “It’s our chance to tell our true story and who we are and why we are fighting, why it’s important for us to be independent.”

The programme for the festival is “incredible” said Cheliak, and she hoped the event would be the “beginning of Ukrainian literature promotion”.

Authors who have appeared at Lviv BookForum in previous years include Ukrainian writers Oksana Zabuzhko and Ivan Dziuba and international authors Paulo Coelho and DBC Pierre.

Hay, which named the DEC’s Ukraine Humanitarian Appeal as official charity partner of its main festival in Wales in May and June, has also specially curated five online events pairing “icons of global literature with their Ukrainian contemporaries”.

Finch said that with “freedom of expression under attack globally, organisations such as Hay festival and Lviv BookForum are more important than ever before as catalysts for change by exercising freedom of speech and the tolerant exchange of ideas”.

“Hay festival champions free speech, empathy and curiosity,” she added. “Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is not only an attack on Ukraine’s territory and people, it represents a desire to destroy the very idea of Ukraine, its right to generate its own culture, identity and stories.”

The partnership is the beginning of a “longer term relationship where we can showcase Ukrainian artists, writers and thinkers internationally,” said Finch.

Lviv is the largest city is western Ukraine and the sixth largest in the country. It has remained largely safe from fighting, although in April Russian rockets smashed into the city, killing seven people.

The partnership between Hay festival and Lviv BookForum is part of the UK/Ukraine Season of Culture, which is supported by the British Council and the Ukrainian Institute.

David Codling, director of the Season of Culture at the British Council, said the season would “celebrate cultural exchange between our two countries and the vital importance of free expression and independent critical discourse at this time”.

Ukraine’s “literary culture always has much to contribute but more urgently than ever now”, he added.

The season’s other events include Cheltenham literature festival and the International Book Arsenal festival in Kyiv partnering for a special Ukraine Day event, celebrating emerging voices in Ukrainian literature; a Ukrainian to English literary translation summer school at the British Centre for Literary Translation, University of East Anglia, bringing together translators and authors; and a Ukrainian programme at the 2022 Huddersfield contemporary music festival, focusing on contemporary Ukrainian opera and chamber music.

The Lviv festival events broadcast online will be live-captioned in English and Ukrainian, with viewers able to choose which they would like. Post-event, captions in Spanish will be added to all sessions.

The full programme for Lviv BookForum will be announced in mid-September on the Hay festival website.


Sarah Shaffi

The GuardianTramp

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