Living Knowledge blog

07 June 2017

Sellout success: Jaipur Literary Festival lights up the Library

Audience at Inaugural Address of ZEE JLF at British Library photo by Stuart Armitt - SMALLER

On Saturday 20 and Sunday 21 May we had a taste of ‘the greatest literature show on Earth’ as the legendary Jaipur Literature Festival came to the British Library at St Pancras.

Founded in 2006 Jaipur Literature Festival sees authors from South Asia and across the world come together for five days of readings, debates and discussions in Jaipur, India. May 2017 was the fourth London edition of the festival, and we were thrilled to be hosting it as part of the events marking the seventieth anniversary of Indian independence and the UK-India Year of Culture.

ZeeJLF @ BL was a fantastically rich and vibrant takeover of the Library, with spoken word, music, performance and debate spread across the Knowledge Centre, a temporary marquee on the piazza, and a specially erected stage in the Entrance Hall.

Nayanika Mahtani in Meet the Mongols_ZEE JLF@British Library_INDIA UK YEAR OF CULTURE_Photo Stuart Armitt 3 - SMALLERNayanika Mahtani in Meet the Mongols, ZEE JLF@British Library. Photo: Stuart Armitt.

Hailed by the Indian Express as a ‘sellout success’, the festival saw crowds flocking to the Library, including many first-time visitors, from Saturday morning till late on Sunday, enjoying everything from a panel on P G Wodehouse in India, to an extraordinary collaboration between White Mughals author William Dalrymple and musician Vidya Shah.

One of the Library’s core Purposes is our commitment to international collaboration: we promise to 'work with partners around the world to advance knowledge and mutual understanding', and this reflects the fact that while we may be the British Library, our collections are truly international. The Library's culture and learning programming is always layered with distinct elements reflecting our collections and expertise from all parts of the world, and our recently opened exhibitions about the Russian Revolution at our London base, and an exhibition about icons of British literature in Beijing, are testament to this.    

Gramophone Women_Vidya Shah with Rachel Dwyer_ZEE JLF at British Library 2017_Photo by Stuart Armitt 2 - SMALLERGramophone Women: Vidya Shah with Rachel Dwyer at ZEE JLF at British Library. Photo: Stuart Armitt.

Special sessions highlighted the richness of our collections and curatorial knowledge base, and featured several curators working with collections from and relating to South Asia, including a session highlighting ten treasures from our South Asian collections.

On Saturday evening, British Library Chairman Tessa Blackstone welcomed VIP guests, including the High Commissioner of India to the UK, His Excellency Mr Y K Sinha. Celebrations continued at the High Commissioner’s residence on Sunday night once the festival had ended.

The singular JLF atmosphere – colours, crowds streaming across the Library piazza in the sun (another, unexpected, import from Jaipur), the sounds of the musicians who start each day with a gloriously uplifting Reveille – did not so much transform as amplify those very special British Library spaces.

The Dishonourable Company_Giles Milton_John Keay_Jon Wilson_Zareer Masani in conversation wtih WIlliam Dalrymple 4 - SMALLERGiles Milton, John Keay, Jon Wilson and Zareer Masani in conversation (with William Dalrymple) on the history of the East India Company. Photo: Stuart Armitt.

What made JLF's new residency at the BL so congruent was the connections each panellist or speaker could draw to the exceptional Library collections that relate to India and the wider region. Whether poet Daljit Nagra explaining his version of the Ramayana, author Shrabani Basu in conversation with director Stephen Frears about the research for her book Victoria and Abdul (released as a film this autumn), or a session on the East India Company, participants made explicit links to – and grateful acknowledgment of – the resources and curatorial interpretation of the Library

The feat of organisational and imaginative energy needed to host a Festival of this scale was tremendous, and drew on huge contributions from across the Library, led by Head of Cultural Events Jon Fawcett and his team.

Building on the success of the festival in London, and on our presence in Jaipur earlier this year with a facsimile of Magna Carta, we hope to collaborate more in the future.

Jamie Andrews

Head of Culture and Learning