On September 20, JLF at New York will bring together acclaimed authors and thinkers at the Asia Society in New York City. We spoke with Sanjoy K. Roy, managing director of Teamwork Arts and festival producer, about the history of JLF at New York, its relationship to the annual ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival, and what festivalgoers can expect.
Words Without Borders (WWB): For more than a decade, the Jaipur Literature Festival has brought together writers, thinkers, entertainers, leaders, and publishing professionals from all over the world. Somewhat more recently, JLF International has hosted one- and two-day festivals throughout the world, including the upcoming JLF at New York. What was the impetus and inspiration for expanding the festival beyond Jaipur?
Sanjoy K. Roy (SKR): Literature and arts festivals provide a platform for the exchange of ideas and provide a window into another world—its people, philosophy, culture, way of working, etc. In today’s divided world, we need more opportunities to familiarize ourselves with the “Other” and not to see differences as a threat but to appreciate diversity as something to understand, acknowledge, and celebrate.
WWB: For those who are not yet familiar with the JLF events, how do they distinguish themselves from other literary festivals?
SKR: JLF brings together speakers from the Occident and the Orient. We discuss and debate issues that may emerge from the primary theme of the book and place these issues within the context of local, national, and international perspectives.
WWB: The festivals include a fascinating and diverse array of themes. For JLF at NY, the topics range from medical narratives to King Lear to India’s history and culture. When curating the festival, are there particular topics and themes that you are drawn to or particular types of speakers who you seek out? And do you build the festival’s program around the place where it’s being held?
SKR: Each festival or literary event is unique to the city and country that it is based in. The effort is to be representative of the political and sociological issues of the region as well as to introduce and challenge the audiences with new thoughts and ideas. All of our festivals look equally at nonfiction, fiction, and poetry and cover the gamut of ideas and issues from the environment and sociology, to particle physics and artificial intelligence, to math, philosophy, music, and architecture.
WWB: For those who are attending JLF at New York, what are some of the events and who are some of the speakers that they can look forward to?
SKR: From a deep dive into the miniature paintings of Rajasthan to the nail-biting history behind one of the most famous diamonds of the world—the Kohinoor—to Dr. Paul’s narrative of genetics, JLF@New York explores ideas and themes from both worlds.
WWB: Magazines like Words without Borders and festivals like JLF are committed to bringing international literature and conversations to a broad audience. One of the challenges is to reach people who might not already be interested in picking up a book in translation or attending a festival that is global in its focus. How does JLF strive to reach a broader audience and how do you feel those of us committed to this work can most effectively bring more people into the conversation?
SKR: The Jaipur Literature festival has given rise to over 123 new events for authors and ten major literary awards. Much of our focus is on how to reach younger audiences and enthuse them about discovering a world within a world! At festivals like JLF, you can sit on a chair and travel the world, understanding and becoming educated about its different facets. Sixty-one percent of our audience at the annual ZEE Jaipur literature festival is below the age of twenty-five.