Festival in Focus: Kerala Literature Festival

Check out the highlights of the Kerala Literature Festival, which is back again on the beaches of Kozhikode

The Kerala Literature Festival has grown from humble beginnings in 2001 with the founding of the DC Kizhakemuri Foundation, which sought to foster a dynamic space for arts and culture in the state. The festival which officially launched in 2016 has since become a platform for free expression and discourse among authors, intellectuals and activists. After a two-year pandemic hiatus, the Kerala Literature Festival returns in its physical form with a jam-packed schedule. Join in on conversations with Yuval Noah Harari about the human race, Japanese writer Yōko Ogawa about her book The Memory Police, Kamal Hassan on his action thriller Vikram, Manu S Pillai and Rana Safvi as they shed light on Indian history and many more. Against the stunning backdrop of the Kozhikode beach, the festival promises to celebrate words, ideas, and stories. 400 distinguished speakers come together to create a vibrant intersection of diverse voices, sparking new ideas and fresh perspectives on literature and the world.

We interviewed Hitha Haridas, the Content and Programming Lead at the Kerala Literature Festival, to discuss the festival’s return and showcase this year’s literary highlights. Edited excerpts: 

This is KLF’s 6th year. Can you talk to us about the festival’s beginnings and how it has evolved over the years?

The  DC Kizhakemuri Foundation is a philanthropic organisation established in 2001 in honour of the Late DC Kizhakemuri; Indian writer, activist, freedom-fighter and book publisher from Kerala. The foundation was looking for a forum for active conversations and dialogues, as well as a cultural space for social interaction. The result was the founding of the Kerala Literature Festival in 2016, a premier literary festival of India held annually on the beaches of Calicut. The Kerala Literature Festival has swiftly become one of the largest cultural gatherings in Asia and the largest in South India.

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The idea of a literature festival along the beach sounds dreamy and exciting at once. How would you say the location brings out the essence of the festival?

KLF is set on the Kozhikode beach and serves as a reminder of Kerala’s historical significance as the centre of spice trade. The Zamorins who once ruled the region maintained elaborate trade relations with the Muslim Middle-Eastern sailors in the Indian Ocean and helped Kozhikode become an important entrepôt in South-Western India. The venue also helps recall the famous European explorer Vasco da Gama’s journey to the western coast of India and the contributions of literary stalwarts such as Vaikom Muhammad Basheer and Uroob. Kozhikode, once part of the Malabar region, has all the charms for hosting a cultural gathering. Set a few metres away from the Arabian Sea, the venue provides a picturesque backdrop for the literature festival.

How does it feel to be back again after two long years?

It has been tremendous! The response has been overwhelming. This year we have 500+ guests with 250 sessions and cultural programmes and delegations from across the world. The festival is larger than any of its previous editions and we hope to have a wider reach this year, given KLF’s popularity among tourists and students alike. The festival is open for people of all interests and pertains to all categories of people. 

What literary pilgrimage destinations would you recommend in Kerala?

The Kochi Muziris Biennale (KMB) and the International Film Festival of Kerala (IFFK) are some of the key attractions in the state, besides  the Kerala Literature Festival. 

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Tell us about some of the chief offerings in this year’s festival. 

Nobel Laureates Abhijit Banerjee and Ada Yonath, 2022 Booker Prize winner Shehan Karunatilaka, International Booker Prize winner Geethanjali Shree, American indologist and author Wendy Doniger, American author Yoko Ogawa, Jeffery Archer, Yuval Noah Harari, Sagarika Ghose, Tushar Gandhi, Lord Meghnath Desai, Sudha Murthy, advertising guru Piyush Pandey, Rockstar Remo Fernandes, industrialists and entrepreneurs such as Govind Dholakia and “Kris” Gopalakrishnan will be attending the literature fest. Movie stalwarts like Prakash Raj, Kamal Hassan will also feature in this year’s prominent sessions. As part of the literature fest, mega movie screenings are organised every night on the beach. A children’s session at KLF is organised as a festival first. Award winning authors and illustrators such as Emmanuelle Houssais from France, Richa Jha—founder of the children’s independent publishing house Pickle Yolk Books, prominent children’s publishers like Amar Chitra Katha, Mango Books; and non-profit organisation like the Parag Initiative are part of the various activities at the KLF. The children’s literary fest at KLF aims to inculcate reading habits among children and also develop their creative and artistic interests. As part of the literature fest, mega movie screenings are organised every night on the beach. 

A children’s session at KLF is organised as a festival first. Award winning authors and illustrators such as Emmanuelle Houssais from France, Richa Jha—founder of the children’s independent publishing house Pickle Yolk Books, prominent children’s publishers like Amar Chitra Katha, Mango Books; and non-profit organisation like the Parag Initiative are part of the various activities at the KLF. The children’s literary fest at KLF aims to inculcate reading habits among children and also develop their creative and artistic interests.

Wendy Doniger, Arundhati Roy, Abhijit Banerjee and many others are going to be present at this year’s festival. How can audiences expect to engage and interact with them? 

This year’s festival will be much bigger than the past five years’. Interestingly enough, the eminent economist Abhijit Banerjee will be seen speaking about his passion for cooking. We also have fun and interesting sessions on cryptocurrency, interactive sessions with Piyush Pandey, storytelling and craft workshops for children. What’s more, Jeffery Archer will be coming live to interact with readers. 

If a festival attendee is in town only for 24 hours, how would you recommend they spend their time?

If you are coming by rail to Kozhikode, the beach is 1.5 km. away. You can have a splendid breakfast at Adam’s Chayakada before attending the various sessions at the festival. You can also visit the SM Street (popularly called Mittayi Theruvu) for a shopping spree, then find your way to the Mananchira park in Central Kozhikode and visit the bookstores around town. Don’t forget to try the mouth-watering biryani at the iconic Paragon restaurant. Shop for Kozhikode special sweets like halwa and come back by evening to the beach to enjoy the sunset and experience the festival hit its peak with cultural programmes.

For more articles on festivals in India, check out our Read section of this website.

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