Last year saw the initial launch of the DSC South Asian Literature Festival, organised by Bhavit Mehta and Jon Slack. This October will mark the festival’s return to the London literary scene. Aiming to build on its current success, the team have been busy organising this year’s events. I caught up with them to find out what we can expect in 2011.
In a quiet corner of London, Bhavit and Jon are beavering away in the dusty basement of a little church. Resourcefully, they’re busy organising speakers, venues and most importantly, are looking closely at the literature in hand. This year’s long-list has been announced and will carry forward into 2012. The festival itself promises more talks and speakers than before - so there is naturally some nervous tension while everything is confirmed. Not that people are usually flakey with something as important as this.
This year, we can expect to see about eighty speakers covering a wide variety of South Asian literary subjects. Like before, many of these names will be international, and most interestingly the festival will make good use of London’s great spaces, before moving to other NRI outposts in the country. The pair are keen that this year’s festival starts with a bang, and the opening weekend certainly promises a healthy itinerary (see website). What’s more, they’ve come up with a scheme to advance-purchase an all weekend pass (£20 for two days, or £12 for one) where the tickets can be redeemed for book vouchers. With twenty events over the two days, there’s certainly no shortage of things to do and see.
As with all festivals, its success is never assured from the outset and iis always a gamble. To be fully commercially viable, Jon and Bhavit want this festival to continue growing - raising with it the buzz and excitement linked to festivals such as the Hay and the Cheltenham. More importantly, the festival is a great opportunity to raise the profiles of South Asian writers who have never fully had the opportunity of being part of any literary scene, or meeting the right publishing bodies. Fortunately, they’ve also seen a growth in their social media presence with sites like Twitter and Facebook becoming a great means of festival-goers and participants to interact and keep discussions going throughout the year. Publicity has also grown internationally as foreign press has featured the festival’s growth. This has helped to catch the attention of foreign visitors who may ordinarily miss events across London.
Ultimately, the festival’s mantra has been one of partnerships and outreach. It achieves this by taking forwards some of the more publicly engaging talks and moving them around the country - working closely with local arts organisations. This year, the festival will go to London, Portsmouth, Edinburgh, Leicester and Glasgow. A treat on top of this will be the performance, Borderland - by Soumik Datta. A Tagore inspired piece, this will feature ‘Indian classical, Soul, Blues and Electronica.’
What I’ll find most enjoyable about the festival - is the breadth of coverage it promises to bring. The words ‘South’ ‘Asian’ are referred to loosely - as the festival goes so far as to showcase work from authors as far as Bhutan, Sri-Lanka and Afghanistan (to name a few countries). Jon and Bhavit have both been closely involved with the publishing world, and knowing its challenges have been keen to create a festival that makes people’s engagement with literature an altogether effortless experience. They’re aware that today’s technology makes it easy for anyone to publish, but the publishing process itself should be made transparent and accessible for wider audiences. There is vanity publishing and then there’s an editorial procedure. Bhavit and Jon are aware of the latter and are keen for this knowledge to be shared as part of the festival through discussion and activity. They believe in it, and that belief carries through into their work.
Further details about festival and how to purchase advance tickets can be found on the festival website. The opening weekend commences from October 8th in Rich Mix Shoreditch.