Lit fests stimulated reading revolution in India: Literati (2015 In Retrospect)

New Delhi, Dec 27 (IANS) About a decade ago when India witnessed its first literary fest, little would the nation have imagined the extent to which it transcended over this time – to nearly 90 such a year! Literati call these fests “stimulants of a reading revolution” in India.

The “revolution”, which commenced with the Jaipur Literary Fest in 2006, arguably the ‘mother of literary fests’ in the country, soon found its way to the birth of several such literary celebrations across several Indian cities and towns, all of them presented in a localised way. Some of the other well known literary festivals include the Bangalore Literature Festival, Goa Arts and Literary Fest and the Kolkata Literary Fest, among many others.

Literary fests are able to serve as a mirror for reflecting the culture and literature of a particular part of the country, said Mita Kapur, writer and CEO of Siyahi, which has crafted numerous literary festivals in the country, including the Patna Literature Festival, the Asian Festival of Children’s Content and the Pushkar Literature Festival.

The exact number of literary festivals is tough to arrive at, considering some are rather new and aren’t covered by the mainstream media as much as the bigger ones. The literati that IANS spoke to counted at least 90 such festivals in the country.

Author William Dalrymple, the director of the Jaipur Literary Festival, says through the nine editions of JLF, he observed that apart from the rise in numbers attending, there was a wide increase in the number of books Indians were buying.

“JLF will witness its 10th edition the coming year. Through these years we have seen 90 other literary festivals being born. Each year we have nearly a third of a million people attending the sessions at JLF, listening to authors, buying and reading more books. The fests are stimulants of a reading revolution in India,” Dalrymple told IANS.

He said the festivals have witnessed growing queues for buying books, and for passes to attend the event.

“In countries abroad, to listen to a Nobel laureate speak is expensive. But in India, we are able to bring Booker winners, Pulitzer prize recipients and Nobel prize winners on one stage to our festivals, entirely for free. It is a development for the country to have people and children listening to such inspiring people instead of watching movies or spending time on the internet,” Dalrymple remarked.

An inspiring speech he had heard as a boy was the inspiration for him to take up a pen and become a writer, he said

To which, Kapur added: “With the growing population numbers, we are at the threshold of creating new readerships and lit fests are a sound way of putting the reader in touch with the authors, increasing exposure and interaction.”

For author Mani Rao, who was at the recently-concluded Bangalore Literature Festival, the fests are a way to put a writer’s work into context. “Literary festivals give readers an opportunity to hear and see writers speak about their work and discover new voices…at the end of the day, books are not autonomous artefacts cut off from their contexts; they are moments in the lives of authors, they are the voices of authors,” Rao said.

Poetry, in particular, can benefit from festivals because readers discover new voices, and access books which may not be available in bookshops – where space is limited – and many publishers don’t have a wide distribution network, Rao added.

For a recently published author, on the road to making his/her fame in the market, to get invited to a literary fest has its own share of difficulty, said author Sriram Karri.

“The writers need to have contacts with publishers or prominent names in the industry, apart from having a good book, to be invited. It is not an easy task for every writer to figure in a lit fest, as there are other writers as well competing for the spot. Sometimes, one can notice film celebrities gaining a larger audience than authors,” Karri shared.

Karri was recently invited to the Goa Arts and Literary Festival and other literary gatherings in the country. But despite all shortcomings, literary fests have done a phenomenal job in bringing writers and readers in the country closer, he said.

“The lit fests have also ensured there’s always a topic of discussion on literature possible in India on a national scale,” he said.

(This is a part of a series of articles from IANS that look back at the year that was for a variety of subjects, running up to the New Year. Bhavana Akella can be contacted at <>)

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