ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday February 24, 2008
Vol. 42 - No 39

Enriching and enlightening

Galle Lit Festival 2: From writers’ point of view

By Punyakante Wijenaike and Sandra Fernando, Pic by Malaka Rodrigo

Galle Lit Fest 2 is over and done. The dust has settled and people have gone. It’s time to work out the total, the sum,
The achievements, the summits, the distance we’ve come . . . Alright, let’s go to prose and become clinical rather than lyrical. Galle Lit Fest 2, the good points:

  • 40% larger than Galle Lit Fest 1;

  • much better organised withal;

  • much better balanced than Lit Fest 1 (there was more poetry, some drama and a little non-fiction);

  • well prepared and well informed moderators for the most part – they had read the authors they talked to, they had really done their homework;

  • much better directions and support for participants and featured writers than last time;

  • publishers had a low profile and there were book launches;

  • organised in the Fort for the most part, making the venues easily accessible;

  • much better use of space in venues than last time;

  • much better atmosphere and quality to the literary meals. . . .from here the list descends to smaller and rather nitpicky details. Let’s set them aside.

The plus points had to do with the organisation. What of the event itself? To begin with, it gave us an undiluted opportunity to talk books and literature and writing with like-minded people. There was an atmosphere of celebration in Galle where people were freely enthusiastic and undilutedly positive about literature. We reinforced each others’ idealism and faith in the validity of literature. Given the film-oriented and very cynical world in which we live, that by itself was a tremendous boon.

Then, there was the freedom to talk to world class writers. It was one thing to be able to say, “Oh, look! That’s Tim Severin!” It was quite another to be able to stop a writer on the side of the road for a quick exchange.

The launch of the Festival.

To be able to listen to Alexander McCall Smith blast every preconceived notion on writing (“I never redraft: I haven’t the time.”); to listen to the panel of travel writers ramble gloriously out of sheer enthusiasm and delight in response to their experiences; to be able to listen to a writer express uncertainty about a stance and be able to offer encouragement – these things are priceless.

But beyond the personal or writerly benefits, what implications, what relevance has the GLF to Sri Lanka? Well, the most obvious answer to that is that it serves to raise the profile of literature in English in this country. Isn’t that accomplished by other conferences and seminars that are organised throughout the year with much less fanfare and expense? Such conferences, seminars, lectures and workshops all contribute in their way and at their level.

Each is valid in its own context, but their purposes and potential are so different. The scale of the GLF is larger, the involvement is greater and the effects are greater, deeper and longer lasting. That said, how can we justify the focus on English literature in this country? Well, as we have heard over and over, English belongs to everyone – the language as well as the literature. This has been the case for a long time – why else have so many Booker Prize winners or BBC Short Story winners been non-Anglophone, and why are there more prizes developing in the non-Anglophone world for literature generated in English? The peoples of this world are reaching out to take advantage of what is effectively an international highway to project their nations, their communities, their views of the world, to raise questions that must be raised. They have positioned themselves to participate in that discourse of ideas and values that is the business of literature, and they engage in those transactions on a global stage. Let us join them.

Galle Lit Fest 2, points for improvement:

  • move further towards balance (biography and autobiography need to be covered; children’s literature must be addressed, especially in Sri Lanka where “kiddy lit” consists of imported works and isn’t generated locally);

  • continue to include publishers but broaden the involvement of local publishers – put them also on the spot!;

  • broaden the profile given to drama and poetry;

  • ensure availability of books by more of the writers on the menu;

  • provide more time for audience participation in panel discussions by way of question and answer;

  • develop a musical element – like combined performances of bands/orchestras and readings;

  • at the very least retain if not actually develop the children’s section further;

  • work towards more reasonable pricing.

But we think that the organisers of the Lit Fest already know all this. So, where does this leave us? As far as the literati are concerned:

  • enriched, enlarged, enlightened, encouraged;

  • grateful to the organisers of GLF 2;

  • sharpening our pencils to fine tune our output;

  • eagerly anticipating GLF 3!

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