Still an intimate affair

If there is one defining characteristic of the Galle Literary Festival, it is intimacy. For many authors, coming from the packed auditoriums of the Jaipur Literary Festival, the rounds of lunches and dinners, breakfast book clubs and tea party readings offer a stark contrast.

But for a dedicated festival goer, the elaborate schedule offers nothing less than a tour of the Fort. Over the course of four days, some one adhering faithfully to the programme will cover the entirety of Galle Fort, moving from the Fort Printers to the Maritime Museum, from the Halle de Galle to the Dutch Reformed Church and then out of the Fort to the luxurious little getaways in the city proper. And for those reluctant to wear out their shoes, sunny mornings have ensured that the literary cafe remained a perfect place to catch a glimpse of visiting authors.

Sarah Dunant autographs a book. Pix by Saman Kariyawasam
BBC forum session with Bridget Kendall
William Fiennes leading a workshop

Literary conversations took a somewhat more thoughtful turn with the two BBC Forum sessions that began the first two days of the festival. Bringing together festival authors with environmentalists, lawyers, activists and scholars in an exchange of ideas, the sessions proved a success. In particular, the event on 'Love, Marriage and Divorce - Sri Lankan Style' had the hall filled to overflowing.

The first day of the festival was a busy one. In her session, Sarah Dunant proved to be a gifted speaker, holding her audience enthralled with tales of medieval Italy and the women who lived there. Her books - the Italian Renaissance trilogy - were among those selling well at the festival bookstore.

In other parts of the fort, William Fiennes led a workshop on getting started, the Galle Fort women cooked up a storm, author Tash Aw spoke of his critically acclaimed novel 'The Harmony Silk Factory', Guy Delisle introduced audiences to his trio of autobiographical graphic novels and Herman Gunaratne told tales of the plantations from his book 'The Suicide Club’. Many other events claimed the attention of festival goers, with many making their way to The Sun House for a party and rap session with Omar Musa to mark the day's end.

Day 2 brought more guests and more sessions. Jung Chang pleased her many fans by talking about 'Wild Swans' while author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie made quite an impression in a bright orange saree. Iliya Troyonov, Pankaj Mishra, Roger McGough, Charles Allen and Philip Hoare were among the other authors who made an appearance. Friday's calender drew to a close with the hotly anticipated Sex in a Sarong Dance Party with author Candace Bushnell.

At the time of writing with only two more days left to go, the changes to the festival lineup have required the organisers to be quick on their feet, what with author Damon Galgut boycotting the event, even as Orhan Pamuk and Kiran Desai bowed out.

As if to compensate for his absence at the festival launch in Colombo, author Louis de Berniere was scheduled to step into Pamuk's shoes, his mandolin in hand. Despite these notable absences, many festival goers seemed entirely content with the lineup which still boasts the likes of Ngozi Adichie, Jung Chang, and Tash Aw - all names very well known in international literary circles.

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