The Ceylon Literary & Art Festival : A chat with Ashok Ferrey

Jan 29 2024.

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We are just on the cusp of the second month of 2024 and Sri Lankan literary aficionados are in for another treat with the forthcoming Ceylon Literary and Art Festival which will take place from 8th to 12th February 2024. The first two days of the Festival will be held in Kandy and then move to Colombo for the final three days.

Sponsored by HSBC and curated by Sri Lanka’s leading literary luminary Ashok Ferrey, the festival promises a trove of respected authors both from Sri Lanka and overseas. The Ceylon Literary and Art Festival’s impressive social media campaign keeps offering tempting tidbits of information on the festival and whets the appetite of the island's literary lovers who are in for a treat. In this exclusive interview with Life, Ashok Ferrey elucidates what the festival offers both adults and children alike.

Q what is the purpose behind the Ceylon literary and art festival?
Owing to the unrest in the country and for various economic reasons, we have not had a literary festival in Sri Lanka for I think five years. So there is a crying need for it - people have been starved of literary entertainment for too long.

Q what is this festival's USP?
When you put together a festival you can't just match random authors to each other and expect a meaningful conversation to follow: you need to think long and hard about who will resonate with whom, and who might have a unique insight into whichever topic you have chosen for that session.

This is the responsibility of the Curator: a festival stands or falls on the strength of its curation. I like to think that this is our unique selling point. But I would say that wouldn't I? I am the Curator after all! (Elsewhere I have said that the Curator is like a marriage broker: he gets the blame if things go wrong; but if they go right, nobody remembers him!)

Q what were the challenges you faced in getting this off the ground?
People have been incredibly supportive, and I have a super efficient team, so there were actually very few challenges. We don't have a track record - this is the very first Ceylon Literary Festival - so I suppose that was a bit of a challenge. But because there hasn't been a festival for so long, there was a natural demand for one, a pent-up need, so that made things easier.

Q How important are events like this for Sri Lanka?
Hugely important! I would like to show the world the many positives that exist here - life here is not just about IMF loans or pandemics. There is a depth and subtlety here that is not often brought to the fore. As I keep saying in my writing, that Sri Lanka is not just about the sapphires and the elephants.

Q Some would level the criticism that events like this border on being elitist. How would you address that criticism?
This is a very important point. The English language (because of its colonial taint) has always been seen as an elitist language, the sword that cuts society into two, separating the haves from the have-nots.

We need to prove this wrong. English is, quite simply, the lingua franca of the world, and the sooner we realise this the better. Festivals like these help to de-mystify the language; and by making the festival entirely free for young people, we hope to send out the signal that everyone is welcome here, everyone has something to contribute, not just the rich and infamous.

Q in terms of literary offerings How diverse is the Ceylon Lit and Art Festival?

I hope I have included something for everyone. There are detective story writers and screenwriters, best-selling authors and diverse poets, one of the greatest playwrights on the planet and one of its greatest historians, a famous expert on antiques and a Guru of Sleep. Oh, there are sports writers and even a little Motown music too. Need I go on?

Q What programmes do you have for children and youth?
There is an entire stand-alone children's festival. As for youth, they get in absolutely free. They just need to register online.

Q How competitively priced are the tickets?
As I said before, students get in free. As for the rest,  I hope our ticket prices are substantially less than others.

Q What locations will the festival be held at?
In  Kandy (on the 8th of February) the festival will be held all day at Trinity College. On the 9th of February (also in Kandy) it will move to the Hotel Suisse. In Colombo (10th,11th and 12th of February) the festival will be held all three days at the Public Library in Vihara Maha Devi Park. I was keen to make the venue as accessible as possible so that people don't feel intimidated.

Q Who are some of the international authors attending the Ceylon Lit and Art Festival?
Sir David Hare, William Dalrymple, Louis de Bernieres, Shobhaa De, Anita Nair, Shrabani Basu, Preeti Shenoy - the list is fairly extensive.

Q as the Curator of the festival would you have any special hints and tips for those interested in booking passes?
Please decide when you would like to attend and buy a Day Pass for that day - this works out much cheaper than buying individual events. And don't worry if you're an old codger like me who cannot book anything online: there will be tickets at the door when you arrive - just come a little early in case there are queues.

PIX courtesy: Ceylon Literary and Art Festival


Tina Edward Gunawardhana

Tina Edward Gunawardhana is a journalist specialising in travel, fashion, lifestyle, cuisine and personalities. She is also the Deputy Editor for Hi!! Magazine. An intrepid traveller, she likes to show readers the world through her eyes and experiences. Follow her on Facebook,¬†Twitter and Instagram - tinajourno [email protected]



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