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A Triumphant Return for Cambridge Literary Festival

28 Apr A Triumphant Return for Cambridge Literary Festival

After two years since the last in-person festival, Cambridge Literary Festival made a triumphant come-back.

Highlights Booker Prize Winner Douglas Stuart, Nobel Prize for Literature Winner Abdulrazak Gurnah, doctors Rachel Clarke and Roopa Farooki confronting the deadly cost of political absurdity. Billy Bragg singing an impromptu Jerusalem with Ali Smith. Former children’s Laureate Michael Morpurgo and pop idol winner Will Young on his journey through mental health.

The Political & the Personal
Denouncing Priti Patel’s plan to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda as ‘just mad’, Nobel Laureate Abdulrazak Gurnah shared how it feels to be the target of blind panic surrounding immigration; Junior Doctor Roopa Farooki and palliative care doctor Rachel Clarke held Johnson’s government responsible for the deaths of hospital workers who were not given PPE; terming the government’s climate strategy a ‘timid, pathetic pile of wasted effort’, Tom Heap outlined real solutions to the climate crisis; Lord Simon Woolley, who became the first Black man to head an Oxbridge College despite leaving school without O-levels, struck a conciliatory tone, sharing his personal impressions of senior Tories like Theresa May – less so Boris Johnson – genuinely caring about racial and class-based injustice; Colin Grant, Alex Renton & Thomas Harding gave an unflinching account of how Britain’s wealth is rooted in the criminal legacy of slavery; the tumultuous New Statesman Debate on whether or not ‘we get the leaders we deserve’ ended with a vote that Britain deserves better; Peter Geoghegan shocked with revelations of how disingenuous think-tanks propel incompetent opportunists to power; satirizing these same themes, John Crace left us chortling; looking beyond Britain, Olesya Khromeychuk, Rory Finnin, David Reynolds and Paul Mason raised funds for Ukrainian refugees and explained the warped logic of imperialism; David Loyn discussed soldiers weeping over the fall of Kabul; Parwana Fayyaz introduced a ground-breaking collection of short stories by Afghan women who refuse to be silenced.

Food for Thought and Feel-Good Fun
Joking (or was he?) that literary festivals are much more civilized than Rock festivals, Billy Bragg burst into song alongside Ali Smith and Daljit Nagra during Tom Gatti’s uproarious event about life-changing albums; Pop Idol winner and mental health advocate Will Young brought home the importance of being kind to ourselves, while legendary footballer John Barnes asked us to own our prejudices and align ourselves culturally rather than empathise with those who look like us; Claudia Roden and Ed Balls warmed hearts and whet appetites with their memories of mouth-watering meals, with Ed remaining tantalizingly cagey about a potential return to politics; Poet Laureate Simon Armitage and literary legend Ali Smith delighted with their wit and erudition; unforgettable characters seemed to leap off the page and into the room, as literary greats Julian Barnes, Douglas Stuart and Rose Tremain left the audience spellbound with extracts from their latest novels; giving us something to look forward to, debut writers Jo Browning Wroe, Kieran Goddard and Ayanna Lloyd Banwo left the audience breathless with excitement about the future of contemporary literature; meanwhile, art historians James Fox, Rebecca Birrell and Frances Spalding made art seem to come to life at the stunning Fitzwilliam Museum; Children’s Laureate Michael Morpurgo shared his love of books with young and old alike, exploring the beauty of our planet along the way.