The recent news of British Airways direct service from Charleston to England is hardly the Holy City’s only reason to cheer all things Motherland. This weekend marks the second annual Charleston to Charleston Literary Festival, hosted at the Charleston Library Society and the Dock Street Theatre — a four-day affair featuring a jolly good lineup of literary luminaries. And you thought Meghan Markle’s wedding had star power.
There’s Tina Brown, for starters. Yes, that Tina, the whip smart Brit and famed former editor of Vanity Fair, who then went on to transform The New Yorker, founded the Daily Beast, and authored The Diana Chronicles, and most recently the Vanity Fair Diaries, which is the topic of her sold-out Friday session. Writer and journalist Christopher Dickey is also on the docket, as is CNN’s John Avlon, photojournalist Lynsey Addario, and author Elliot Ackerman, and that’s just a smattering of what’s in store.
“What’s different and remarkable about this event is its salon-style approach,” says festival interim director Suzanne Pollak. “There are no lectures, just delightful, lively dialogues, and plenty of opportunity for attendees to meet and mingle with these great minds.”
The Charleston to Charleston Festival is the U.S. spinoff of the longstanding Bloomsbury-esque Charleston Festival in Sussex, England. The Sussex festival, named for the Charleston Farmhouse owned by Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant where artists and writers (including Vanessa’s sister, Virginia Woolf) would gather for free-flowing summers of creative cross-pollination, established this interactive format to great success. Now in its 30th year, the original Charleston Festival is a 10-day affair where “books, ideas, and creativity bloom,” and last year’s inaugural program on our shores borrowed heavily from programs and speakers presented at the Sussex festival, all sparkling with the quick-witted banter our English forebears are so bloody good at.
This year, however, the lineup is a tad less British and plenty timely, with sessions on “The Demise of Democracy” with Dickey and renowned British playwright David Hare, whose film, Denial, starring Rachel Weisz (who plays a Holocaust denier), will also be screened. And of course there’s a nod to the Bard, because what self-respecting English-influenced literary gathering doesn’t include a session on Shakespeare? Only this one, titled “Tyrant: Shakespeare on Power,” promises to be an insightful and apropos conversation between best-selling author (The Swerve) and Harvard professor Stephen Greenblatt and Geoffrey Harpham, former director of the National Humanities Center.
In addition to award-winning hot authors Margo Jefferson (Negroland) and Madeline Miller (Circe), there’s also Charles Spencer, historian and brother of Princess Diana, who will be in dialogue with Charleston’s own best-selling Brit, Bernard Cornwell, who admits to typically avoiding literary festivals, but is definitely looking forward to round two of this one.
“Especially to hearing Stephen Greenblatt, whose books I consume greedily, and it’s obviously a great coup to have booked David Hare and I suspect Tina Brown will glitter,” says Cornwell, whose latest Saxon saga, War of the Wolf, was recently published and is already among the New York Times best sellers. “I’ll be interviewing Charles about a classic escape story on Saturday night, and I expect the evening to be enthralling, despite my presence,” Cornwell demurs.
Indeed in a weekend shelved full of bookish delight, with YALLfest going on concurrently and the Post and Courier Author Lunch with Ann Patchett on Friday, there’s plenty to keep the pages turning. But if you’re wondering how to invest your literary time, Cornwell offers simple advice: “If you like books, you’ll love the festival! Go!”