Festivals, Cultural and City Events

Nick Barley

Director Nick Barley explains why the University of Edinburgh is so essential to the Edinburgh International Book Festival, and vice versa.

Video summary

Nick Barley describes the Edinburgh International Book Festival as the biggest and best respected literary festival in the world. Every year they have more than 200,000 visitors to the site and see somewhere in the region of 800 authors.

He says the festival has worked closely with the University for a number of years and that the James Tait Black Prize - the UK’s oldest literary prize - is the cornerstone of their relationship, which they are very proud of.

They believe the University as a partner allows the festival to stretch itself as they look at topics which might otherwise be seen as archaic aspects of academia, and bring them out into the open and realise how much academic study has on academic life.

Nick goes on to say that one of his favourite events this year is a debate on the referendum, chaired by television presenter, Kirsty Wark and featuring some major thinkers from Scotland.

Nick and his team worked closely with the University’s Professor Charlie Jeffrey and colleagues from the University is the notion that the Book Festival can be a place for debate where politicians voices are not the only ones we hear. This is a debate which they are describing as a “voice of the people” debate - and they hope that some politicians will come and listen.

Other events he is excited about are those that Professor Ian Deary is chairing on the subject of memory.

One is with a writer called John Killick who has written a book about dementia. The other event is with an MIT Professor called Susanne Corkin who has been involved in an experiment that went wrong in the 1950’s which has allowed for a huge amount of learning about the nature of neuroscience and the way in which we build memories.

Nick believes that Professor Deary brings his own knowledge of cognitive sciences to what he thinks will be an extraordinary discussion.

He moves on to say that the Book Festival couldn’t happen without the University of Edinburgh and that the University would be very different without the festivals. They have a symbiotic relationship - there is a dialogue between the two.

The Book Festival is a public manifestation of big ideas - in that sense it is a way for people to learn and also a public forum for democracy which is quite rare these days.

Nick says because of this, the relationship with University of Edinburgh is absolutely fundamental to the Book Festival’s success.