Before any untoward inferences are made – let me just ease into this by indicating that this is by no means a critical evaluation of the recently concluded Literary Festival at Galle, but is merely an effort to figure out what it was all about and how effectively it worked in relation to what was intended. Hopefully the contents will help answer questions, raise more and initiate what is required in order to make the next one as good as it can get.

So, as intended anyway, I did the investigative thing – or rather, Java did. He’s much more into this sort of stuff than I am. The first one he asked happened to be a ‘participant’ (as opposed to ‘writer’ or ‘organizer’, or ‘attendee’ that is), who was just leaving the place (this was by telephone). The reaction was unadulterated candour and the description included the following phrases:

Particiant: serious writers would puke: for the elite – mostly expats were there: like a private party: almost unreal: ‘beautiful people’ – but not really beautiful: have to do it differently next time: must bring the public in: around 50 were in the audience for my thing:

I also got some views from one of the organizers:

Organizer: It went really, really well: exceeded all expectations: people who had been to the UBUD Festival (running for 6 to 7 years) said there were way more people at this one: the Children’s Day programme had some problems with transport and directions – a bit confusing for some: the upside is that Salman Rushdee, Vickram Seth, Rohinton Mistry and Shyam Selvadurai want to come to next year’s Festival: 

Got us to thinking…

Saaay maaan, are yo hip to jus what dese odder well known Lit-er-rary Festivals be like? Do dey be targettin a pecific demographic, or do dey be tryin to promote literachure, or promote writers, or to encourage new writers maybe, or yo tink it be bout book sales, or exposin dem authors to dere fans, or allowing dose critics to debate dose writers, or any odder reason? Yo tink it be any or more of dose and also be good fo dat tourist trade, an da surroundin community? Fringe benefits like, yo know! Is dis a ‘prestige’ number or is it kinda ‘loose’? An in de end maaan, jus what is da inteshun?

I sure as hell don’t know how better known Literature Festivals are organized, what the process is and what sort of audience attends, so we checked the net – what else?! The first one we checked was ‘UK Festivals’ and this is what it said:

“Visit a literary festival and you can enjoy listening to your favourite author read from their latest book, ask them questions, learn the tricks of the trade from published authors, attend workshops and network with other like-minded people exchanging views on books and authors you have read and tips on how to get published. It is also a chance to broaden your horizons and develop an interest in new genres and authors. Hearing an author talk about their work or read an extract can open new avenues for you.

The main literary festival seasons are Spring to early Summer and the Autumn. Some general arts festivals have lively and interesting literary sections, such as the Charleston festival, part of the Brighton Festival (May) or Belfast Festival at Queen’s (October/November). There are some large very well-known purely literary festivals such as The Guardian Hay Festival (May – June), the Cheltenham Festival (with a Spring and an Autumn season in April/May and October), the Edinburgh International Book Festival (August /September), the Bath Literature Festival (March) and Swindon Festival of Literature (May). These festivals always have many famous authors reading, in discussion, and giving workshops. They are often themed each year with a particular emphasis, for example, the Autumn Cheltenham Festival centres around The Human Condition.”

Heeey, dats interestin maan, ‘Da Human Condition’ – great theme fo us folk here. Fo we all know bout dat sheet in dis country don we? But lissen here, de one at Galle – did dat have som theme fo itself? Maybe ‘architechure’, seein as how many of dose numbers be included! I be checkin on dis before we post dis okay?

Java’s back to the laptop checking, while I’m thinking of what the second person we asked, said. And then, after a while:

Saay maaan, I got it bout Galle and da inteshun – here it be:

“Our objectives are to raise the awareness of the increasing depth and diversity of Sri Lankan writings in English, to give Sri Lankan writers an equal platform to their international colleagues, to encourage the use of English among young people and to attract visitors from overseas to visit Galle and the Southern Province.
In the space of four days we will welcome over 60 participants to over 50 festival events including writing workshops, panel discussions, topical debates, literary lunches & dinners, poetry readings, a comprehensive children’s programme focussed on education with creative writing, art and eco workshops, debating and much more. There will also be a range of events each evening from a poetry slam, jazz evenings, late night movies, stimulating debates and art & photographic exhibitions”

Next we checked Wikipedia: A literary festival, also known as a book festival or writers’ festival, is a regular gathering of writers and readers, typically on an annual basis in a particular city. A literary festival usually features a variety of presentations and readings by authors, as well as other events, delivered over a period of several days, with the primary objectives of promoting the authors’ books and fostering a love of literature and writing (my emphasis). There are many literary festivals held around the world. Some well known examples include: Adelaide Writer’s Week, an event during the Adelaide Festival of Arts. Edinburgh International Book Festival, Prague Writers Festival, an event held in Prague. Peak Literary Festival, an event held in the Peak District of England.

So we checked ‘Edinburgh’ – same story – all about books, writers and the like. The extract ended with: One of the first journalists to cover the Book Festival was the young Ian Rankin, writing for a student newspaper. Nobel Prize winners that have appeared at the Book Festival include Toni Morrison, Seamus Heaney, Dario Fo, and Harold Pinter. Among authors who have been to the Book Festival long before they became internationally famous are Salman Rushdie, Michael Ondaatje, Kazuo Ishiguro and J. K. Rowling. 

We also checked ‘Adelaide’ and ‘Prague’ – not much different. The common factor was books, writers and the interested public that includes wannabe writers, “..with the primary objectives of promoting the authors’ books and fostering a love of literature and writing.”

Unfortunately, due to all manner of reasons, we were not able to contact any more of the ‘writers’, ‘organizers’, ‘participants’ or those that attended the Festival at Galle, so no further feedback from those quarters is available, although I did see something about it either posted with kottu or in the press.

So there we are – at least we got to the intention of a Literary Festival in general and the objectives of the one at Galle. We also got the impressions of a ‘participant’ and ‘organizer’  and who knows, we just might get some feedback to this, to round it all off. And then, any of us who are interested could make up our own minds on how this first Literary Festival in Sri Lanka fared. But the main intention of this post is, as I mentioned at the beginning, that it may just enable those concerned to ensure that they will make every effort to eliminate the negatives of the one that’s past and make the next one better, until this becomes an annual event that will be every bit as good as any of the others anywhere in the world.

Fair enough?