For those who are fascinated by Asian culture - or those who are
eager to learn more - there's no better place to start than the
much-anticipated Asia House Bagri Foundation Literature Festival. The London-based
organisation has hosted the event every year since 2007, and the
festival comprises readings, book releases, and Q&As, plus the
chance to connect with some of the continent's most accomplished
scribes. We chatted with Jemimah Steinfeld, the Literature Festival
manager, to learn what's in store for this year's event, which
arrives in the capital from 7th - 18th May
2015. We've got a lot of reading to do…
Jemimah Steinfeld is this year's
Literature Festival Manager
The Asia House Bagri Foundation Literature Festival has
been a highlight of the organisation's programming since 2007. How
has the festival, and its mission, evolved since its
"The mission has always been to showcase the best in Asian
literature, and to promote a greater understanding of Asia today.
The festival has evolved in size and scope, and each year our
reputation has grown. Thanks to that, we're increasingly able to
attract the best and the brightest thinkers and writers from across
Asia and the UK, alongside an excellent and engaged audience."
Asian literature is obviously an incredibly broad topic
- what's your process, when creating programming for the festival,
to best showcase that diversity?
"It is indeed hugely broad! We therefore choose literature
according to two criteria, generally. The first: we look to new
work, released within the 12 months preceding the festival. We also
choose an individual theme; last year's was 'Values' and this
year's is 'Youth and Gender'. From there, we're able to narrow down
a lot. So, for example, our opening night will highlight Chinese author
Xinran's latest book. It is officially released on
7th May, and it looks at China's current generation, so
it falls perfectly within our themes."
Decorated author Hanif Kureishi
signs books at a previous edition of the festival © Asia
For those planning to travel to India - or who are
simply interested in the subcontinent - do you have any favourite
books or recommended authors to share?
"There are a lot of excellent books to choose from! People are
spoiled for choice when it comes to Indian literature, which has a
wonderful literary tradition and a number of books in print in
English (it's quite unique in that respect for Asia, in fact).
Kiran Desai's The Inheritance of Loss is a particular
favourite. I remember finding the words totally entrancing. She's a
got a wonderful - enviable - grasp of language. I first went to
India straight after the publication of Aravind Adiga's The
White Tiger and read it there and remember finding it
incredibly evocative, both as a book and as a background to the
sites I was seeing. Rohinton Mistry's A Fine Balance is
also a remarkable book.
Others that should be on anyone's must-read list include: works
from Arundhati Roy and Salman Rushdie, Life of Pi, and
Amitav Ghosh's Ibis Trilogy (he'll also be speaking as part of our
Festival at Waterstones
Tell us about a few highlight events in the festival
schedule for this year.
"The festival will host a number of exciting book launches.
Award-winning author Anuradha Roy will launch her new book Sleeping on
Jupiter and will be in conversation with Claire
Armitstead, books editor for The Guardian and Observer. In
addition, famed food and travel writer Jeff Koehler will
take an alternative perspective on Asian culture, launching his book Darjeeling: The
Colorful History and Precarious Fate of the World's Greatest
Tea. That event is being sponsored by Ahmad Tea and will also
feature a tea tasting."
The festival offers a wide range
of programming, and hosts some of Asia's top scribes © Asia
India has a robust tradition of myth and religious epics
- how do myth and epic infuse or inspire contemporary Indian
"That's a question which will be explored at our event Happily Ever After?, which will investigate
the influence of Indian epics like The Ramayana, Mahabharata and
Bhagavad Gita. Traditional stories and the art of storytelling are
experiencing quite the revival at the moment. On the other hand,
it's also important to make sure that the stories we look at are
compatible with contemporary society. For example, how are women
being portrayed? In a positive or negative light? These are
questions that need to be raised and debated, as we will do on
Friday 8th May, over cocktails supplied by Dishoom - so
the event will be serious and fun at once."
Do you think the Western literary establishment is doing
a good job of engaging with worldwide literary
"Translation is certainly improving, but there's still a long
way to go, and translated works remain marginal. That's what makes
our festival so unique - other literature festivals feature
predominantly English-language writers whereas ours is a really
Apart from the festival, Asia
House offers a full calendar of cultural events © Asia
Tell us more about Asia House. Apart from the literary
festival, what else does it offer to both locals and
"Our cultural events include a music and film festival, regular
launches and talks on Asia's cultural offerings, as well as
pioneering events on business, policy and politics. We have an art
gallery, which has regular exhibitions from world-famous artists
the likes of Kim Lim. There's something for everyone.
We also take youth engagement very seriously, offering workshops
to children both inside Asia House and at schools across the
country. Literature is a key focus, as is art (we've hosted
calligraphy classes, for example), music and other forms of
cultural and educational engagement."
Asia House has a library stocked
with books from across the continent © Asia House
For the London-based bibliophile, what are some of your
favourite bookstores, museums, or other literary
"Asia House is a great place to start! We have a lovely library
stocked with wonderful books from across Asia. Us aside, Daunt Books
on Marylebone High Street is fall of hidden wonders. The British Library is
a major contender too. Kings Place and Rich Mix,
meanwhile, always have great events on for literary minds. And of
course you can't beat a sunny day in a London park with an
excellent book in your bag. If you're lost for what to read right
now, check out our list of the best Asian books to read in 2015 - several of
the authors mentioned will also be attending the festival."