Jaipur Literature Festival, the largest free book festival of its kind, returns to Boulder
André Aciman describes himself as “almost writer.” Although he wrote works of fiction and best-selling memoirs like “Call Me By Your Name” and “Out of Egypt,” the 71-year-old author emphasizes the adverb to capture the nuances of uncertainty that color our lives.
“I don’t think a belief is so grounded in reality or truth, and ‘almost’ gives it that extra hesitation, which is part of who I am,” Aciman said. “Without a doubt, I am nothing.”
Such ideas run through Aciman’s latest collection of essays, ‘Homo Irrealis’ – published in paperback earlier this year – and will take center stage when the acclaimed Egyptian-born Italian-American writer appears on the Colorado judgment of Jaipur Literature Festival at the Boulder Public Library Main Branch, September 16-18.
More than 60 novelists, poets, artists and changemakers from around the world will gather for the annual traveling literary event which began nearly two decades ago in Rajasthan, India. Boulder is one of only three stops in the United States for this year’s festival.
“I was blown away when I first went to the city of Jaipur in India for the festival,” Aciman said. “There must have been about 2,000 people of all kinds listening to me talk about my book. It’s another world, opening the writers up to different populations of extremely welcoming and educated people. Who can say no to that?”
But transporting that other world to Boulder took time, according to JLF Colorado executive director Jessie Friedman. Like Aciman, the local psychotherapist drew inspiration from her experience at the Indian festival in 2014, basking in the intellect of literary heavyweights like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Orhan Pamuk.
When Friedman returned to the Front Range after her visit, she knew she wanted to bring the event back to her home in the foothills.
“I thought Boulder was a perfect place because of our openness, our intellectual nature and our curiosity,” she said. “But making it happen here was really a circus – a good circus. No one really knew what was going on or what it was.
Nearly a decade later, the event billed as “the world’s largest free literary festival” will mark its seventh stop in Boulder this fall, with a slew of free talks, workshops, performances and more. The three-day fair will bring together writers from around the world to discuss their work alongside the most pressing issues of the day – from polarization to peacebuilding, and intermediate points.
“These conversations touch so deeply on the human condition and what we do here,” Friedman said.
“Boulder fights above his weight class”
Boulder may seem like the center of the universe to some residents, but the foothills hamlet with a population of just over 100,000 was not on JLF organizers’ radar until Friedman reached out to Teamwork Arts Director Sanjoy K. Roy to argue that he should host the first U.S. expansion of his organization’s flagship literary event.
Fresh out of her JLF experience in India, Friedman prepared what she calls an “in-depth presentation” on why her hometown would be the perfect site. But hopes dimmed when she learned that the heads of organizations like The Getty in Los Angeles and the Aspen Institute in Colorado – not to mention Chicago powerhouses Oprah and former mayor Richard Daley – were pushing for host the expanding literary event in their respective cities.
“I didn’t think we had a chance,” she said. “But two weeks later, Sanjoy was in my living room. We took him on a tour of Boulder and he fell in love.
Boulder was suddenly on the verge of becoming the first location in the United States to host the massive festival, but a question of location remained. When Boulder Public Library director David Farnan heard that JLF was reducing its sights on the city, he saw the opportunity to make the case for the library and invited organizers for a tour of the facility. of 92,000 square feet in the heart of downtown.
“It was really about the idea of bringing a world-class literature festival to Boulder,” Farnan said. “I found a lot of support within the city, including then-mayor Matt Appelbaum. Everyone was excited about the prospect of Boulder Public Library being the venue for the Jaipur Literature Festival.
This enthusiasm will increase the following year, when the library will be baptized Colorado Library of the Year 2016 by the Colorado Association of Libraries in part because of what Friedman calls Farnan’s “visionary” approach in bringing programs like JLF.
“The mayor told me, ‘Boulder always fights above his weight class.’ And I thought that was an interesting way to look at it,” Farnan said. “When Boulder Public Library became a venue for the Jaipur Literature Festival, we were definitely way above our weight class.”
This year, Boulder will be one of the three American stages of the international festival, alongside Houston and New York. Visitors can expect what Farnan calls a “total transformation” of the library’s second floor into a 400-seat performance space.
But for Friedman, whose own vision helped bring the festival to Boulder nearly a decade ago, the real transformation occurs in the lives of audience members after the last speaker leaves the stage.
“People usually leave knowing more about a topic they didn’t know much about before, or with a new understanding of events in other parts of the world,” she said. “I think people will be very moved by what’s going on here.”
In addition to André Aciman, participating artists this year will include local talent like Aurora Poet Laureate Ahja Fox to the journalist and former Indian diplomat Gopalkrishna Gandhi – a grandson of Mahatma Gandhi – who will premiere the film in Colorado”Ahimsa Gandhi: The Power of the Powerless” by director Ramesh Sharma during a paid benefit gala September 16.