Dhaka Literary Festival (DLF), held at the historic premises of the Bangla Academy every year since 2012, marks a resurgence of Bangladeshi literary culture while vigorously engaging other cultures far beyond our own borders. DLF held a pilot event in 2011 under the aegis of the world famous Hay-on-Wye festival. It was Peter Florence who thought to try out Dhaka as one of the many “unexpected” stops in Hay’s journeys across the world. Tahmima Anam and Sadaf Saaz staged the first one-dayer, while Jatrik – producer of the event to this day – livened it up with thatched bamboo stalls for books and tea and wide outreach to local writers and readers.
Ahsan Akbar and K. Anis Ahmed joined Sadaf Saaz and Tahmima Anam in 2012, as key organisers, and with three rapid iterations – 2012, 2013 and 2014 – the festival established Dhaka’s place in the global literary circuit. In 2015, DLF marked its fifth anniversary and assumed a new name - Dhaka Lit Fest - to mark its commitment to promoting Dhaka and Bangladeshi culture to the world. It will continue to draw upon Bengal’s rich tradition, urban and folk, from founding stalwarts like Rabindranath Tagore and Lalon Shah, to the most striking contemporary and debutant voices. It will also keep expanding its reach across disciplines and genres: fiction and literary non-fiction to history, politics and society; poetry and translations; science and mathematics; philosophy and religion.
Jatrik’s deft touch continues to make the festival appealing to an ever-widening audience, especially a youth looking for ways to realize its potential. They draw inspiration from recitations by living legends like Syed Shamsul Huq and Joy Goswami and are treated to cultural expressions ranging from Pala-gaan to Bangla rap. DLF’s Cosmic Tent has inspired children with storytelling, puppet shows and science sessions. Last year, DLF worked with WOW to bring a new focus on women’s expanding role in the contemporary world, and its many challenges.
Over 250 participants from 13 different countries took part in the event last year, and it was attended by more than 20,000 attendees. DLF alumni include Vikram Seth, Tariq Ali, Rosie Boycott, William Dalrymple, Ahdaf Soueif, Shashi Tharoor, Jung Chang and Pankaj Mishra. Stalwarts of Bangla literature, Hasan Azizul Huq, Selina Hossain, Debesh Roy, Nirmalendu Goon, and others, have also of course graced the stage.
The festival has inspired two literary journals in English and three new English fiction imprints from Dhaka. It is in turn supported by new entities like the Dhaka Translation Center, which will launch its Library of Bangladesh series this year. An increasing number of our authors are getting published abroad thanks to links made with publishers and agents at the festival.
DLF is not just about bringing the world and our audience closer, but enriching that very world by acting as a crucible and a catalyst for fresh, fierce creative expression.