Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

The benefits of literary festivals: A critique of Kriti

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I had the opportunity to partake on a multiple levels at the 2009 Desilit Kriti festival of South Asian literature and arts in Chicago last weekend (June 11-14) I was only in town for June 12th and most of June 13th, but during that span of a day-and-half, I led or co-led two writing workshops (beginning and intermediate), was on a panel on “building the buzz,” about the creative and innovative ways to promote one’s work, and read from my work. I had the opportunity to meet a range of South Asian writers, mainly based in the US, as well as interact with a handful of emerging writers in the workshops as well as in informal settings, between panels, over dinner, while walking under the “L” train. Given that I was so busy with workshops and panels, my “down time” for casual conversation was limited, even too limited. I think at times the panels were weighted too heavily with presenters rather than participants. Perhaps in our collective rush to ‘talk’, we as panelists didn’t have enough opportunity to ‘listen.’

There were, however, stellar keynote speakers. Writer and literature professor Amitava Kumar was erudite and entertaining, and Bapsi Sidhwa, whom I remember from my decade-ago Houston days, was a true mentor, coaching her pointed criticisms of my reading with a genuine desire to improve my skills. It was at that moment that I realized that “lifelong learning” is more than a slogan. It was a setback, yet, as I realized by the time I reached O’Hare to make my way home, an important take-away as I plan my next performance at the Masala! Mehndi! Masti! festival in Toronto on July 26th. I also was cognizant of the stories some of the workshop participants told me in conversation, not only asking about personalized feedback of their work, but the often sinewy paths writers have to take to clear the space, time and opportunity to write. It requires far more than Virginia Woolf’s proverbial “Room of One’s Own”; it also involves negotiating our relationships with others, often loved ones, our responsibilities to them and managing their expectations of us.

While there were writers from all across the US, beyond my engaging band of workshop participants, my impression was that there was scant representation from Chicago itself (although there were other local artists who performed). Moreover, I felt that the gender imbalance (I was one of only handful of male panelists, and my workshops had only one male participant) should be addressed, perhaps as a topic for a future panel :) Overall, I was glad to have the opportunity to attend Kriti. Pulled together with limited resources, I remain in awe at the level of commitment and dedication of the festival’s organizers and volunteers. To all of them, a very big thank you.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

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Nitin Deckha

Nitin Deckha is the author of Shopping for Sabzi (TSAR Publications, 2008) and a contributor to Once Upon a Time in Bollywood (TSAR Publications, 2007) and several other publications.

Go to Nitin Deckha ’s Author Page