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Dhaka Lit Fest to uphold freedom of thought

  • Published at 04:40 pm October 6th, 2016
  • Last updated at 04:23 am October 7th, 2016
Dhaka Lit Fest to uphold freedom of thought
DLF is fast appearing as one of the leading literary festivals in Southeast Asia. What do you think distinguishes it from other similar festivals?

Dhaka Lit Fest provides a unique platform which highlights a wide range of cultural and literary forms from Bangladesh, in English and Bangla, capturing the vitality and vibrancy of our literary heritage, as well as the contemporary landscape. We have a rigorous engagement with other literatures, making it truly international. Instead of falling into the trap of Anglophone-centric discourse, new and established voices from around the world, come together pushing the boundaries of thought on a wide range of issues.

Our programme celebrates not only fiction and non-fiction, but poetry in all its glory – not as an afterthought or with a token session. Keeping in mind our rich tradition as well as our love for poetry, bringing the best of contemporary poetry to our audiences has been one of the mainstays of the festival.

Given the assault on freedom of thought and dissent, Dhaka Lit Fest really does provide a crucial space for literary debate and expression, which is particularly urgent and relevant at this juncture.

Tell us something about DLF 2016. What are the highlights this year? 

This year we particularly have a diverse international line-up, perhaps the most wide-ranging to date – with world–class writers and thinkers representing the very best of fiction, non fiction and poetry in the world today. In addition to authors from UK, USA, Europe and Australia, we have writers and poets from Africa, the Middle East and East Asia, and of course from our neighbouring countries, bringing in a wonderful richness and dimension to this year’s festival. We will be having the difficult conversations on matters deeply affecting us, as well as celebrating the plurality and diversity of our cultures. The subtle and overt ways that freedom of thought and expression are being challenged throughout the world, will be a theme running throughout this year’s programme. As ever, women’s voices and stories will be woven into the range of genres, and will strongly come through.

How many writers are going to congregate this year? Could you give us a few names who have agreed to attend?

We will be announcing our speakers list soon – however, the support and response we have received, despite the challenges of the current situation, has been incredible. Over 60 writers and poets have already confirmed their attendance. In line with our wish to expose our audiences to a great range of voices– we have writers who will bring unique perspectives from East, Central Asia, Africa and the Middle East. We are extremely lucky to have with us Hyeonseo Lee, from North Korea – who will be talking about her experiences from a place shrouded in mystery and mis-information. We are also honoured that Iraqi writer Ali Bader, one of the most significant writers in Arabic literature, will be joining us this year, as well as one of the leading young contemporary political and literary voices from Egypt, Nael Eltoukhy.

DLF has always made it a point to promote Bangla poetry and fiction. What is the plan this year?

We are going into this year’s festival with the irreplaceable loss of an icon – our dear poet and writer Syed Shamsul Haq. It is really an immense loss to the country, and to its literature. Poet Syed Haq was a huge well-wisher of the festival, supporting us from the beginning. We are blessed to have had many wonderful memories with him – not least a beautiful session with Vikram Seth on the lawn of Bangla academy, and his enlightening intellectual exchange with writer Hasan Azizul Haque. We have a rich archive of his critical analysis of literature and poetry. His beautiful poetry and prose, and modern sensibility and outlook, are an inspiration - he was a hero to us, and will be dearly missed. Even last week when I was talking to him, he was excited about the crucial role the festival played in encouraging young poets and writers, and discussed the value of writers who have an excellent command of both Bangla and English.

This year we look forward to exploring Bangla literature on both sides of the border, as well as having conversations about the place of Bangla in our world, and beyond. Translation of great Bangla works will definitely be another exciting focus of this year.