Skip to content

Literary festival ILFU adds new day-long event on the hot topics of our time.

9 September 2021

Speakers including Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Lale Gül, Roberto Saviano and Alfred Birney to appear in Utrecht

On Saturday, 25 September, the first edition of Exploring Stories will take place: a special day-long event at the ILFU festival dedicated to the ‘hot topics’ and current debates of our time. Exploring Stories will deal with issues such as climate, inequality, paleo- and neo-colonialism, feminism and the power of fiction. A unique ensemble of Dutch and international authors will debate one another and the audience, both live and online. The speakers on the programme for the festival in Utrecht include Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Lale Gül, Roxane Gay, Roberto Saviano, Jeanette Winterson, Tahar Ben Jelloun and Alfred Birney.

Valhalla for literature lovers
Exploring Stories will be held in TivoliVredenburg on Saturday, 15 September starting at 14:00. It promises to be a virtual Valhalla for literature lovers, with a programme packed with major social issues. Many renowned Dutch and foreign authors will make an appearance in Utrecht. Italian journalist and author Roberto Saviano (Gomorra) will talk with Désanne van Brederode about truth and crime. American writer and culture critic Roxane Gay will discuss the issues of representation and privilege with Samya Hafsaoui. British author Jeanette Winterson and essayist Miriam Rasch will speak about friction, data and AI: the intelligence of the future. Cameroonian author Imbolo Mbue (How Beautiful We Were, on a fictitious African village’s struggle against an American oil company) will sit down with Rebekka de Wit, writer and director of the play De Zaak Shell. Caroline Lamarche and Manon Uphoff will draw on their novels to talk about detrimental relationships and sexual abuse. Renowned writer and prolific twitterer Joyce Carol Oates will discuss how language shapes the world together with author Kristien Hemmerechts. Abdelkader Benali will interview today’s most influential Moroccan author Tahar Ben Jelloun about his latest book Le miel et l’amerture. Lisa Weeda will participate in a discussion on the role of fiction in visualising a country’s politics and history, in her case Ukraine. Alfred Birney and Gustaaf Peek will talk about past and present manifestations of colonialism. And writers Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Lale Gül will converse about the desire for freedom and independence, and the impossibility of going back.

Festival director Michaël Stoker explains why the ILFU has added this new festival event this year, based on this year’s theme: Why Fiction Matters. “If the past year has taught us anything, it’s that the big issues of our time are all interrelated”, says Stoker. “Climate change, globalisation, capitalism and racial, cultural and economic inequality are global problems that don’t have simple solutions. Scientists and journalists can identify and clarify the situation, but there will always be things that we cannot perceive. Literature looks for the truth behind the observable facts and shows how the world could be. On 25 September, we’ll give that creativity plenty of room to grow.

Exploring Stories, Saturday, 25 September 2021 from 14:00 – 19:00, TivoliVredenburg. The event will be followed by a Book Talk with Édouard Louis at 20:00, where Sinan Çankaya will speak with Louis about social inequality in response to his new book Combats et métamorphoses d’une femme. Combination tickets are available for those who would like to attend both Exploring Stories and the Book Talk with Édouard Louis. For the full programme and tickets, see:

ILFU 2021: Why Fiction Matters
The ILFU 2021 will be held in Utrecht from 23 September to 2 October, with the theme ‘Why Fiction Matters’. Utrecht has been an UNESCO City of Literature since 2017. This year, the ILFU will open with the Belle van Zuylen Lecture by Elena Ferrante and conclude with the annual Poetry Night event. In between, the festival will host an extremely diverse programme: from the YALFU to the Netherlands Poetry Slam Championship, the Maya Angelou Films and Who We Are programmes on Morocco; live Book Talks by authors such as Edouard Louis, Deborah Levy and Max Porter and the must-see festival event ‘Exploring Stories’. On 30 September, the City of Utrecht will announce the recipient of the C.C.S. Crone Stipendium for the encouragement of literary work.

Scroll To Top