Get Set for Books on the Beach, a Festival of Literature and Ideas

Books on the Beach is a literature festival set to be held in Kovalam in November. The Festival is being organized by India Book Foundation, a non-profit trust and is supported by Kerala Tourism. Here, we have the Festival Director Sabin Iqbal in conversation with Meera Nair.

  • What is the vision behind ‘Books on the Beach’? What does the Festival aim to achieve?

The vision of Books on the Beach is to grow into a global cultural brand, celebrating good writing and insightful conversations, making it a festival of literature and ideas. The two editions of the Hay Festival in the city in 2010 and 2011 were a huge success in terms of people participation, proving that we have a large community of book lovers.

Sabin Iqbal

                                                                                         Sabin Iqbal

The organisers of Books on the Beach, India Book Foundation, a nonprofit Trust, wants to do a homegrown, organic festival, creating an ecosystem of reading and writing. The annual festival will not be a one-off event. We are planning to launch Books on the Beach Book Club, which will have regular reading sessions and writing workshops for students in the city.

We are in discussions with Anita Nair, well-known author who runs Anita’s Attic, an author-mentorship programme in Bangalore, to conduct writing workshops in Thiruvananthapuram. Across the world, cities use international cultural festivals to brand them. We hope Books on the Beach will do that same for our capital city, and bring Kovalam back in the reckoning among international tourists.

  • What kind of participation do you envisage at the festival?

I don’t want to reveal any names now, but we have some well-known international writers coming to Books on the Beach. Some of them will be making their first trip to India. We also have a strong field of Indian writers in English and leading Malayalam writers. We will also have a strong line-up of international poets.

  • Do you think it is important to take literature to the masses? Or is it meant only for an elite few?

Why the elite? Or, who are the elite? The festival matters to those who love books and reading. And, books and their writers are made famous by the masses, not the elite. It may be true in the past, but Indian writing in English today has writers who are as earthy and grounded as the vernacular author. It is just that they prefer to write in English, which is one of the official Indian languages. We also focus on students and young readers, with a strong children’s segment.

  • The festival has the patronage of Dr. Shashi Tharoor, MP. What is his role?

booksonthebeach2He was instrumental in bringing Hay Festival to Thiruvananthapuram, the iconic festival’s first event in India. It was rather unfortunate than they couldn’t continue after two editions. Every year he speaks at global events, and knows the importance of creating a similar one in our city. He guides us to put together a quality festival, and is an active patron. For a new festival, it is hard to get big-ticket writers, but his personal invitations make a huge difference.

  • The festival is supported by Kerala Tourism. How do you plan to blend literature and tourism?

Culture is currency. It is cultural prowess that powers economic progress. Tourism and cultural offering of a city go hand-in-hand.

When we create Books on the Beach as an international brand, it puts the city on the global cultural map. Look at what Kochi-Muziris Biennale has done to Kochi in pushing tourism revenue.

Art and culture are important components in destination marketing. Books on the Beach will have lots of music, food and fun around the literary sessions. We want to bring people from outside Kerala to the festival.

  • What are some of the sessions we can look forward to?

It is too early to give you definite sessions, but there will be readings, conversations, storytelling, panel discussion, poetry sessions, etc.

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