The annual London Literature Festival sounds like it could be the stuffy domain of semantic elitists and literary snobs, but a quick look at this year’s programme will completely quell those concerns. To start with, the theme is ‘Living in Future Times’, the perfect platform on which to explore science fiction, Afrofuturism and all the wacky technological advancements and societal projections that tickle our fancy (and occasionally our scepticism).
There's close to 60 events across the 12 days of the fest at the Southbank Centre, but here are at least six events worth checking out.
1. The Time Machine
Imagining a utopic paradise 800,000 years from now might seem a little clichéd in 2016, but when HG Wells wrote 'The Time Machine' in 1895, the idea of time travel was radical. The book’s social comments on status and exploitation remain relevant today, which is a good reason to either read it yourself or come along to the Royal Festival Hall and let three acclaimed actors – Christopher Eccleston, MyAnna Buring, Nikki Amuka-Bird – bring the story to life by reading it to you. The performance is directed by Cedering Fox (Artistic Director of WordTheatre). October 5, 7.30pm, Royal Festival Hall. From £15.
2. Margaret Atwood
There’s a good chance that you studied one of the 40 books (of fiction and graphic novels, poetry and critical essays) that this widely acclaimed Booker Prize-winning author has written. On this occasion, Margaret Atwood is appearing to talk about her new novel 'Hag-Seed', a reimagining of Shakespeare’s 'The Tempest'. To give you some insight into her colourful personality, here’s a fun literary fact to geek out over: Atwood’s Canadian office is called ‘O. W. Toad’, an anagram of the letters in her last name. Cute. She also plays her role as an eco-warrior, going so far as to outline the ‘Green Policies’ that she follows on her website. Seeing this multi-dimensional author on stage will be pretty special for aspiring writers and admirers alike. October 6, 7.30pm, Royal Festival Hall. From £12.
3. National Poetry Day feat. PJ Harvey
Sending poetic sweet-nothings to the one you love is almost always a good idea, isn't it? This year, the annual free National Poetry Day celebration at Southbank Centre (home to The Poetry Library – check it out while you're there) gives you a chance to get your inner poet on, as well as hear live performances from hotshot poets. Acclaimed musician PJ Harvey will read while having her poetry visually brought to life through live drawings from Children's Laureate Chris Riddell. A look at the website schedule suggests all ages are welcome, from very small humans to very wise and sophisticated poetry lovers. October 6, 1pm, The Clore Ballroom at Royal Festival Hall. Free.
4. The Age of Bowie
If there's anyone who encapsulated and embodied the idea of ‘Living in Future Times’ it is our very own Starman, David Bowie. This free event in the foyer of the Royal Festival Hall explores Bowie’s life and legacy and looks at how his prophetic music and lyrics anticipated issues that we currently face. The panel leading the discussion are Bowie encyclopaedias, having either written or edited books devoted to him. Fortunately, they don’t plan on boring us with facts we probably already know, but they will instead look at his widespread influence, his status as a writer and what his visions of the future really say about us and the way we live today. October 7, 6.30pm, The Clore Ballroom at Royal Festival Hall. Free.
5. The Rise of Sex Robots
Say what? The idea of having sex with a machine doesn’t sound that appealing, but isn’t it just a logical evolution of sex toys? And perhaps sex robots could improve some anti-social behaviour in society. But, there’s also a chance that they wouldn’t, because perhaps acting out our darkest fantasies on a sex robot sets unreasonable expectations and insensitivity when it comes to the real deal. And what of the sex workers? There are so many things to discuss related to this topic, so it'll be interesting to hear what this expert panel have to say. This New Yorker article on Making Sense of Modern Pornography will get you informed and fired up for this event. October 8, 1pm, St Paul's Roof Pavilion at Royal Festival Hall. £8.
What if you could have the wings of an eagle, the speed of a cheetah or the steadfast, enduring legs of a goat? A group of people wanted to understand the animal experience so badly that they used tech such as prosthetics to imitate the form of other species. Hear from one such pioneer, Thomas Thwaites, who used springy prosthetic limbs and a camouflaged helmet to transform himself into a goat. It may a seem a little bizarre to those who walk through life quite happily in their human state, but it will no doubt be eye-opening event exposing the motivations and benefits behind these animorphic aspirations. October 11, 7.45pm, Royal Festival Hall. £8.