By Tasha Mathur
It’s believed to be the only Pan-Asian literature festival of its kind in Britain and celebrates writers from across the continent. It’s the first Bagri Foundation Asia House Literature Festival (May 9-26) for new Literature Programme Manager Hande Eagle. ACV’s Tasha Mathur caught up with her and asked her what themes the festival is covering this year… and there’s also a very special announcement (see pic at the very end and click)…
www.asianculturevulture.com (ACV): What is Asia House’s Literature Festival about?
Hande Eagle (HE): The Asia House Literature Festival kickstarted in 2006 and has grown both in attendance and through attracting the attention of cultural institutions such as the Bagri Foundation who are our title partners for the festival. We strive to provide a platform for exchanging ideas between audiences and writers from poets inspired by social issues, short story writers engaging with the human condition, historians uncovering long forgotten stories, journalists living on the edge and novelists taking on the world. It’s very important to put together as diverse a programme as possible to promote not just one region in Asia but its entire wealth of literature and culture through the works of both Asian and non-Asian writers.
ACV: What has been Asia House’s aim for the Literature Festival and how important is it to have festivals such as these?
HE: Throughout the history of the festival, we’ve strived to give place to a diversity of perspectives. For this year’s festival, our first and foremost pursuit is to unite against division and to seek peace, compassion, inclusion and openness through the works that we’ve chosen and the writers we’ve brought together.
In general, I think literature festivals are very important. Not only because they provide opportunities for writers to voice their concerns through their works but also because they bring together people from different backgrounds which leads to the sharing and development of new ideas and solutions. As an art form, literature has always been very political because writing is a political act. It’s a product of expression and so literature festivals inspire, engage and energise audiences in a way that no other public event does.
ACV: We can see many events featuring women writers this year. Is that a theme for this year’s festival?
HE: There is a particular focus on women writers. However, this wasn’t intentional in the beginning. As I programmed the events, I noticed how much great writing there was out there by women writers on a vast number of subjects. I’m a strong believer in supporting women’s voices as we still have a great amount of development to achieve both in UK and in Asia so we wanted to give a space and platform where women writers could be heard loudly enough.
ACV: What are your personal favourites from this year’s programme?
HE: I’m excited about all of them but perhaps the ones closest to my heart are those that raise questions in relation to our humanity. For example, the opening night featuring Christina Lamb; one of the world’s greatest war correspondents of our time.
Also, ‘The Girl Who Beat Isis’ which will be delivered by a Middle East expert journalist, Andrea C. Hoffman, who co-authored a book of the same title with Farida Khalaf; a teenage girl who escaped the clutches of ISIS. But I think it’s important to contrast the more serious topics with lighter subjects. That’s why we’ve put together an Asian shadow puppetry workshop where children can make their own puppets while learning about the history of this traditional Chinese art form. We also have a special comedy night, which will feature two highly regarded comedians Bilal Zafar and Yuriko Kotani. We’ve tried to make it as diverse as possible while focusing on the issues at hand.
ACV: Do you have any final words for people wishing to attend the festival?
HE: We want everyone to be involved and join us. This year’s festival really offers an exciting array of authors and a programme designed for all lovers of the written word – from 13th Persia to contemporary Pakistan, from growing up in China during the Cultural Revolution to going undercover in Pyongyang, from the war in Syria to life in Beirut, the partition of India and beyond. We will be transgressing geographical boundaries, overcoming political dilemmas, social problems, social bias and prejudices. The thing to expect is a culture of openness, peace, compassion and inclusion. Everybody is welcome.
The festival will be running from 9th-26th May. To find out more about the festival and to book tickets, please visit: http://asiahousearts.org/events/category/asia-house-bagri-foundation-literature-festival/
Main picture: Christina Lamb; Elif Shafak; and Nadeem Aslam, all appear at the Asia House Bagri Foundation Literature Festival this year…