Adrienne Loftus Parkins is an Asian literature consultant in the UK. She is the director of the annual Asia House Festival of Asian Literature. This covers writing about Asia or Asians, including British Asian themes and authors.
I asked Adrienne how she and her team select titles for inclusion? “We try to balance the many countries we cover, fiction versus non-fiction and so on. Each book must be well written, interesting, and able to contribute to one of the themes we are highlighting - we try to focus mainly on contemporary subjects. We ask of every book we consider: will its themes interest the audience we are trying to reach? Does it contribute to the Asia House mission of promoting understanding of Asian or British Asian cultures?”
The Festival hosts some big names – this year Mohsin Hamid was a speaker. But I wondered how it promotes emerging talent? “It's always tough to attract large audiences to events focused on new authors, particularly if they are writing fiction. Like most other festivals, we try to pair debut authors with more established ones. Often we try to build debut fiction discussions around themes that we think will attract interest and, therefore, a large audience. Sometimes we invite groups of students or others to come in advance of the events to meet debut authors in a quieter setting.”
When not working with Asia House, Adrienne undertakes many other projects. In the UK, plans are afoot to commemorate World War 1, 1914-1918. Adrienne is currently working with one organisation to provide a series of literary events related to the war, and what was then happening worldwide, particularly in Asia. She is also working with the British Council and London Book Fair (LBF) on ways to help promote Korean literature in the UK – LBF will next year provide a platform for Korean publishers to showcase content. Finally, she is working on an initiative to draw together several worldwide literature festivals focusing on Asia, with the idea of cooperating to develop the market for Asian writing and writers.
That’s a lot! I asked Adrienne what she most enjoys abut her work, and what most frustrates her? “The most frustrating things are logistics and funding. It's increasingly difficult to get funding for any arts related projects in the UK. Add to that the challenge of getting funding from companies who are mostly country or region specific when we are featuring authors from many different countries. There’s also the frustration of finding a great author with a new book but not being able to get him or her to the UK for the Asia House Festival. So many of the really relevant authors are based in countries across Asia, and being pan-Asian, it's difficult to get the support of one airline that can help with transporting them.
What I most enjoy is meeting so many interesting, lively people - authors and others involved in literature and current affairs. It's fascinating to hear contrasting opinions on issues that we get only one side of through our media. I love being able to put together a lively discussion that is a little controversial and motivates audiences to get involved through questions and debate. Another thing I love is having the opportunity to read so many books that I might not know about or have access to if I didn't run a literary festival. This can also be a bit frustrating in that I have very little time to read anything that isn't about Asia!”
Find our more about Adrienne at www.theasianword.co.uk
For more on Asia House visit http://asiahouse.org/