A “travelling circus of Indian literature” is coming to Adelaide, bringing superstar authors and thought-provoking debate, as OzAsia Festival expands its program to the written word.
In a first for the city, a satellite of the iconic Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF) will be held in Adelaide as part of OzAsia Festival.
The event – JLF in Adelaide – will feature a mix of international and Australian authors, journalists, thinkers and activists in panel discussions on a broad range of topics including politics, economics, travel and the arts.
OzAsia’s artistic director Joseph Mitchell says getting the literature program to Adelaide has been nearly two years in the making and he champions it as a significant ongoing addition to the festival.
“After the first couple of festivals, I was really looking at content and felt we were doing everything but literature, but I was thinking ‘what’s an interesting way to do literature because we’ve already got Writers’ Week and there are writers’ festivals around the country’,” he says.
The Jaipur Literature Festival stood out as one of the more interesting models, he says, because of its mix of music, workshops, roving performances and a curated series of panels.
“It really goes way beyond the expectation one might have of a writers’ festival. It’s not just a couple of authors reading passages from books,” he says.
“It’s a complete, large-scale, immersive environment, held in a grand palace in Rajasthan.
“The curators don’t necessarily organise panels as a self-promotion tool for an author, they always program panels with four people at a minimum, so whether it’s a discussion about translation or contemporary fiction or politics there are multiple opinions, there are different perspectives on every panel.”
It’s this focus on panel discussions which is at the heart of JLF in Adelaide, with 54 speakers involved in 32 panels over the three days.
The program includes author Devdutt Pattanaik and writer and comedian Sami Shah, as well as the festival’s artistic directors and acclaimed authors William Dalrymple and Namita Gokhale.
Dalrymple, whose award-winning titles include The Last Mughal, White Mughals and Nine Lives, founded the Jaipur Literature Festival and the subsequent satellite events with Gokhale and producer Sanjoy Roy.
Speaking from his home base in Delhi, Dalrymple says Adelaide helped inspire the first festival when he was looking at ways to “bring world literature to India” and celebrate Indian writing.
“I was on my first real international book tour with White Mughals, in 2002, and I was meeting Indian authors all over the world but the one place I didn’t see Indian authors like Salman Rushdie was India, because a lot of the English-language Indian writers actually live in America or Britain,” he says.
“Having seen how good the festivals in Adelaide and Sydney and Britain were, we looked to do something in India.”
Initially, that was adding a literature event to an existing heritage festival in Jaipur but it proved so popular, doubling in size each year, that it is now described as “the greatest literary show on earth”.
“I’m very proud of it. India is a fantastically fascinating country and by choosing wisely you can produce an amazing line-up of subjects in the way that you couldn’t for a much smaller, less diverse country,” he says.
The JLF satellite events are a “showcase for writing from and about India” encompassing current affairs, politics, religion, history and much more.
“When we go abroad we are like a travelling circus of Indian literature,” he says.
Dalrymple is excited about the diversity in the list of speakers and themes for JLF in Adelaide, and highlights Aboriginal writing, migration, artificial intelligence and freedom to dream as particularly important topics to explore.
A non-fiction writer with a strong interest in history, Dalrymple has written about religious traditions, political power, uprisings and battles dating back hundreds of years.
“It’s always been my interest. I’ve got a notebook from my childhood and we had to write what we wanted to be when we grew up and I wrote ‘an archaeologist and an author’.”
He has spent the past five years working on The Anarchy, a book about the East India Company.
“I’m on the final tilt and this trip to Adelaide is the only break I’m taking from my desk in the next six months,” he says.
Visitors to JLF in Adelaide can see William Dalrymple in Last Mughals (November 11), a mix of live readings and music, which will close the festival.
“He’s going to read poetry and excerpts from his book and there will be musicians on stage playing a live score.” says Mitchell. “You can close your eyes and be taken back 200 years to the Mughal Dynasty in India.”
Other highlights from the three-day festival include a panel discussion on why art matters (10 November) with Julian Meyrick, Sanjoy K Roy, Tully Barnett and Wendy Were.
“Julian Meyrick recently published a book about culture and the value of culture, how do we value art in society,” Mitchell says. “It’s a really important time to discuss how we think about and evaluate art.”
For a taste of star power, look for Shobhaa De, “the Jackie Collins of India”, in Politically Incorrect (10 November)
“If you haven’t had a lot of engagement with India, coming to hear Shobhaa De can really widen your experience,” Mitchell says.
JLF in Adelaide is a free event in and around the Adelaide Festival Centre.
Friday, November 9 until Sunday, November 11