The Fairway Galle Literary Festival (FGLF) has pranced off the printed page to evolve into something vibrant and dynamic, a colourful celebration not only of the letters but of the whole universe of arts. But there is something that holds the festival together and “that is stories”, says Jill Macdonald who is curator this year, [...]


Be there when your favourite lit fest turns 10


The Fairway Galle Literary Festival (FGLF) has pranced off the printed page to evolve into something vibrant and dynamic, a colourful celebration not only of the letters but of the whole universe of arts. But there is something that holds the festival together and “that is stories”, says Jill Macdonald who is curator this year, for the second time.

Literature springs from the deep human need to tell stories, and it would be a warped little definition of the word ‘stories’ if we were to think only of written narratives. “Storytelling happens through art, it happens through music, it happens through dance and through architecture.” In a phrase, a literary festival should celebrate the deep human urge to be creative and to share creatively our stories- so that people understand each other better.

Thomas Bell

Jill believes that the festival is accumulating more strength and a more pronounced identity by embracing different types of art. She quotes Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr: plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

This year, two fringe festivals help the tenth FGLF explore its identity further. One is the poetry slam where emerging performance poets demonstrate a way with words and drama, the other is the ever-popular art trail, which this year will include a pottery painting workshop.

Jill has a heavy weight on her brow as curator of the festival. There are so many high profile writers to be invited and flown in. But then, the four letters FGLF now conjure magic potent enough for the writers to actually wanting to be part of it. “In that I have benefited from all the work done the last 10 years,” Jill smiles.

Sir David Hare

Apart from the tropical beauty of the island, what sets FGLF apart on a map heavily dotted with literary festivals (Asia has some 60) is the intimate, indeed cosy, atmosphere. Within the romantic fort with its Dutch magic, the participants can sit close to writers from across the world discussing their acclaimed work in quaint, old-world hotel libraries, hear famous actresses talk on their iconic roles in small colonial halls or attend private dinners in fort houses with such personalities as (as was last year) David Puttnam or Sebastian Faulks.

The limelight naturally falls on the fort. Channa Daswatte would be guiding tours to explore the old grand dame, from Dutch stained glass and pillared verandahs to the insignia left by the Dutch East India Company. Last year, Jill had Lankan and South African historians discussing the Dutch forts in the two countries. It meandered from architecture to the negative aspects of colonialism, and how to re-use those negative memories in new, positive ways.

As we steer towards the non-literary elements of the FGLF the conversation tantalizes. Jill can’t help flashing half teasing and half apologetic smiles as she reveals that music will be explored in the literature itself in a very intriguing way particularly in three books- apart, that is, from the concerts each night.

FGLF Curator Jill Macdonald

“I can’t ruin the surprise but once you come to the festival you’ll understand what I mean when I say you can’t separate music, dance or literature ultimately.”

This year is Geoffrey Bawa’s birth centenary and architecture will get a lot of attention, as the idyllic, dappled splendour of tropical modernism has been part of the backdrop from the beginnings of FGLF.

There will be a competition to do with architecture and the public gets to discuss ancient and modern architecture- which promises to be a passionate forum, on a subject where everyone has their favourites and bete noires.

Another surprise kept under wraps is that Sri Lankan writers residing abroad will make a unique contribution not only in English but the local languages as well. Other languages will join the celebration, including the Italian Carlo Pizzati this year.

This year’s festival director Sunela Samaranayake speaking at Thursday’s press conference. Pic by Amila Gamage

Through the years, FGLF has fostered a culture of writing, especially English writing, within the country. Writing workshops have honed the craft and the festival has inspired more love for reading, which metamorphoses into the need to write and tell your own story.

The festival fever is already in the air, as more and more participants are booking their hotels. Jill also gets many messages from book clubs who want to discuss the authors who are coming before attending the festival. Nonetheless she maintains that FGLF does not intend to be an elitist event. “We celebrate very high level literature, but do not for a moment assume that any social group has a prerogative for such literature.”

In order for the FGLF to be more accessible, there will be three main outreach events: an unticketed children’s programme, a free teacher training programme and the North-South Programme where students from all universities across the country are brought to Galle with no expenses for them, plus ticket money to buy books- a brainchild of Shyam Selvadurai, former curator.

Who’s coming?
The upcoming Fairway Galle Literary Festival will take place from January 16 to 20. The authors so far announced are Sir David Hare, Don McCullin, Kamila Shamsie, Fatima Bhutto, William Dalrymple, Madeleine Thien, Romesh Gunesekera, Vahni Capildeo, Tishani Doshi, Carlo Pizzati, Thomas Bell, Kavitha Yagabuggana, Lucy Fleming,  Charles Cumming, Simon Williams, Tassie Seneviratne, Anthony Horowitz, Justine Picardie, Rachel Johnston, Ramya Chamalie Jirasinghe, Dinah Jefferies, Nandana Sen, Senthuran Varatharajah, Anne Enright, Herve le Tellier and Peter Kuruvita.More authors would be revealed in the coming month.The title sponsor of FGLF is Fairway Holdings while the hospitality partner is Jetwing Hotels. Sri Lanka Telecom joins as Telecommunication partner. The banking partner is DFCC Bank and MTV/MBC is broadcast partner. Wijeya Newspapers is print media partner. Find out more about the festival on 



Share This Post


Advertising Rates

Please contact the advertising office on 011 - 2479521 for the advertising rates.