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10 international authors bringing the world to Berkeley this weekend

Kenyan author Ngugi wa Thiong’o, distinguished professor of English and comparative literature at UC Irvine,  has been called “the writer the world needs right now.”  Photo: Daniel Anderson

This story is brought to you by the Bay Area Book Festival.

This weekend, Berkeley will have the whole world in its hands.

As nearly 250 authors and speakers converge on downtown Berkeley for the fourth annual Bay Area Book Festival, dozens of voices from around the world will bring their perspectives to festivalgoers, exploring the politics of bodies and sexuality, the murky definitions of nationality, the costs and importance of political dissent, and the power of  literature to overcome divides.

The Bay Area Book Festival put together this cross-section of international authors you can see for yourself this weekend.


1 Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o

In 1977, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o (pictured, top) was imprisoned by the Kenyan government for his subversive artistic endeavors. His new book, Wrestling with the Devil, includes his account from prison — where he penned a novel on toilet paper in his cell. Often a contender for the Nobel Prize in Literature, wa Thiong’o has been called “the writer the world needs right now” by The Washington Post.

See him in Wrestling with the Devil: Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o in Conversation (Saturday, April 28, 11:45 a.m.)

2 Sara Blaedel

Sara Blaedel is Denmark’ “queen of crime.” Photo: Les Kaner

Sara Blaedel has been voted Denmark’s most popular novelist four times, solidifying her status as the country’s “queen of crime.” A former journalist herself, her mystery novels often center on female sleuths.

See her in Nordic Noir: The Enduring Genre of Cold Climate Thrillers (Sunday, April 29, 2 p.m.) and Women Plot the Crime (Saturday, April 28, 1:30 p.m.)

3 Eimear McBride

Irish author Eimear McBride has been compared to a “feminist James Joyce.” She often defies convention, as in her new novel The Lesser Bohemians, by boldly portraying female sexual desire. Her writing, including her breakout A Girl is a Half Formed Thing, portrays the lasting effects of sexual trauma.

See her in Fierce Originality: Eimear McBride interviewed by Sylvia Brownrigg (Saturday, April 28, 1:30 p.m.) and Breaking Literary Ground: Ambitious Young Writers from Ireland (Saturday, April 28, 10 a.m.)

4 Katherena Vermette

Katherena Vermette, a Métis writer from Winnipeg, burst onto the scene with her bestselling novel, The Break, which highlights the violent power struggles between women — indigenous and non-native — in a story Margaret Atwood deemed “universal.”


See her in Native Voices Changing the Story (Saturday, April 28, 11:45 a.m.), From the Great North to the World: New Writing from Canada (Sunday, April 29, 1:30 p.m.) and Translating Trauma (Saturday, April 28, 10 a.m.)

5 Rodrigo Hasbún

Rodrigo Hasbún is consistently ranked among the best Latin American and Spanish-language writers. Photo: Sergio Bastani

Frequently ranked among the best Latin American and Spanish-language writers, Bolivian novelist Rodrigo Hasbún uses his home country as a powerful setting in his fiction, highlighting Latin America’s legacy of revolution.

See him in Creating Home: On Finding Yourself in Another Culture (Sunday, April 29, 4:30 p.m.) and Resist: Unlocking the Political Power of a Novel (Sunday, April 29, 11:45 a.m.)

6 Pico Iyer

Pico Iyer is the embodiment of a “global writer” and is one of the world’s best known travel writers and essayists. His body of work — which includes an account of his decades spent with the Dalai Lama, as well as his meditations on inner life and his experience living in Japan — has been translated into nearly two dozen languages.

See him in The Power of Literature to Create a Better World: Closing Keynote with Pico Iyer (Sunday, April 29, 5 p.m.)

7 Tommy Wieringa

Beloved Dutch writer Tommy Wieringa writes stories that highlight humanity’s common ground. Using his platform as the Netherlands’ best-selling author, Wieringa writes about immigration and belonging, “insistently affirming the values of civilization above tribalism and fear” (The Wall Street Journal).


See him in Creating Home: On Finding Yourself in Another Culture (Sunday, April 29, 4:30 p.m.) and Coming of Age on the Page (Saturday, April 28, 5 p.m.)

8 Ellen Støkken Dahl

Ellen Støkken Dahl’s book The Wonder Down Under became a worldwide phenomenon. Photo: Courtesy BABF

Ellen Støkken Dahl, a Norwegian medical student, began a blog a few years ago dedicated to dispelling myths about the female body. Public response to the blog sent her a clear message: People were confused about female sexual health. She and Dr. Nina Brochmann turned their project into The Wonder Down Under, a book turned worldwide phenomenon — it’s now published in 30 different languages!

See her in “Wonder Down Under”: A Celebration (and Medical Explication) of the Female Anatomy (Sunday, April 29, 1 p.m.)

9 Sylvie Denis

Sylvie Denis is one of France’s premier science fiction writers and translators. Her award-winning work integrates futuristic science with modern social issues such as climate change and migration.

See her in The Art of Science Fiction: Interview with Sylvie Denis, France’s Queen of Science Fiction (Saturday, April 28, 10:30 a.m.)

10 Matsatsugu Ono

He’s been heralded as “one of the most important Japanese novelists of the post-Murakami generation” and, as an emerging writer, has already received Japan’s highest literary honor for his short fiction. His new book, Lion Cross Point, came out earlier this month.

See him in Knots of Wonder: Stunning Short Fiction (Saturday, April 28, 3:15 p.m.)

See dozens more international guests coming to Berkeley this weekend in these special programs (check out www.baybookfest.org/schedule/ for even more)

This story was brought to you by the Bay Area Book Festival which takes place April 28-29 in Berkeley. Visit the BABF website for full details.