A guide to Festivaletteratura 2020
25 8 2020
A guide to Festivaletteratura 2020

​The 24th edition of Festivaletteratura will be held in Mantova from Wednesday 9 to Sunday 13 Septembe 2020. A four-track Festival that we have reinvented anew

Check out the list of guest authors and the programme day by day (in Italian).

The twenty-fourth edition of Festivaletteratura will be held from 9 to 13 September 2020. The dates are those announced at the end of the last edition, and it already seems a success to be able to keep faith with the commitment made a year ago to the whole of the Festival community. The year 2020 has turned out to be an extraordinary one – for everyone and for us in particular – and when at the beginning of March we found ourselves having to wipe off the slate everything we had written until then, we were far from sure to find a way to bring writers and audiences together. Would we be able to keep on stimulating discussion, maintain that open and informal atmosphere that has always managed to make such a diverse programme live as a single entity?

What we are presenting today is a four-track Festival that we have reinvented anew, with live and streamed events in town, a Festival radio station, an almanac, and special content to appear online: four individual spaces in which to meet and participate, independent yet interconnected and able to ensure that authors, readers and friends of the Festival can attend however suits them best and considering travel limitations, and even to welcome those who have never heard of the Festival before. In these exceptional circumstances our only chance is to experiment and we feel sure that everything we are trying out this year will not be just a way of whiling away the time until things get back to normal, but a point of departure for future editions.

To support this re-creation effort, put together in a very short time, special energies are needed that only the Festival community as a whole is able to give. To ensure its success in a period of great difficulty for the world of culture as a whole, Festivaletteratura is launching a fundraising campaign, with the slogan Il Festival lo facciamo insieme.

To make a donation visit www.festivaletteratura.it/sostieni. The more you give the more ‘rewards’ (check out the website for more details) you will receive.


There’s no Festival without Mantova – the city that brought the event to life remains key in the 2020 edition as well. Even during the period of maximum lockdown, when meeting as we had before seemed impossible, we never abandoned the idea of physically holding the Festival in the streets, courtyards, and public and private spaces. So, true to our aspirations, authors will still be able to meet the public in some of Mantova’s historic locations, including Piazza Castello, Palazzo San Sebastiano and the Cloisters of the Diocesan Museum. Despite the great uncertainties – and aware of the possibility that there may be further restrictions on freedom of movement – we didn’t want to give up on the presence of acclaimed international authors in the city programme. Back again are the Palestinian architect and writer Suad Amiry, the Argentine journalist Martín Caparrós, Javier Cercas, one of the most authoritative voices in Spanish literature, Tishani Doshi, the Indian poet, narrator and dancer, and David Grossman, to whom the Festival dedicated an important retrospective in 2013, and who is returning this year for the closing event of the twenty-fourth edition, while French writer and traveller Sylvain Tesson will be meeting the public in Mantova for the first time.

In the year that Tunis is the focus of the “City in books” project, singer Emel Mathlouthi, voice of the Tunisian Revolution of 2010-11, will bring to Mantua the rhythm of the southern shores of the Mediterranean, so close yet so far away.

The dialogue with foreign literature will continue in a series of events marking singular convergences between Italian writers and those from other countries: one such case is that of the multi-generational family saga, powerfully described by both Giorgio Fontana and the Georgian Nino Haratischwili; the passion for Italian art that unites Melania G. Mazzucco and Hisham Matar; justice and equality in the fight against climate change, addressed by former President of Ireland Mary Robinson and Giorgio Vacchiano; the indistinct border between literature for adults and literature for children on which Fabio Stassi and Katherine Rundell find themselves. This will be the starting point for a streamed event that will see the Italian author talking from Mantova to their non-Italian counterpart. Very much present in the flesh, the Dutch narrator and playwright Ilja Leonard Pfeijffer, who has lived in Italy for many years, will offer up some reflections on Europe.

An important part of the city programme will be reserved as always for poetry events. Guest of honour will be the Swiss-Chinese poet Yang Lian, introduced at the Festival by Marco Del Corona.


Scrolling through the provisional programming of Radio Festivaletteratura, we see Panorama Internazionale adopting the Festival's vocation for discovering talent from world fiction, and which has seen Mantova launch dozens and dozens of writers previously little known to the general public. Hosted by Simonetta Bitasi and Chiara Codecà, there will be two interviews in each episode: authors who have already confirmed their participation include Finnish Rosa Liksom, Mexican Guadalupe Nettel, Korean-American Patty Yumi Cottrell, Moroccan Fouad Laroui, Austro-Iranian Nava Ebrahimi, Bulgarian Georgi Gospodinov, American-Palestinian Sahar Mustafah and John Freeman, founder of the magazine Freeman’s and a former guest at Festivaletteratura 2019.

Daily radio correspondence will be held with Tunis, the city in books of Festivaletteratura 2020. With Radio Tunisi Luca Scarlini will guide us around one of the perhaps lesser known Mediterranean capitals, debunking the clichés and helping us discover its lively and unexpected literary and artistic scene, without neglecting the role of political activism after the Arab Spring and that of the Italian community, present in the city since time immemorial. Among the guests on air from the other side of the Mediterranean we would like to mention, for the publishing and literary community: Ali Bécheur, Elisabeth Daldoul, Yamen Manaï, Ahmed Mahfoud, Aymen Daboussi, Mohamed Harmel, Sami Mokaddem and Shukri al-Mabkhout; for street art and graphic novels Nadia Khiari, Nidhal Ghariani, Luce Lacquanniti and Lab 619; for Italians living in Tunisia Francesca Bellino, Silvia Finzi, Marinette Pendola, Chiara Spano and Laura Valenzi.

