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7 At 70

The Cheltenham Literature Festival is 70 this year – the longest running Literature Festival in the world, and the first ever. Set up by G.A.M. Wilkinson, the council’s Spa and Entertainments manager, this small but perfectly formed town in the heart of the rolling Cotswold countryside gave birth to an idea that has taken hold all over the world, to the enormous benefit and joy of readers and writers everywhere.

70 years! With some very rough back-of-the-envelope calculations that’s about 20,000 speakers, well over 10,000 events and around 700 days of literary festivities, and, of course, countless audience members young and old from all over the world. From a handful of events in the ornate Cheltenham Town Hall, the Festival has grown into a lively tented village in beautiful Montpellier Gardens, thronging with excited crowds and famous literary faces, but always with a quiet spot to sit and read…

In 2019, we wanted to celebrate our incredible heritage whilst looking forward and challenging ourselves to be more relevant, more diverse and more innovative as we contemplate the future of the written word. And so – our 7 At 70 project came into being. Seven is a number that has always had cultural significance (the Seven Wonders of the World, the Magnificent Seven, the seven deadly sins, the seven basic plots of storytelling), and according to research it is the most-named favourite number when people are asked to choose. Neatly, it is also the number of decades the Festival has been in Cheltenham.

In this very special anniversary year, whether you are a seasoned visitor or new to our wonderful Festival, we hope you enjoy every minute!

Our 7 at 70 are:

  • Seven extraordinary Guest Curators to provide unique insights, create brilliant events and help us shape our anniversary programme.
  • A unique partnership with seven key international festivals, celebrating the next generation of writers. We are delighted to announce our exciting collaboration with festivals from around the world – each of whom has nominated a rising star from their programme who has never appeared at Cheltenham before. These brilliant writers are flying in to be with us for the second weekend of the Festival and we can’t wait!
  • Events discussing seven decades of British history – and seven critics debating the seven most important novels since 1949.
  • Seven events showcasing the very best new writing, including our ever-popular proof parties – get ahead with your reading for 2020!
  • Seven ‘Celebrate With…’ events, in which a well-known author looks back at their break-out novel.
  • Read the World’ – a unique reading list. Seventy festivals from across the world have recommended just one must-read book for you to try. Find out more in early September!
  • An event with The Times celebrating the Festival’s 70th anniversary and highlighting the biggest, most intriguing stories from the paper since 1949.
  • Seven birthday book events for our younger readers and events and activities celebrating 70 years of The Secret Seven and 70 years of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four.

View our 7 at 70 events at this year’s Festival.