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Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF) to take over British Library with Bollywood, Raj and Jhalak Prize talk…

Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF) to take over British Library with Bollywood, Raj and Jhalak Prize talk…

World’s largest lit fest (more than 250,000 visitors) hits iconic culture and learning centre…

IT’S often referred to as the greatest literary show on earth and it’s returning to London – though to a new venue for the first time.

The Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF) travels to the British Library this weekend (May 20 & 21), after being hosted at the Alchemy Festival at the Southbank Centre in 2015 and 2016.

Among the highlights this year will undoubtedly be Bollywood star director Karan Johar talking about his 2017 published autobiography, ‘An Unsuitable Boy’.

Karan Johar

We were at JLF when he first talked about this book in early 2016 (see video below). He will now be in conversation with UK based Bollywood expert Rachel Dwyer.

The Professor of Indian Cultures and Cinema at SOAS (School of Oriental and African Studies and part of the University of London) told “Karan Johar is a major media figure as a leading director and producer of Hindi films who is coming to JLF London to discuss his autobiography.

“It will be something of a role reversal as he’s the host of a major chat show (‘Koffee with Karan’ on Star World) and I’ve written several books but I’m sure he’ll be his usual eloquent and entertaining self.”

Rachel Dwyer

More than 70 authors will be in attendance at the British Library and among the other highlights will be director Stephen Frears discussing his film adaptation of author Shrabani Basu’s book, ‘Victoria and Abdul’. In the film, scheduled for release in September, Dame Judi Dench plays Queen Victoria, while Bollywood actor Ali Faizal essays the role of Abdul Karim, who formed an unlikely friendship with the Queen of England.

Former diplomat, novelist and now Indian MP Shashi Tharoor, a big favourite at JLF earlier this year, will discuss the colonial legacy as part of a talk about his latest book, ‘TheTheft of the Raj – The British Empire in India’. He attracted huge crowds in Jaipur and was in the UK earlier this year, promoting his book which examines just how much harm was visited on India under colonialism.

Another big favouritat JLF in January was Anita Anand and William Dalrymple talking about their latest co-authored work, ‘Kohinoor, about probably the most famous diamond in the world which now resides in the Queen’s crown and is on display at the Tower of London. The two are launching the UK edition of the book released in India late last year.

Sharabani Basu

Shrabani Basu

Writer and actor Meera Syal joins a high-powered line-up discussing what effects migration and notions of home have on any author with Amit Chaudhuri, Prajwal Parajuly and Lila Azam Zanganeh participating.

Dalrymple, who is also co-festival director, joins Namita Gokhale, the other co-festival director, Sanjoy K Roy, managing director of Teamwork Arts, which produces the festival, Neeraj Dhingra, CEO of the European arm of Zee network, sponsors of JLF, and British Library head of culture and learning, Jamie Andrews, to officially open the festival with the Freedom to Dream inaugural address.

Author Sunny Singh, co-founder of the first Jhalak Prize which spotlights outstanding work by a UK-based author of colour, talks about the impact the prize has had and the issues surrounding publishing today. In the spring, novelist Jacob Ross won the inugural Jhalak for his crime caper, ‘The Bone Readers’. Laura Susijn, and Wei Ming Kam join Singh at the fest to discuss Jhalak: Glimpses of Diversity.

Singh also talks at length to us about the importance of the prize, its foundation and impact. See the interview below…

Sunny Singh

www.asianculturevulture (ACV): What do you think the challenges are for writers from minority backgrounds to get published then marketed and reviewed and established in the UK?

Sunny Singh (SS): I would say all of the above (are challenges). I would also note that the challenges start well before writers write down the first word.
There are challenges posed by lack of representation of minorities in literature which we know often leads to questions about our ability or authority to write. And these are reinforced by continued exclusions.
Then we are looking at structural barriers: economics, education, cultural capital, social and institutional structures. Again, these barriers are already in place even before a marginalised writer approaches an agent or publisher.
They then face another set of challenges, this time from the industry and institutions. And yes those include difficulties in finding agents and then publishers. And even after being published, the struggle continues with barriers to being reviewed, stocked in bookstores, put forward for prizes, being included in festivals, all those bits and pieces that go into recognising and building a literary reputation.

ACV: How much responsibility do you think publishers have? And are they responding to calls for change?

SS: My own view is that publishers do have the primary responsibility and not only for publishing a range of voices but also publishing them well.
At the same time, I think to speak of the industry as a whole is inappropriate and unhelpful. There are publishers who are actively taking steps at various levels. There are also others who pay lip service while yet another category remains unmoved and uninterested.
We will never have unanimity across the industry but if enough publishers understand that publishing a range of voices is good for business, that diversity is good for the bottom line, we will start seeing more wide-spread changes.

ACV: Some writers are turning to crowdfunding, and other sources of peer group finance to get their work out there in physical form… Is this a good step? Is self-publishing another way to circumvent traditional barriers?

SS: Let’s be clear crowdfund and self-published are not necessarily the same things. Publishers like Unbound function much like a traditional publisher – with editors, designers, and sp forth – but the author must also crowdfund.
The model seems to be working well – Unbound have published some amazing books, including ‘The Good Immigrant’ edited by Nikesh Shukla and ‘A Country of Refuge’ edited by Lucy Popescu. I think the model works reasonably well, especially for anthologies where the pressures of crowdfunding can be shared.
Self-publishing is a different beast and I am not convinced that it works particularly well for multiple reasons. All the other skills (editing, proofing, and other facets) that a manuscript needs to reach its polished state are not available to self-published books. And I am not sure if authors are necessarily great at selling things. Finally, authors having to take up the marketing, commercial responsibilities, and that seems an additional and unnecessary burden.

ACV: How has the industry reacted to Jhalak? Are you encouraged? Or do you think more work has to be done? Is there a role for the government or politicians in opening up the publishing industry to diversity?

SS: The response from the industry has been brilliant over all. We have heard publicly and privately from agents, publishers, editors, reviewers and they have been wonderfully supportive. The biggest support of course has come from writers and readers and for that we are most grateful.
Of course there is more work to be done! The numbers for 2017 look a little better but not massively so. Changes must also stretch to include other axes of exclusion including gender, sexuality, ability, class and more. As far as the role of the government and/or politicians, that is not my area to comment on. UK has an Equalities Law as well as the Equalities and Human Rights Commission and we count on their support for our industry and initiatives.

ACV: Are there any lessons from any other countries in widening the pool of writers we can read …?

SS: Having closely watched publishing industry in half a dozen countries, I must say that the dynamics at play are very similar. Moreover, there are no ‘best practice’ industries anywhere as most are struggling in different ways.
There are lessons to be learned from each other though: I think the government support and funding can help small publishers survive and thrive. I think there are lessons to be learned from India on publishing regionally and in different languages.
There are lessons from some of the EU countries that support publishing in minority languages and translations. I would like to see more of them expand to addressing other axes of inequality. Finally,I think the US and to a lesser degree, UK are good cases in point that show organisation matters, demographics matter and, most of all, solidarity matters.

For the the Jaipur Literature Festival listings and tickets, please see

JLF at the British Library is part of the UK-India 70 year celebrations marked by both governments #UKIndia2017

Sunny Singh is the author of ‘Hotel Arcadia’ and is head lecturer of creative writing at the London Metropolitan University.

ACV at JLF 2016

Karan Johar at JLF 2016

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Written by Asian Culture Vulture