Another edition of the Galle Literary Festival (GLF) ended on January
22, firmly embedding the festival on the world’s literary map. A large
number of people including foreign visitors actively participated in the
five-day event, which featured authors from around the English speaking
world, including several well known writers from Sri Lanka itself.
Judging by the enthusiastic response to the event, people have still
not lost their love for books despite the advent of television and other
entertainment options. Everyone loves to hear an author talk about his
or her experiences, approach to writing and future projects.
Literature is not a ‘dead’ subject – it is very much alive in the way
we interact with books and authors.
The GLF was more accessible this year in more ways than one.
Physically, the Southern Expressway made the GLF easily accessible to
those in the Western Province. I started my journey from home around
7.30 a.m. on the festival days and was at either Hall de Galle or
Maritime Museum by 9 a.m. For most people, it negated the need to stay
over in Galle or in the vicinity for all four days. At the end of the
day’s proceedings, they could simply head to their homes in Colombo and
come again the next morning. The fuel cost, even for a luxury car, is
lower than the cost of a four-day hotel stay.
The GLF was also accessible in another sense – many of the events,
including non-literary events such as documentary film shows and dance
performances were free – one did not need a festival or day pass to
attend these. This is a commendable move on the part of the organisers.
We hope that this trend would continue in the coming years, because a
GLF day or festival pass is still out of reach for some people.
Hopefully, more sponsors would come forward to make more events free to
The GLF essentially remains focused on ‘English’ literature, but it
would be even more interesting if the event can feature more authors
from the non-English speaking world as well. This year’s festival
featured famous German author Ingo Schulze, many of whose books are
available in translated form.
It is also essential for GLF organisers to recognise the efforts of
Sri Lankan writers not only from the Diaspora but also those who live
It has been pointed out that the standard of many local writers who
write in English would not be up to the standards acceptable to
festivals of this nature.
But they need to be encouraged and their talents must be nurtured so
that they too can be a part of the widerliterary scene. One should also
not forget the Sri Lankan writers who use the vernacular languages as
their medium of expression.
This year’s festival featured a program on Martin Wickramasinghe, an
icon of Sinhala literature and another event on Sinhala literature in
general. These are laudable initiatives that would also open the eyes of
foreign participants to the rich literary tradition in Sri Lanka.
There should essentially be a program or mechanism to translate some
of the best Sinhala and Tamil books to English, French, German and
leading Asian languages.
That brings us to the question of having a literary event on the
lines of the GLF for Sinhala and Tamil books and writers. True, the
State holds a Literary Award ceremony for rewarding the authors of the
best vernacular books of the year, but as far as we know, there is no
event where local readers and book lovers can interact with the authors
in a convivial setting.
True, there are book launches almost every week, but that cannot
match the aura of a festival spread over several days. Perhaps
performing arts too could be infused to this festival.
Now that Galle has been taken, another city can be selected to hold
such a festival every year or key cities can host the festival each
year. Interestingly, Sri Lanka is becoming a literary, art and
performing art hub in the region.
The GLF is now hailed as one of the leading literary festivals in the
world. Its art equivalent, the Colombo Art Biennale, will be held in
February, with a similar mixture of art shows, talks, dinners with
artists etc. The Symphony Orchestra of Colombo will begin its 2012
season with a session of German Masterworks, with a German conductor at
the helm at the brand new state-of-the-art auditorium at Musaeus
The Lotus Pond Mahinda Rajapaksa Theatre, with its ultra-modern stage
and auditorium has become a truly world-class venue for local and
foreign artistes. The newly refurbished BMICH Main Hall will also add to
Colombo’s allure as a performing arts capital in the region. Indeed, the
availability of several brand new halls is an impetus for the growth of
performing arts in Sri Lanka.
We hope that in the long term, all of Sri Lanka’s main cities would
get at least one truly world class auditorium which will enable art to
move beyond Colombo. Sri Lanka has also begun hosting an international
film festival, a trend that should continue. More opportunities should
be created especially for those in the outstations to see and appreciate
international art house films in all languages.
It is also enlightening to note that the Facebook generation really
cares for art and literature. The annual Colombo International Book
Festival held at the BMICH in September, a focal point for local
literature, attracts tens of thousands of youngsters.
This augurs well for the future. Parents and teachers have a major
role to play in urging children to read more. They may prefer to read
their books and magazines on a Kindle or an iPad, but what ultimately
matters is their enthusiasm for reading.
If they do not like to read ‘dead tree’ books, so be it. And if at
least some of them take to creative writing, that can be seen as a
victory. We need a next generation well versed in the art of writing and