In conversation with Sadaf Saaz, producer and director, Dhaka Lit Fest
The Dhaka Lit Fest is stepping into its ninth year. This is quite a feat for any international festival not just in Bangladesh but also in South Asia. How challenging has this been for the directors to continue through thick and thin?
Every year has brought its own (sometimes seemingly insurmountable!) challenges, on a variety of fronts. The global scene is also very different from when we started the festival back in 2011. Our deep belief in the importance of keeping this very special space, especially in view of shrinking places for complex and nuanced debate, has enabled us to overcome a lot that gets in our way. Just after the Holey Artisan Bakery attack in 2016, it was assumed that we would not proceed with the festival that year. We decided it was more important than ever to put the festival on, to reiterate our commitment to support pluralism and freedom of expression, and celebrate our syncretic and rich literary heritage. Despite a major sponsor pulling out that year, we put the festival on. It was a complete reaffirmation to us that Bangladeshi culture is still deep-rooted in our reality.
How do you think the DLF has contributed to widening the space for creative dialogues between writers from different parts of the world?
If you take a look at our programs, we carefully curate sessions which generate discussions between writers with diverse perspectives. When we started we were really not plugged into the globally literary scene. Informally, of course, over the years, our writers have developed friendships and connections with other writers abroad; in fact, we have had beautiful creative collaborations that have started at the Dhaka Lit Fest. It is also a place where writers have linked up with agents, publishers or have showcased work which has then been published internationally, thus allowing a greater number of readers around the world to read their work.
Alongside big names, Dhaka Lit Fest has always provided a solid platform to authentic young voices in both fiction and nonfiction from around the world. Why?
Not only do we feel that it is important to showcase young talent, we also feel Dhaka Lit Fest is a place to encourage communication between writers of different generations. We do want to nurture young writers, and also to enable them to connect to the right people, and reach a wider readership.
Who are the big names that canceled at the last minute this year?
Every year we have authors who back out for different reasons. An occupational hazard!
You produce the DLF every year. How difficult is it to find sponsors for a big event such as the DLF?
Every year it is tough to arrange money to put on this event. Despite the fact that the DLF has emerged as one of the key highlights of the Dhaka cultural calendar year, it still remains an enormous challenge to have consistent sponsors who understand our vision. Philanthropy of literature and the arts is still in its infancy in Bangladesh, and so we have to depend on sponsorships.
Do you have any special focus on women's issues this year, like the previous years?
Every year, we especially make an effort to bring out different perspectives from women. This year we look at how women view themselves as writers. We have a not-to-be-missed inaugural session with women writers from different continents in conversation. Violence against women is another huge issue, which seems to be increasing or evolving into new forms. We will have a fascinating conversation with leading legal experts and activists about issues of personal law, which permeates every aspect of our lives. We also explore this idea of how society views ageing, especially for women.