Cover Celebrate The Hong Kong International Literary Festival's 20th anniversary this month (Photo: Anna Ko)

Hong Kong’s largest literary festival returns this month with a line-up that explores writing during a crisis

The Hong Kong International Literary Festival celebrates its 20th anniversary this month with two weeks of events under the theme Present Tense/Future Perfect, inspired by the challenges and changes brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Catherine Platt had a tough job on her hands when she joined as the festival’s director in April, a time when it wasn’t clear whether any events could be planned for 2020. But Platt and her team decided to forge ahead with this year’s edition, which “explores in fiction and non-fiction how the world is responding to health, inequality and climate change issues, as well as future directions for humanity and the planet,” she says.

More than 70 live and virtual events, including writing workshops, lectures, debates, book signings, lunches and dinners, will take place across the city at art venues such as Tai Kwun, the Asia Society and the Fringe Club.

Since 2001, the annual festival has hosted literary leaders, including Seamus Heaney, Yann Martel and Colm Tóibín. Even against the backdrop of Covid-19, the list of authors taking part this year is packed with prominent local and overseas names.

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Irish writer Colum McCann, who published Let the Great World Spin in 2019, and American novelist C Pam Zhang, who released How Much of These Hills is Gold in 2020—both Booker Prize long-listed for 2020—feature on the bill alongside Pulitzer Prize winners Jhumpa Lahiri, known for her writing about the experience of immigrants, and veteran investigative journalist Jonathan Kaufman. Other prominent names include Ann Cleeves, Marilyn Chin, Mary Jean Chan and Thant Myint-U.

Aside from introducing international writers to Hong Kong, the festival also spotlights local writers such as Lau Yee-wa, who won the city-wide Awards for Creative Writing in Chinese in 2016 with her story Shark. Speakers from the city’s wider cultural community will also take part, such as Christine Loh, former undersecretary for the environment, and Kai-yin Lo, an expert in antique jewellery.

Festival goers who head to Asia Society can see film screenings and talks by figures such as Kevin Kwan, author of Crazy Rich Asians and Sex and Vanity; Shannon Lee, daughter of Bruce Lee and the writer of a newly published collection of her father’s philosophies, Be Water My Friend: The Teachings of Bruce Lee; and Benjamin Law, Australian journalist and author of Gaysia: Adventures in the Queer East, an exploration of LGBTQ life in Asia.

The Hong Kong International Literary Festival will be held from November 5 to 15. Find out more at

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