Silvia Righi's programme Due punti will be welcoming authors who, despite their different styles, origins and generations are united by the fil rouge of poetry. An interview with the Vietnamese author Ocean Vuong will be part of this poetic/radio kaleidoscope.

Festivaletteratura will be using radio to discuss the circumstances that have gripped the world over the last six months. The lens of observation will once again be one of words. The focal point of each episode of Sintomatiche parole (symptomatic words) will be one of the words that have appeared most often, in all their myriad meanings: Chiara Lalli and Didier Fassin will discuss “cure”.

Just in time!, instead, will reopen one of the longest and most insurmountable philosophical debates – on the nature of time –, firmly back in the limelight again in times (!) of lockdown. Ilaria Rodella and Costanza Faravelli from Ludosofici will accompany us on an exploration of temporal upheavals, dystopian entertainment, chronologies, readings, and interviews with numerous guests, including Judy Wajcman.

The radio broadcasts will reflect Festivaletteratura's deep-rooted interest in environmental issues. Matteo De Giuli and Nicolò Porcelluzzi will be hosting a programme on climate change and the Anthropocene, and above all what needs to be done to spread awareness. In one of the four episodes the two radio hosts will talk to Elvia Wilk.

Radio Festivaletteratura will be available on the website 2020.festivaletteratura.it, specially created to host the digital content of this edition. After the show (in Italian), podcasts of all the episodes of the individual programmes will be available on the website and on the major podcasting platforms, and you can choose between the original language and Italian.


2020 has been an extraordinary year, and it's not over yet. To those at Festivaletteratura an almanac seemed the ideal way to remember these calamitous times. A year book that records, not really in any systematic way, anything from data, or remarkable events, to forecasts, maps of the stars, and tips on work or domestic and social life.

The Festivaletteratura almanac reinterprets this centuries-old tradition in its own way, collecting interesting facts, authors’ forecasts on the future, itineraries, suggestions on how to deal in body and spirit with the new cycle of the seasons.

Published in Italian, the Festival almanac is divided into four main sections. Interviste sul futuro (interviews on the future) are conversations in which writers, artists and experts from different disciplines will do their best to interpret the current trends, on the planet and in the different areas of our life, with some suggestions on how to understand the future that is looming and what we can do, either to correct or to encourage it. Martín Caparrós, Pablo d'Ors, Elisabeth Daldoul, Fatoumata Diawara, Marlon James, Carmen Maria Machado, Alberto Manguel, Maryanne Wolf also responded to our invitation to cast their gaze into the future.

Memorabilia are a collection of public and private events, of forgotten news stories and fantastic digressions about the recent past, in the guise of omens or warnings about the future. Among the many memorable contributions are those from Judith Clark, Donald Sassoon and Uwe Timm.

Consigli pratici (useful advice) sets out to give some simple but precise indications on how to deal with the problems of everyday life, learn an art or a trade, cultivate body and spirit, be at ease among others, and change the world. Various non-Italian authors have also contributed to this long list of suggestions, both humorous and meditative: Jeffery Deaver, Clare Hunter, Ander Izagirre, Howard Jacobson, Arnold van de Laar.

Besides the four main sections, the Almanac will also include the story of one of the last books to be burned before the French Revolution. Written by Robert Darnton it is – yes, that’s right, an almanac! Plus there will be a remarkable visit to the home of Edmond Rostand by Évelyne Bloch-Dano, a lemma from the resistance alphabet by John Freeman, and an illustration by Shaun Tan.


The idea of a completely digital 2020 edition of the Festival never really gathered much consensus during the months of decision-making. After the positive experience of Zona Blu, the temporary website opened during the period of major restrictions to keep the whole Festivaletteratura community together, the wish to continue making events for the web took on a more targeted perspective. Once past the emergency – at least for the moment – that has forced many to resort to events online in the absence of an immediately viable alternative, now is the time for the internet to become the place where unfulfilled dreams can come true, and to do everything that would have been impossible in real life.

Hence the idea of interviste impossibili (impossible interviews), the series of streamed meetings with some of the authors most courted by Festivaletteratura right from the first edition onwards. Two appointments a day, accessible for free online, with internationally renowned thinkers, storytellers and artists. Among those who have succumbed to the call of the impossible interviews are none other than the legendary American writer Paul Auster; Nobel Prize winners for economics Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo; Noam Chomsky, the father of modern linguistics and a beacon for antagonist political movements; Mark Z. Danielewski, real cult author and leading exponent of ergodic literature; French cognitive neuroscientist Stanislas Dehaene; David Quammen, one of the most popular science, travel and nature writers in the world; American philosopher Judith Butler; Stephen Fry, writer, actor, director and a living icon of British pop culture; Jeff Kinney, author of the hugely popular children's series Diary of a Wimpy Kid.

Like Radio Festivaletteratura, the impossible interviews will be hosted on the website 2020.festivaletteratura.it, entirely dedicated to the production and circulation of content for and via the web, in the original language with Italian subtitles.