From Margaret Atwood to Edward Snowden: eight must-stream sessions from Frankfurt Book Fair

The world’s biggest book fair will this year host a number of discussions on its website for free

Frankfurt Book Fair guest authors (L-R) Elizabeth Gilbert, Irvine Welsh, Edward Snowden and Margaret Atwood. AP / Rex / AFP / Supplied
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The Frankfurt Book Fair returns this year with a format and interesting line-up of guests to suit the uncertain times.

With the world’s largest publishing event radically downscaling its physical presence amid the Covid-19 pandemic, the fair is taking its signature programme of evocative discussions and star-studded author sessions online.

On Saturday, October 17, the fair will hold its free Bookfest Digital programme. Spread across three online channels available on the fair's website, some of the world’s biggest authors and cultural personalities will log in and share their insights on what has been an extraordinary year for global literature and publishing.

From Canadian author and poet Margaret Atwood to former spy-on-the-run Edward Snowden, there are plenty of great literary and worldly discussions to be had. The full programme is available at the Frankfurt Book Fair website.

Here are seven of the key sessions to check out this weekend.

1. In Conversation with Margaret Atwood (Time TBC at Studio 1)

A discussion with the Man Booker Prize winner is always prescient.

In this expansive 60-minute conversation, the Canadian author will trace her six-decade career, featuring key works such as The Handmaid's Tale and follow-up The Testaments, as well as her poetry, literary passions and what keeps her returning to the page. The timing of the session will be announced on the festival website soon.

2. The New World Order: How the pandemic has changed the course of history forever with Saif Ghobash and Peter Frankopan (Studio 2, 2.40pm to 3pm CET, 4.40pm to 5pm GST)

Omar Saif Ghobash, Assistant Minister for Culture and Public Diplomacy. Courtesy of Emirates Literature Foundation  
Omar Saif Ghobash, Assistant Minister for Culture and Public Diplomacy. Courtesy of Emirates Literature Foundation  

Underscoring the global nature of the fair, Dubai’s Emirates Literature Foundation will produce a session of its own. Omar Saif Ghobash, UAE Assistant Minister for Culture and Public Diplomacy will be joined by esteemed British historian Peter Frankopan as they dissect how the pandemic is taking the world towards unchartered territory.

3. Permanent Record with Edward Snowden (Studio 1, 7pm to 7.30pm CET, 9pm to 9.30pm GST)

A lot has been written about Edward Snowden, but only last year the former US-spy-turned-whistleblower laid out his own account. From his current home in Russia, where he has been in asylum since 2014, Snowden will discuss his best-selling memoir Permanent Record and life in exile.

4. In Conversation with Ayad Akhtar (Studio 1, 7.30pm to 7.49pm CET, 9.30pm to 9.49pm GST)

HPAP6K AKHTAR Ayad - Date : 20120512 ©Basso Cannarsa/Opale
Author Ayad Akhtar won a Pulitzer Prize in 2013. Basso Cannarsa 

The celebrated Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright will talk about his most personal and eclectic work. Pakistani-American Akhtar's new novel Homeland Elegies is a mixture of fact, fiction and memoir, as it follows a narrator, named after the author, who comes to terms with his Muslim faith that "socially defined me since 9/11" and western and Pakistani cultures that seem as natural to him as they are foreign.

5. Slavoj Zizek Live (Studio 2, 5.20pm to 5.29pm CET, 7.20pm to 7.29pm GST)

A rock star in his field, the laconic Slovenian philosopher and cultural critic will bring his searing insights and wit as he tackles some of the environmental and social issues facing the world today. With the US election fast approaching, expect Zizek to provide his thoughts on who could win the top spot in the White House.

6. City of Girls with Elizabeth Gilbert (Studio 2, 10am to 10.30am CET, 12pm to 12.30pm GST)

When Elizabeth Gilbert returns to fiction, her novels become a mainstay of bestseller lists. Such is the case with her latest work, City of Girls. The US author will shed further light on the book, which is told from the perspective of an elderly New Yorker who looks back at a youth spent in the theatre scene of the 1950s and the bitter mistakes made along the way.

7. Scottish Summit: Irvine Welsh & John Niven Live (ARD Book Fair Stage, 8pm to 10pm CET, 10pm to 12am GST)

Two giants of contemporary Scottish literature get together for an epic discussion on their careers and the state of their native literature. Welsh will detail the reasons behind ending his loved Trainspotting series with new book Dead Man's Trousers while Niven will describe how music, art and Glasgow's gritty streets informed his novels, including his best-selling 2008 debut Kill Your Friends.

8. Jamie Oliver (Studio 1, 1.25pm to 1.40pm CET, 3.25pm to 3.40pm GST)

With more people staying home due to the pandemic, it is time to make the most of your pantry. This was the rationale behind British celebrity chef Jamie Oliver’s newest book. Oliver will pick apart seven easy recipes incorporating chicken breast, salmon fillet, ground beef and broccoli and demonstrate how they can be whipped up in no time.