WATCH: Charleston Festival is back with its biggest and most ambitious programme

Charleston Festival is back with its biggest and most ambitious programme to date featuring more than 150 speakers across more than 60 live, multi-art form events including conversations, workshops and performances for audiences of all ages (May 17-29).
Charleston House and Garden. Photo by Penelope FewsterCharleston House and Garden. Photo by Penelope Fewster
Charleston House and Garden. Photo by Penelope Fewster

“Expect the very best literary programming alongside music, spoken word and dance,” says Susannah Stevenson, Artistic Director.

“One of the longest running literary festivals, today Charleston Festival brings together leading writers, artists and change-makers alongside new and emerging voices from across literature and visual arts, politics and environmentalism, fashion, activism and more. The festival is situated in Charleston’s unique grounds—once the home and studio of artists Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant and the rural gathering place for the Bloomsbury group—in the heart of the South Downs National Park, Sussex. Taking its cue from the progressive thinking and experimental spirit of Charleston’s famous historical residents, the festival’s interdisciplinary line-up invites inclusive conversation around today’s important topics—everything from identity, feminism and sustainability to food poverty, civil liberties and everyday sexism.

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“The 2023 edition launches with two remarkable multi art-form performances, both including spoken word elements exclusive to Charleston Festival. Marking 60 years since the release of jazz artist’s Charles Mingus’s magnum opus The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady, Nu Civilisation Orchestra and multi-award-winning Clod Ensemble breathe new life into the album, combining live music and dance with spoken word. Tell me the Truth about Love combines classical music, cabaret and poetry readings by Simon Russell Beale in this unique telling of the lives and love shared between W H Auden, Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears. Returning commissioned events include the Charleston Monologue – written in the weeks immediately prior to the festival, this year by Inua Ellams, author of the hugely successful play Barber Shop Chronicles, and delivered by an exciting guest reader to be announced. In the What I Believe series, inspired by E M Forster’s 1939 essay, comedian and writer David Baddiel shares his thoughts and beliefs in an intimate interview with Oscar-nominated screenwriter William Nicholson. Distinguished human rights barrister Helena Kennedy KC delivers the 2023 Jeremy Hutchinson Memorial Lecture in honour of the celebrated advocate whilst dance artist and choreographer Akram Khan shares what drives him to create in the My Life in Art interview. Literary highlights of the 2023 festival include an exclusive UK appearance from Annie Ernaux, the winner of the 2022 Nobel Prize for Literature, in conversation with the bestselling author of Normal People, Sally Rooney. Reflecting on Virginia Woolf’s diaries, American author and Pulitzer-Prize winning critic Margo Jefferson will be in conversation with British writer Olivia Laing, considering what continues to make Woolf’s writings relevant today. This year’s line-up is dotted throughout with some of today’s most renowned literary icons such as Richard Ford, Simon Armitage, Deborah Levy, Michael Morpurgo and Don Paterson. Caleb Azumah Nelson, author of the award-winning best seller Open Water, joins Ekow Eshun, acclaimed writer, broadcaster and curator of the recent exhibition In the Black Fantastic at Hayward Gallery, in conversation. Nelson made his first-ever literary appearance at Charleston in 2021 and went on to win the Costa First Novel Award.”

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