The Times and Sunday Times Cheltenham Literature Festival has announced its annual programme of free events to complement its world-famous gathering of international authors, thinkers and artists from Friday 6 October to Sunday 15 October, 2023.

The world’s longest-running literature festival, Cheltenham has long been committed to expanding access to the arts. Each year, Cheltenham Festivals – the charity behind this celebration of books and readers – ensures through its free programme that joy, curiosity and a sense of community are inspired in audiences of all kinds across the festival town.

For 2023, over 25% of the events hosted by the Literature Festival are free. More than one hundred free talks, performances and workshops will take place across the ten days of the Festival, hosted in venues both on its main site at Montpellier Gardens and in more surprising settings all over Cheltenham.

Image of Josie Long (photographed by Matt Crockett), Joseph Coelho (photographed by David Bebber) and Sarah Liisa Wilkinson (Crick Crack Club).

Image of Josie Long (photographed by Matt Crockett), Joseph Coelho (photographed by David Bebber) and Sarah Liisa Wilkinson (Crick Crack Club).

Big names for the free programme include comedian Josie Long, Countdown word-queen Susie Dent at Clockwise’s flexible working hub space on-site, and Waterstones Children’s Laureate, Joseph Coelho. Elsewhere, The Times’ Crossword Editor, Richard Rogan, will be on hand each morning to offer some hints and insights on the day’s puzzle, the Principal Harp with the BBC Concert Orchestra, Anne Denholm, will perform live, and Toshikazu Kawaguchi, author of the smash-hit Before The Coffee Gets Cold series, makes a special appearance.

Children and families are a particular focus of the free programme. Popular children’s authors are a fixture, with writers such as Lucy Rowland and Sharna Jackson encouraging kids to dream big and revealing the Black artists shaping the world respectively. Translator Ruth Ahmedazi Kemp will offer a whistle-stop tour of international children’s literature, while illustrators like Duncan Beedie and John and Thomas Dougherty will draw live for festival-goers.

With regular story sessions across every day of the programme, children’s book swaps organised by Little Planet Cheltenham and exciting interactive zones across the Festival site – from the Moomin Mail Trail to the chance to meet characters from the Cat in the Hat to the Gruffalo – magic and inspiration will be available in equal measure.

Image of Sharna Jackson (photographed by Joshua Fray), Catherine Chidgey (photographed by Ebony Lamb) and John and Thomas Dougherty.

Image of Sharna Jackson (photographed by Joshua Fray), Catherine Chidgey (photographed by Ebony Lamb) and John and Thomas Dougherty.

Adults, too, will find much to marvel at. From the hilarious Game of Tomes, in which teams can pit their literary knowledge to emerge victorious, to Lit Crawl 2023 – a fast-paced evening of pop-up events and quirky happenings at venues from the Wilson to the Sober Parrot – there is plenty of fun, and thought, to be had. Elsewhere, Moth Sanctuary Productions gives Dracula’s first English victim, Lucy Westenra, a voice in a series of live performances and strangers gather to share their shortcomings at F*ck Up Nights.

The wider Literature Festival’s theme of “Read The World” is well represented in its free programme, too. Chie Kutsuwada and Julian Sedgwick discuss collaborating across cultures while Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai explores the literature and folk songs of her native Việt Nam. Cheltenham’s Ukrainian community is celebrated, Catherine Chidgey explores the best of New Zealand’s literary scene, and Nnamdi Ehirim explores Nigeria’s most exciting writers.

The free programme wouldn’t be complete without the return of Cheltenham’s VOICEBOX strand. Back for its third year, VOICEBOX brings youth voices and ideas to the forefront through a free programme of talks, workshops, panels, music, comedy and more. Focusing on everything from mental health to the climate crisis, the best of new writing and BookTok, VOICEBOX will see leading young writers, artists and agenda-setters take to the stage. As well as a chance to see up-and-coming talent, leading names including Florence Given, Fats Timbo, Hazel Mead, Alexis Caught, Hamza Yassin and Alex George will shine a light on the topics and trends that matter to young adults.

VOICEBOX will see a takeover led by the Black British Book Festival and the launch of a new policy initiative by Gloucestershire Constabulary and women and girls’ rights campaign group This Ends Now. There will also be a series of events spotlighting Cheltenham Festivals’ year-round work with young people, including a drop-in creative writing workshop designed to boost wellbeing, where audiences will be able to try mood-boosting activities from writing guide The Scribbled Self. In an event showcasing the Words That Burn project – an initiative developed between Amnesty International UK and Cheltenham Festivals – there will also be a chance to explore the power of poetry in the fight against injustice and inequality.

“We are so excited by this year’s dynamic and diverse free programme,” says Nicola Tuxworth, Head of Programming for Cheltenham Literature Festival. “Every year it features some of the highlights of the whole Festival, and this year is no different: from the best in world literature to the latest children’s authors, we’ve set out to make sure there’s something for everyone.

“So come and join us, all for free – the more the merrier!”

For more unmissable events, read our ultimate annual Cheltenham festivals guide.


Cheltenham Literature Festival
Cheltenham Literature Festival

Every October the world’s foremost writers, thinkers and performers descend on Cheltenham, The Festival Town, for ten days of fascinating discussion and unforgettable memories.



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