Charleston Festival at Home


Last month the charity that runs Charleston; the Sussex farmhouse where the Bloomsbury group once gathered to imagine society differently, launched an emergency appeal following the organisation’s closure and the cancellation of its flagship literary festival. Charleston’s future remains decidedly uncertain, but in true Bloomsbury spirit, Artistic Director Susannah Stevenson has returned from furlough leave for a brief period to rescue the 31st Charleston Festival: one of the oldest and most prestigious literary festivals in the world. 

From 15-25 May 2020, Charleston Festival at Home presents a series of 10 events with leading artists, writers, thinkers and changemakers to bring the interdisciplinary conversations, readings and performances that are the hallmark of Charleston Festival, to new and existing audiences. One event will premiere on Charleston’s YouTube channel at 7pm (BST) each evening to mark the dates of the 2020 Festival which normally takes place in the grounds at Charleston; the home of artists Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant whose regular visitors included Virginia Woolf, T. S. Eliot, John Maynard Keynes, Roger Fry and E. M. Forster, among others. 

Charleston Festival at Home is part of a major fundraising campaign which has been launched to secure Charleston’s future, and to protect its unique collection housed in the only completely-preserved Bloomsbury interior in the world. The charity, which receives no public funding and has no reserves or endowments to fall back on, has been left at risk of closure due to the Covid-19 pandemic and is inviting viewers of its digital festival programme to make a donation to its emergency appeal. 

Exploring art, literature and society, themes that weave through the digital edit of Charleston Festival 2020 include: the interaction between art and politics; poetic responses to the climate crisis; gender equality and the architecture of place. 

Born in China to a poet who was denounced during the Anti-Rightist Movement, Ai Weiwei is a global citizen, artist and thinker. From architecture to installations, social media to documentaries, Ai uses a wide range of media to examine society and its values; actively challenging the idea that art is a separate discipline, unrelated to the banality of daily life. In a rare appearance, he discusses his work, creative practice and art that cannot be contained.

Master storyteller Salman Rushdie discusses his life, work and latest novel Quichotte from his home in New York. Just as Miguel de Cervantes wrote Don Quixote to satirise the culture of his time, Quichotte takes the reader on a wild ride through a country on the verge of moral and spiritual collapse told with the kind of storytelling magic that is the hallmark of his work.

Multi-award-winning US writer Tayari Jones, whose work has been championed by Barack Obama and Oprah Winfrey, discusses her latest novel Silver Sparrow and explores the art of writing tangled relationships, racial injustice and the perils of young womanhood. 

There is a rare opportunity to hear internationally award-winning dramatist Tom Stoppard in conversation with prize-winning playwright and director, Patrick Marber. Stoppard’s epic yet intimate new play Leopoldstadt, directed by Marber, traces the trajectory of the Jewish community of Vienna; from crowded tenements, to the centre of artistic and intellectual life, to annihilation. 

Franco-Moroccan writer and journalist Leïla Slimani is one of today’s most exciting international voices, and her global bestselling and award-winning novels include Lullaby and Adèle. Slimani, who is known to keep a copy of Virginia Woolf’s diaries on her bedside table, speaks about her novels, beliefs, and latest non-fiction book Sex and Lies, a collection of essays giving voice to young Moroccan women. 

Susannah Stevenson, Artistic Director: Charleston Festival, Small Wonder and Literary Programmes, The Charleston Trust, said: 

“No one relishes having to cancel a festival; the culmination of months of work from an army of people, and personally my first as Artistic Director. But I am glad to have this opportunity to underline the strength and value of what we do here at Charleston every May by presenting this digital selection of events for people to enjoy from their own home anywhere in the world, for free. From literary giants to internationally renowned artists, directors, poets and journalists, Charleston Festival at Home gives anyone and everyone the opportunity to come together virtually to conjure the atmosphere and relish the stimulation of the Charleston Festival. Every incredible artist and writer taking part and everyone who watches at home is channelling the Bloomsbury spirit by believing in the importance and power of sharing in conversations about art, literature and society, whatever the circumstances. And if there was ever a time to imagine society differently, as the Bloomsbury group did, this is certainly it. I hope you will join us – now, and in future.”

Charleston Festival at Home, 15-25 May 2020, @CharlestonTrust #CharlestonFestivalatHome

Full Programme

15 May, 7pm Vienna: Fin de Siècle to FascismTom Stoppard with Patrick Marber

16 May, 7pm Carol Ann Duffy & Friends: In GreenCarol Ann Duffy, Gillian Clarke, Imtiaz Dharker and Ella Duffy

17 May, 7pm Bricks & MortarHannah Rothschild and Julian Fellowes with Rebecca Rideal

18 May Rest day (in-keeping with Charleston Festival tradition)

19 May, 7pm In Pursuit of JusticePhilippe Sands and Eva Hoffman

20 May, 7pm Decades of ChangeLennie Goodings with Joan Bakewell

21 May, 7pm Building EdenTim Smit in Conversation

22 May, 7pm Sex, Lies & WoolfLeïla Slimani with Rosie Goldsmith

23 May, 7pm Salman Rushdie in ConversationSalman Rushdie with Erica Wagner

24 May, 7pm Ordinary Lives & Devastating TruthsTayari Jones with Alex Clark

25 May, 7pm Undisciplined ArtAi Weiwei with Tim Marlow

About The Charleston Trust 

Charleston is a house, garden and art gallery situated in the South Downs National Park. From 1916, it was the home of artists Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant, who were key members of the Bloomsbury group. 

In 2019, Charleston doubled its visitors to over 60,000 who as well as visiting the house and garden took part in its year-round programme of exhibitions; workshops; talks; events and portfolio of festivals. Today, Charleston is facing risk of closure due to the devastating financial impact of Covid-19 and has launched an emergency appeal in a bid to secure its future ( 

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