I woke up this morning to the sound of The Today Programme blaring news of the Commonwealth games falling short on many fronts. Needless to say it was a bit depressing, but when things like this happen, I get into damage control mode and focus on positive events that are happening right now. One such event is the DSC South Asian Literature Festival which launches in London on the 15th October, and continues to the rest of the UK on the 26th October.
At a Press Conference in London this week, it was announced that this would be the first literary festival to celebrate the subject of South Asian Literature. Of course there have been literature festivals before, (most of them kick-started in London) and of course Asian writers have been celebrated before. However, this festival aims to be a landmark event by being the first of its kind. It celebrates the subject of South Asian writing as its prime focus. Often, this has meant that those competing for a literary prise may come from far reaching parts of the world.
Spearheaded by co-directors Bhavit Mehta and Jon Slack, we learnt that the festival combines not only a celebration of literature, but also presents a series of talks, workshops and events – embracing themes such as sport, film, food and family. Some of the events in the festival will headline talks such as ‘Journey to South Asia’ by George Alagiah, Geoff Dyer and Hardeep Singh Kohli. Other talks will also feature a series of well known literary personalities as well as experts in their field. Chetan Bhagat and Kishwar Desai will both be present at the ‘When Books meet Cinema’ talk, for example. The festival aims to utilise the vast range of London venues as its canvas and is making the most of locations such as the British Library, Rich Mix and The Nehru Centre. A full list of programmes and locations is available here: www.dscsouthasianlitfest.com
At the Press Conference, we learnt that one of the aims of the festival is not only to promote contemporary writers and their work, but to also look at the idea of celebrating South Asia itself. It’s been the prime focus of many literary masterpieces over the years and now an opportunity has come along where this can be globally appreciated. At the same time, the festival also aims to draw attention to the art of literature. South Asia and South Asian Literature can be seen as a subject and a tool respectively, encouraging and engaging people to immerse themselves back into reading. The festival’s key ties with libraries around the country are helping it to develop this outreach part of its programme.
Like most literary festivals, there is also a literary prise, and with DSC as its prime sponsor, the prise was announced by Surina Narula (DSC Philanthropic Activities) as USD 50,000. She also explained that DSC took an active interest in literary and philanthropic activities, especially following the success of the Jaipur Literary Festival. Since then, DSC has been keen support a similar festival on a bigger scale.
It was announced that this year’s literary prize was going to be decided by a jury of writers and critics from across the globe. It will feature: Nilanjana Roy (literary critic), Moni Mohsin (writer), Amitava Kumar (writer), Ian Jack (editor) and Matthew Evans (politician and publisher). The selected longlist was announced by Ian Jack as:
- Upamanyu Chatterjee: Way To Go (Penguin),
- Amit Chaudhuri: The Immortals (Picador India),
- Chandrahas Choudhury: Arzee the Dwarf (HarperCollins),
- Musharraf Ali Farooqui: The Story of a Widow (Picador India),
- Ru Freeman: A Disobedient Girl (Penguin/ Viking),
- Anjum Hassan: Neti Neti (IndiaInk/ Roli Books),
- Tania James: Atlas of Unknowns (Pocket Books),
- Manju Kapur: The Immigrant (Faber & Faber),
- Daniyal Muennuddin: In Other Rooms, Other Wonders (Bloomsbury),
- Neel Mukherjee: A Life Apart (Constable & Robinson),
- HM Naqvi: Home Boy (HarperCollins),
- Salma: The Hour Past Midnight (Zubaan, translated by Lakshmi Holmstrom),
- Sankar: The Middleman (Penguin, translated by Arunava Sinha),
- Ali Sethi: The Wish Maker (Penguin),
- Jaspreet Singh: Chef (Bloomsbury),
- Aatish Taseer: The Temple Goers (Viking Penguin).
As yet, no favourites were discussed, but a shortlist will be announced later this year. The jury did mention that they had tough discussions deciding which novels qualified for submission, with a few slipping in at the last minute. Currently the prise only exists for fiction, but depending on the success of the festival, it may go on to look at poetry and non-fiction in the future.
Also present at the conference was Novelist Romesh Gunesekera who said festivals like this ‘foster writing and reading’. Broadcaster Nikki Bedi, went onto mention that the festival has the potential to attract a ‘far reaching group of readers worldwide who are interested in a more varied look at lives and cultures’.
Indeed, the launch of this festival has made me question the wealth of existing Asian literary talent that exists. In this spirit, I kick started a recent online discussion where I asked readers which authors they currently favoured. Yaan Martel’s Life of Pi and Gregory David Roberts’ Shantaram are currently proving favourites, alongside many other titles. I was curious to find out what the jury themselves would mention if they could volunteer this prise to any works of fiction that have previously emerged on the literary scene. Nikki Bedi mentioned the works of Rohinton Mistry (A Fine Balance, recognised as one of his key works) and Ian Jack mentioned Paul Scott for Staying On (a sequel to the Raj Quartet). It will be interesting to see how this forum develops parallel to the jury’s selection of new works of literature.
The festival takes place in locations around London from 15-25 October 2010 and across the UK between the 26th-31st October – further information about speakers, talks, news and global involvement can be found out from the following website www.dscsouthasianlitfest.com