Radical Book Fair gets feminist makeover

Shami Chakrabarti talks to Dame Vivienne Westwood at South Bank Centre © Southbank Centre [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Tomorrow marks the launch of Edinburgh’s Radical Book Fair, hoping to measure up under strong new leadership.

The event, established by Wole Soyinka back in 1996 for Word Power Books ran for twenty years until the rebranding of Word Power in March of this year, which emerged as Lighthouse Bookshop with new owner and chief, Mairi Oliver.

She said: “It is our first year and it’s one of those great traditions, so the bar is set extremely high. I went to some before, so I had a sense of what it was supposed to feel like. Much like the bookshop is a continuation – Lighthouse is Word Power in its new incarnation – the book fair will be very much the same kind of book fair but in a slightly new way.”

One of the main changes this year will be a greater focus on women writers.

“We had all the feedback that people have left over the years, so one of the things that we did early on was think ‘what did people really love and what did they want more of?’. And one of the things that occurred several times, which was surprising, was that people were asking for more women, so the fair this year and in all the years to come is a feminist book fair.

“It is at least half women. There is not a panel that is not at least half women, and it is very much designed and deliberately and put together as a celebration of this year’s great, progressive, diverse, inclusive publishing. There’s loads of great stuff out there that doesn’t make it into the front.”

This follows a year of feminist projects dominating Edinburgh’s literary scene.

2017 saw the publication of 404 Ink’s Nasty Women (who will also be hosting a zine workshop at the Book Fair), the successful crowdfunding of Monstrous Regiment’s The Bible, and the close to the Institute for Advanced Studies of the Humanities Dangerous Women Project.

At the fair, this change in format is perfectly demonstrated by its opening night talk by author, politician and all round feminist, Shami Chakrabati, who will be discussing her new book ‘Of Women.’

Panel discussions also include talks about the Refugee Crisis, Building a Fairer Society and Protests in Britain.

“We picked on some of the issues that have been really important this year that maybe haven’t been given enough of a nuanced platform,” said Oliver. “One is refugees. Another is nuclear disarmament. Other big themes are activism and the feeling that we can do something. We can make a difference.”

Lighthouse Bookshop has never tried to hide its left-leaning stance, and this festival is set to be a strong celebration of these ideals, as well as a real literary feast.

“Hopefully the fair will be somewhere that, as the whole Christmas madness and hyper-commercialist thing looms over us, we can end the year on a high,” said Oliver. “That’s the hope. That it will empower people and make them feel excited that these things are happening.”

Photo Credit: Southbank Centre