Friday, 19 April 2013

The Asia House Festival of Asian Literature

Asia House, in London, builds links between the UK and Asia; the organisation runs a variety of programmes focused on helping readers in the UK become aware of the many Asian writers whose work is available there. The UK has a large population of first, second and third generation immigrants, whose families originally came from countries stretching from the Eastern Mediterranean, to the Pacific. Hence Asia House also runs programmes to promote the work of young British-Asian writers.

Next month Asia House will hold its annual Festival of Asian Literature, which brings to the British public the newest fiction, non-fiction and poetry written about Asia. The Festival’s director, Adrienne Loftus Parkins, explained how writers are chosen to participate: “We want to present the best books and the most stimulating discussions. Beyond that, the books we feature are mostly published in English in the UK, so that the British audience has access to them. We prefer books published in the year leading up to each festival. Work can be written by Asians or non-Asians, but it must be about Asia or Asians, and give insight into the understanding of Asian cultures and concerns. Preference is given to books about contemporary topics, and books must work within our theme for the year.”
This year the theme is freedom: freedom of expression; education; travel; justice; the freedom to read the truth and to live in our chosen ways. Festival events will examine censorship, corruption, gender, economies, social issues and political freedoms.
 In the UK, few are denied many freedoms, so who is the intended audience for Asia House’s events? “Our audience is anyone who is interested in Asian countries and cultures.” Said Loftus Parkins, “As we cover such a wide range of countries and cultures, the second and third generations who attend are from a broad range of countries. An event focused on Iran will be about 60% Iranian, or Iranian diaspora, while an event focused on women and Islam will see an audience with a vast array of people attending from a number of home countries.”
Although all the books featured are written in or translated into English, I wondered what happened when an author doesn’t speak English?  “We provide a translator, as we will do this year for Chinese authors Ma Jian and Yan Lianke. Often authors work with their own translators who they bring to the events.”
I asked Loftus Parkins what she thought writers and readers hoped to get out of the Festival? “We provide a venue where people can come together in a relatively intimate, relaxed environment. Being the leading pan-Asian organisation in the UK, we have a deep understanding of the things that matter to both the writers and the audience, and also  of Asian perspectives. Writers enjoy it because we produce events with an understanding of the issues they are writing about, matching them with moderators and other authors who can provide a stimulating discussion of the topics.  They also have an opportunity to interact with people in the West who understand the issues about which they are writing.  Readers like our events because they know at Asia House we know Asia. They will have the opportunity to hear stimulating discussions, followed by intelligent questions. They also find that with relatively small audiences, and a friendly atmosphere, they have a greater opportunity to meet and talk with the authors at receptions afterwards. We recently hosted an evening with Mohsin Hamid who spoke about his latest book, How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia.  The audience loved having the chance to ask him questions about his perceptions of Pakistan. We are excited about giving people the chance to do the same with other authors throughout the Festival.” (See the post of March 29 for discussion of How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia.)

The Asia House Festival of Asian Literature runs 7-22 May. You can participate via the following platforms:
Facebook:      Like them at Asia House or at Asia House Festival of Asian Literature
Twitter:          @festofasianlit   (There will be live tweets from many events at the Festival.)
YouTube:       Asia House has its own channel.