Literary festival 101


Literary Festivals 101

By ILT Staff Reporter

January 16, 2018

Suneetha Balakrishnan

Literature is no longer on the page. Literature is now on podiums, and all about networking. Naturally, literary festivals follow. For those of you who are not ardent lit fest aficionados, here’s a 101 on lit fests.

So it’s lit fest time in India. As you read this, the Kolkata Literary Festival 2018 (Jan 11- 15) and The Hindu Lit for Life 2018 (Jan 14-16) at Chennai would have just concluded; and The Jaipur Literary Festival prepares to raise its curtains on 25th Jan, 2018 and to go on celebrating books and writing till 29th Jan, 2018.

And there is more to come in the Indian lit fest calendar!

The Kerala Literature Festival, a star-studded event, is in its third edition, and is scheduled from 8–11 February 2018, at the beach at Kozhikode in Kerala. And the first edition of yet another lit fest in Kerala has just been announced. The Mathrubhumi International Festival of Letters is being launched on grand proportions with a young writer prize worth Two Lakhs, and Trivandrum is to host the latter festival from February 2-4, 2018.

Kerala is not new at all to lit fests, although they were late to begin the celebrations. The Hay Festival in its first Asian edition had chosen Trivandrum in India as their venue. The most literate state has her rightful share in the world of letters indeed!

I am not done with the festival list. Later in the year the Times Literary Festival will draw crowds in Mumbai. The previous one was in December 2017 with a veritable star cast of writers and literary celebrities.

The 5th Delhi Literature Festival in 2017

It’s almost the norm in India now that a city worth its alphabet has a lit fest attached to its name. Pune, has one, Goa has one and so has Bangalore. Lucknow and Hyderabad also have their own podiums. So have Chandigarh and Ahmedabad. Trivandrum has hosted the Kovalam Literary Festival in its many editions in the previous years. The Mumbai Literary Festival was in its eight edition in November 2017.

Aligarh Muslim University hosts a lit fest titled the AMU Literary Festival which claims no or minimum corporate sponsorship and focuses on themes such as Resistance Literature and Journalism, art as a means of social change, etc. Then there is the Bookaroo, a festival for Children’s Literature! It’s happening this year, and that’s the eighth edition of it, in Mumbai on February 24-25, 2018. Last year it was at Jaipur and Bookaroo keeps travelling; from Goa to Srinagar to Bengaluru to Kolkota, to Delhi to Pune to Ahmedabad .

And then there are the poetry fests. Delhi will host the annual 3-day Literary Festival for the Urdu Language in February, aptly named Jashn-e-Rekhta; Rekhta being another name for the poetic form of the Urdu language. The Prakriti Poetry Festival at Chennai coincides with its music season in December, and celebrates poetry in recitals and performances with a select band of invited poets from across the world.

If you have been watching the news you would have also noticed that each festival carries around the name of its sponsor. The Mumbai lit fest bears the TATA name; the TATA Literature Live. Kolkota takes the Apeejay name, and Jaipur goes with ZEE , the name of its sponsor, as a prefix. The Kerala lit fests are from the stables of the two major publishing houses of the state, The DC Books and the Mathrubhumi.

Jaipur Literary festival

There is no doubt an ardent following for lit fests. And if the crowds at the fests are any measure of the number of readers in a city, the future of reading should be bright indeed. Jaipur is undoubtedly the mother of all lit fests, with the attendance reaching the proportions of the Kumbhmela.

Jashn-e-Rekhta had a record 85,000 attendees in 2016, mostly youth. The Kerala literary scene is always well-attended. Hindu Lit for Life has not just a regular loyal Chennai following, but people who make it a pilgrimage every year now.

So what happens at lit fests?

There are discussions of course; of books, writers, issues, anything even remotely connected to literature or writing. Controversies are aplenty too. Remember the year when Salman Rushdie could not attend the Jaipur Litfest because of the ban? Book releases, introduction of authors, and readings are usual. Workshops on writing have now become an indispensible part of the events. And undeniably, the book-signings then take central stage. The publishers have copies for sale ready at their stalls. Some authors do oblige for selfies or pics, but at events of the proportion of the Jaipur Literary Festival, it’s now said to be just impossible to even find standing space.

So what’s the humble reader’s take away from a lit fest? Lit fests are now spaces for networking. Meeting other readers, favourite authors, trying to talk to the editor who always ignores your email, chase that elusive agent, catch a glimpse of that iconic publisher whom you have heard a lot about; and these days it could be even more than that.

In the recent years Bollywood has permeated so much into the spaces of writers, as have politics and sports; so you may find not just Chetan Bhagat, Amitav Ghosh and Arundhati Roy, but Shah Rukh Khan, Sachin Tendulkar or Sitaram Yechuri as well on the podium!

Javed Akhtar, Shashi Tharoor, Anuja Chauhan and Nandana Dev Sen during the Jaipur Literature Festival

And after ‘bookish’ events, you might find performances, dances, music, adaptations of works, even cookery shows. Remember cookbooks are on best-seller lists now. Most lit fests have book awards attached and the announcement of this is often the grand culmination of the occasion.

The Hindu Literary Prize, a prestigious award given for literary fiction, has this year been awarded to Deepak Unnikrishnan, for his commendable work on the Diaspora in the Middle East, ‘Temporary People’. The announcement comes in as I send this column out. But more on book awards later!

(Suneetha Balakrishnan is a bilingual translator, writer and journalist from Kerala. She can be reached at )

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