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With the Jaipur lit fest around the corner, we talk to writers you need to warm up to

It has been 10 years since the Jaipur Literature Festival began, and each year it seems to be getting bigger and better. “We really didn’t imagine it would grow so big,” shares author and historian William Dalrymple, who is the co-director of the fest, adding, “It was so small in the beginning, I remember one early session which had only 16 people in the audience, 10 of whom were lost Japanese tourists, I think.” While it’s a haven for book enthusiasts, the festival is also the place to be for lovers of political discourse and culture. Author Namita Gokhale, also the co-director of the event, emphasises, “We try to get fresh speakers from all across the globe to talk and showcase diverse voices.” We chat with some of the speakers about their work, literature today and what to expect at JLF 2017.


Anne Waldman
American poet Anne Waldman is remembered for her work with the Beat generation writers and poets. She set up the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics with poet Allen Ginsberg. Although she has come a long way, a yearning for the 60s still remains. “I think we make extraordinary advances always in our literary communities — more women, more diversity — but I do miss a certain intimacy of conversation and level of discourse and activism that were particular in the Beat ethos and the activism of the 60s,” she tells us. Her poems, like Manatee/Humanity and The Iovis Trilogy, speak of our environment, feminism and social change. She wants to bring the same discussions to India. “I plan to speak about poetry and activism, documentary poetics, migration and exile,” she reveals.

ruth-padelRuth Padel
Padel feels a deep respect for India. The British novelist and poet, who is also the great-great granddaughter of Charles Darwin, has inherited his interests and writes on themes of wildlife and nature. For her novel, Where the Serpent Lives, she spent time in the forests of South India. “The problems that the Indian ecology is facing are reflected the world over, and is not unique to India,” she tells us. Her books include Summer Snow, The Mara Crossing and Darwin: A Life in Poems. She will be discussing her new book, Tidings — A Christmas Journey, apart from talking on broader topics like conservation, migration and environmentalism. “I’m also very interested in seeing the work that is going on in Indian regional languages,” she adds.

divakurniChitra Banerjee Divakaruni 
Author Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni has become a household name with novels like Mistress of Spices, and its subsequent movie adaptation, Sister Of My Heart. Based in the United States, Banerjee feels that the Lit Fest has brought an additional interest and enthusiasm to reading and discussion of literature. She will be talking about her new novel, Before We Visit the Goddess, a three-generational tale about a grandmother, mother and daughter. She also plans to discuss her upcoming works and literature. “There is a lot of new talent in Indian English writing,” she tells us, adding, “The new authors show a new India—often a young and outspoken India. I’ve learned so much about contemporary Indian thinking by reading them.”

Highlights

The festival will have discussions on topics ranging from literature to economics, theatre, news and the current political climate. One of the themes of the festival is ‘The Freedom to Dream: India at 70’. “This is India’s 70th year of Independence and in that spirit, we wanted to start a conversation about democracy and what it means in today’s context,” says Sanjoy Roy, the producer of the Jaipur Literature Festival, which has previously hosted writers such as Margaret Atwood, Oprah Winfrey, Salman Rushdie and Stephen Fry. This time around, the list is no less impressive.

Alice Walker
This American novelist, short story writer, poet and activist is making her first visit to JLF. Walker was the first African-American woman to win a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for her seminal novel, The Color Purple.

Mark Haddon
British novelist Mark Haddon is best known for The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. He writes for both children and adults.

Simon Winchester
Winchester is a British writer, journalist and broadcaster. His books include, The Professor and the Madman (which is about his postings across the globe as a journalist) and Pacific (a biography of the Pacific Ocean).

Vikram Chandra
Chandra’s seminal novel, Sacred Games is said to give the most accurate picture of Mumbai and its mysteries, and was recently picked for a Netflix original series. His other novels, Red Earth and Pouring Rain and Love and Longing in Bombay, have won equal critical acclaim.

NoViolet Bulawayo
This Zimbabwean author made her presence felt when she was shortlisted for the 2013 Man Booker Prize, and was the first black African woman to do so. Her debut novel, We Need New Names, is a coming-of-age tale.

Entry free. January 19-23, 2017. At Diggi Palace, Jaipur. Details: jaipurliteraturefestival.org

— Anagha M

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