When writers met and mingled

Opening night at GLF
By Megara Tegal

It was opening night, Wednesday. With introductions over cocktails and hors d’oeuvres, the participants at the Galle Literary Festival had the opportunity to mix and mingle and get acquainted as they looked forward to four more days at Galle. Over the chatter and laughter phrases like ‘Sri Lanka is like India without the hassle” and “how was the Jaipur Festival?” rang out above the hum of voices.

Dressed in flowing gowns, evening dresses, shirts or even t-shirts the group was a definite mixed bag of participants from different corners of the world. Wandering around was British culinary expert Skye Gyngell, chef at Petersham Nurseries café and a two time award-winning writer of cookery books. Her second time in Sri Lanka, she had held two cookery demonstrations for the Galle Literary Festival earlier.

“I’ve been to Sri Lanka once before, around Dambulla, and I love Sri Lanka and Sri Lankan food,” she said. However, this will be the first time she will be cooking with essentially Sri Lankan ingredients and while she was relishing the challenge she did have apprehensions, she revealed.

For graphic novelist, Guy De Lisle this was his first visit to the island but he feels quite at home. “I’m from Burma which is also a Buddhist country. And just as I landed I realised the weather was the same as it is there,” he says on a slightly humid but not muggy evening in Galle. A little anxious about how he’d find his way around, Guy was trying to plan out getting to his session the next day.

Another first timer at the Festival is the younger rapper and published poet Omar Musa. His work has elements of political and socially consciousness but he likes to make a personal connection and writes his songs and poems from his view and his experiences. “It’s my first time in Sri Lanka and I find it a fascinating country,” he says. “I wanted to visit Sri Lanka because I’ve heard so much about it and its mixed cultures.”

Her first time in Sri Lanka as well, author of three books that have received much praise Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, looking stunning in a black dress, tarriving towards the latter part of the evening at the reception. Though having landed in Sri Lanka just a while before she said, “I’m falling in love with Sri Lanka. I read Romesh Gunesekera’s ‘Reef’ and fell in love with it” adding that this incited her interest in the country. “I felt comfortable just as I got off the plane.”

For Lawrence Hill, an award-winning writer, mostly noted as winner of the Commonwealth Writers Prize 2008, it was not only his first time in Sri Lanka but his first time in South Asia. He’s brought along his 16-year-old son, he says to help him learn about Asia. “I’ve travelled all over Africa but this is my first trip to Sri Lanka,” he remarks, adding that he’s been here for a week and has picked up that the people are hard working and persevering, having been through the war and the tsunami.

And so despite the much-publicised pullout of Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk and Booker Prize winner Kiran Desai, followed by South African writer Damon Galgut, the list of authors at this year’s festival was more than impressive. It was a relaxed beginning to the Galle Literary Festival this year. Having held sessions and shared more about their books and selves with enthusiastic Sri Lankans since Thursday, the festival enters its final day today.

Skye Gyngell Jung Chang and Jon Halliday
Festival curator Shyam Selvadurai and Mandy Ferrey Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Omar Musa. Pix by Saman Kariyawasam Mohsin Hamid and wife
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