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JLF-2019 speakers' list hints at focus on gender, climate

Dec 05, 2018

The literary ‘Kumbh’ has hosted nearly 2000 speakers and welcomed over a million booklovers over the past decade.

New Delhi: Set to take place between 24-28 January 2019, the annual high noon of literature returns to its customary home, Jaipur’s glorious Diggi Palace Hotel –for its 12th edition. To be followed by its Mumbai preview on Wednesday, the Festival held its Delhi preview in partnership with the Taj Group of Hotels at the Taj Mahal Hotel today. A veritable power-house roster of speakers was unveiled this evening which, like every year, reflects the diversity of the Festival’s programming in books, themes, subjects, and ideas representing literature and thoughts intrinsic to both India and the world.

The literary ‘Kumbh’ has hosted nearly 2000 speakers and welcomed over a million booklovers over the past decade, evolving into a global literary spectacle. This year, the Festival will host over 350 speakers writers, thinkers, politicians, journalists and popular cultural icons from across a vast array of nationalities, representing several Indian and international languages as well as major awards such as the Nobel, the Man Booker, the Pulitzer, the Sahitya Akademi, the JCB Prize for Literature and the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature.

The list of speakers features a stellar line-up of Indian and international names covering issues as kaleidoscopic as the classics, war, espionage, intelligence, politics, environment and climate change, women and gender, management and entrepreneurship, technology, along with broader themes such as mythology, crime science, history, cinema.

On the list are some of the world’s greatest thinkers and writers: Nobel laureate Venki Ramakrishnan, President of the Royal Society and author of Gene Machine: The Race to Decipher the Secrets of the Ribosome which unlocks the mysteries of the gene-reading molecule, one of humanity’s greatest puzzles; Ben Okri, whose Man-Booker-winning The Famished Road, asks the haunting question “who is the prisoner?”, and who will get to the heart of his own life and writing; Colson Whitehead, author of six novels, versatile columnist for the New York Times, The New Yorker, New York Magazine, Harper's and Granta among others, winner of the 2016 National Book Award for Fiction and the 2017 Pulitzer for his heart-stopping tour de force, Underground Railroad; Priyamvada Natarajan, a cosmologist noted for her work in mapping dark matter, dark energy, and black holes, a Professor at Yale, and acclaimed author of Mapping the Heavens: The Radical Scientific Ideas That Reveal the Cosmos, who will take attendees on a tour to “map the heavens” across the greatest cosmological discoveries of the past century.

The 2019 line-up continues to scintillate minds thirsty for knowledge with Harvard Professor of History and Pulitzer finalist Sven Beckert whose The Empire of Cotton weaves together the story of cotton with how the present world order, amidst a constant and complex interplay between slaves and planters, merchants and statesmen, workers and factory-owners, came to exist while ushering in forces of modern capitalism; master of the twist-in-the-tale Jeffery Archer who will speak about his extraordinarily dramatic and chequered life, and introduce his recently-released Heads You Win, a work of fiction spanning two continents and thirty years.

Celebrated British Nigerian broadcaster and film-maker David Olusoga will be in conversation with Sir Richard Evans, formerly Regius Professor of Modern History at Cambridge University, as he defends the role of history as an imperative to our understanding of the way we live; in ‘The World's War: Forgotten Soldiers of Empire’ Olusoga will focus on how Europe's Great War became the World's War –and discuss the chilling paraphernalia of the era's racial obsessions which dictated which men would serve, how they would serve and to what degree they would suffer.

Olusoga will be in conversation with Reni Eddo-Lodge on the latter’s bestseller Why I'm No Longer Talking to White People About Race which won the 2018 British Book Awards Non-Fiction Narrative Book of the Year and sparked a national conversation in Britain on class and race and their complicated and bloody trail of conflict. Eddo-Lodge will be in discussion too with Cambridge Professor of Classics, classics editor of the Times Literary Supplement and vocal feminist Mary Beard about history’s flawed positioning of women under the shadow of dominating cultural misogyny, especially relevant in the aftermath of #MeToo.

Beard will additionally talk of the history of Rome, a civilization and an empire which was the fulcrum of Western history controlling vast tracts between Spain and Syria, and laying the foundation for several subsequent realities such as slavery, citizenship, democracy, religious controversy, migration, with fellow historian, acclaimed broadcaster, and King’s College Professor Bettany Hughes, whose captivating book on Istanbul, that feisty and dazzling pastiche of a city rich with history, conflict and antiquity, will also feature in a discussion at the Festival with William Dalrymple.

Diplomat Navtej Sarna in ‘The Post American World’ will elaborate upon how the growth of India, China, Brazil, Russia and Africa is generating a new landscape and will soon push the West out of its position of complacence and hegemony to one that recognises this seismic power shift; Sarna will join Kishwar Desai, author of Jallianwala Bagh, 1919, among others, to seek the backstory of that fateful day of April 13, 1919 a century after; writer and columnist Ira Mukhoty, author of Daughters of the Sun: Empresses, Queens and Begums of the Mughal Empire, will discuss Nur Jehan and the other indomitable Mughal women who in many ways defined that era.

A session has been set for ‘Tharoorisms’ where the prolific Shashi Tharoor will speak of his personal and political beliefs and his vast oeuvre of work laced with his characteristic wit.

Australian Professor Darryl Jones, well-known ecologist and naturalist, author of The Birds at My Table, will focus on what is perhaps the modern world’s most critical crisis: climate change, and the ingenuity required to reverse its shattering consequences while in another session he will discuss the fragile balance of human interaction with the other species with whom we share our planet; Akhil Katyal, poet, gay-rights activist and candid commentator, will feature in discussions on our visceral link with our mother-tongues as well as on Poetry Hour, a daily series of poetry readings. Malayalam author Benyamin whose intense Jasmine Days won the first JCB Prize for Literature and follows the story of the Arab Spring, examining love, loyalty, friendship, family, life and death along the way, will speak of the writing process in depth.

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