Jaipur Literature Festival heads for the US
If further evidence is indeed needed of the Jaipur Literature Festival’s (JLF’s) success, it is in the requests for partnerships that it seems to be getting from across the world. While the annual literary extravaganza, comprising 234 speakers and 117 musicians this time, is set to take place in Jaipur from 21-25 January, the JLF has also announced that it will be venturing into the US in September, to organize an edition of the festival in Boulder, Colorado. This follows its entry earlier this year to the UK, where it curated a day-long event as part of Alchemy, the Southbank Centre’s festival of South Asian culture, in London.
Sanjoy K. Roy, producer of the JLF, says that earlier this year, when he received a pitch from Buddhist scholars Jessie Friedman, Jules Levinson and Maruta Kalnins to take the festival to Boulder, he had to look up the place in the atlas. “But we were looking for a home in the US,” he says, and having checked out possible venues such as New Orleans and Chicago, he was intrigued enough to visit Boulder in June.
Considering the festival’s judicious mix of tourism and literature, Boulder’s positioning as the “jump-off point” for the Rocky Mountains tipped the balance in its favour. Indeed, in a display of drawing room humour, while much of the planning for the event is yet to take place, the organizers have already decided to include the tag line “Get high on literature” for JLF Boulder, part of which will incidentally take place in Denver. Involved in this endeavour will be the Boulder Public Library, Naropa University, and the University of Colorado, as well as a wide variety of civic and arts organizations in that city. Naropa University’s credentials as a Buddhist-inspired academic institution attracted the JLF organizers, who were looking for a market where “the Occident meets the Oriental”, reveals Roy.
Since its inception in 2006 as part of the Jaipur Virasat Festival, and its subsequent move a couple of years later to becoming an independent entity, the JLF has come to be counted as among the most successful in the world, making it the subject of a case study taught at the Harvard Business School. It has even become the template for countless literary festivals that have cropped up in the country, as well as in the region, over the past few years. None, however, have yet attained the international flavour or fame of the JLF.
While the JLF has drawn in well-known writers like J.M. Coetzee, V.S. Naipaul, Ian McEwan and Orhan Pamuk in previous years, participants in the 2015 edition will include Jung Chang, author of the best-selling Wild Swans, Samuel Johnson prize winner Lucy Hughes-Hallett, Man Booker prize winner Eleanor Catton, travel writer Paul Theroux, Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Vijay Seshadri, and Naipaul once again. It is this international flavour that its partners at Boulder hope to recreate. Their wish list for authors, says Friedman, are “Pulitzer Prize, Man Booker, National Book Award authors and finalists, South Asian authors, and those from the diverse communities of the Americas, Middle-Eastern and European authors.”
“We get a lot of requests to partner events,” says Roy. While they declined an invitation by the Norwegian government to host the festival in Oslo, they did decide to “extend the JLF brand by creating teasers and snapshots” in places like Toronto, Canada, and San Francisco, US. Last month, authors Navtej Sarna and Canada-based Anirudh Bhattacharya represented the festival at the first Toronto International Book Fair. A similar outing is also being planned for a new literary event coming up in San Francisco. And the day-long Jaipur Literature Festival in Southbank this May had speakers like Vikram Seth, Kamila Shamsie and Girish Karnad.
The JLF’s plans to extend its presence on the map do not stop here. Its long-term strategy includes another venue in the East in two-three years, says Roy, though they don’t know exactly where yet.