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Abdulrazak Gurnah, Yuval Noah Harari, Salman Rushdie, Rutger Bregman, Elif Shafak, Robin Sharma: Times Litfest 2023 had the biggest names ever at any Litfest!

After a two-year hiatus due to Corona, the Times Literature Festival re-emerged in its physical avatar with a bang this year. On February 11 and 12, 2023, the Times Literature Festival (TLF) was held at the Siri Fort Auditorium in New Delhi, and it witnessed the coming together of some of the world’s biggest literary names and thinkers, international and Indian best-selling authors, literary agents, and publishers– all under one roof! This gives the Times Litfest Delhi 2023 the status of being the only festival in the world to have hosted so many big names in a single edition!
In the list of participating authors were some of the world’s greatest writers, speakers and thinkers. Has any literature festival ever hosted interviews of Salman Rushdie, Yuval Noah Harari, Rutger Bregman, Elif Shafak, Robin Sharma, two Booker winners – Douglas Stuart and Shehan Karunatilaka, International Booker winner Geetanjali Shree, and Nobel Laureate Abdul Razak Gurnah — all in one edition? Times Literature Festival 2023 managed this feat by smartly interweaving physical events with the digital, and combining interviews that were taken exclusively for the Times Literature Festival over a period of time. A couple of physical interactions, such as with Yuval Noah Harari and Robin Sharma were recorded exclusively to be played for the first time at Times Literature Festival 2023.

Over the course of the two-day literary event, 120 participating speakers exchanged views and opinions in thought-provoking sessions. TLF hosted both– the 2022 Booker-winning Sri Lankan author Shehan Karunatilaka (‘The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida’) and the 2022 International Booker-winning Indian author Geetanjali Shree (‘Tomb of Sand’). Both Shree and Karunatilaka had their individual sessions, wherein they spoke about their works and writing journey, as well as panel discussions. Shree, on being asked why her Booker Prize winning book starts slow before gaining momentum later, said, “Why are you in such a hurry…. People who have read the book know something happens slowly; take pleasure in it as you do in the case of music, ragas. Why are you so harsh in giving time to books?” On being asked if he had any advice for aspiring young authors, Karunatilaka said, “Write only if you find a story will not leave you alone and you are the only one who can tell it the way it should be told.”
Says the Festival Director Vinita Dawra Nangia, “Times Litfest Delhi 2023 was a two-day frenzied fiesta of literature and ideas, where audiences were treated to talks, interviews and views of some of the world’s greatest contemporary writers and thinkers. Never before have so many of the world’s most-admired and respected writers and thinkers been available at one venue – physically or digitally. We are lucky to be the first to have this privilege. I strongly urge those who missed attending the lit fest this year to catch the greats on our videos.”

The 2021 Nobel Prize in Literature winner Abdulrazak Gurnah, author of the international bestseller ‘Homo Sapiens’ Yuval Noah Harari, and self-help coach author Robin Sharma were interviewed exclusively for TLF and their recorded videos were played as part of the festival, which garnered a lot of attention and praise by the audience. Some other video interviews, from the previous online TLF in 2021, were also played as a part of this year’s festival. They included interesting interactions with Salman Rushdie, Elif Shafak, 2020 Booker winner Douglas Stuart, Rutger Bregman, and Harlan Coben. It is noted that most of these recorded sessions beheld packed auditoriums, with interested audiences taking down notes of what these greats had to say.

Gurnah is known for exploring the themes of migration, refugees, and fractured identities. In his interview with Alexandra Pringle, executive publisher at Bloomsbury Publishing, Gurnah– who was a refugee in the UK himself- spoke about what inspired him to write about these themes, his journey as an author and winning the prestigious Nobel Prize in Literature. “I wasn’t coming across these people (refugees), even in books written by writers from Africa, or other parts of the world. The first thought was to write about them, about the stories that weren’t being told,” he said.

Talking about fiction and the responsibility of an author, Salman Rushdie said in his session with Vinita Dawra Nangia, “In many ways fiction is the opposite of a lie. The purpose of literature is to say what and who we are and move towards human truths whereas the purpose of a lie is to obscure the truth. Which is why historically authoritarians have attacked writers.”

“Indifference is the biggest threat to humanity right now. The inequalities in the world are deepening and widening and they feed on us. So rather than being a single-issue person, we need to see the connections. And we cannot forget that we are citizens of humanity first,” Elif Shafak, Turkish-British novelist and activist, told Vinita Dawra Nangia in her recorded session for the Times Litfest.

In his session with Shashi Tharoor, Rutger Bregman said, “What we need to do is become more optimistic about other people, about the human nature of others and try to trust those around us. Also, being a bit more critical of yourself is very important.”

Meanwhile, like every year, many best-selling Indian and international authors too also made an appearance at TLF to packed halls. International maestros including bestselling author Bernhard Moestl, and Vietnamese author and poet Nguyen Phan Que Mai also participated in the literary festival.

Some popular Indian authors who were also a part of TLF were Ashwin Sanghi, Anand Neelakantan, Preeti Shenoy, Ravinder Singh, Rana Safvi, Anuja Chandramouli, Jerry Pinto, Booker-shortlisted and International Booker jury member Jeet Thayil.

Not just established authors, but popular celebs-turned-authors and debutants were also a part of Times Litfest 2023. For instance: Indian businessman and former co-founder and managing director of the Indian fintech company BharatPe and the popular face of Shark Tank India, Ashneer Grover had a sparkling session with well known television commentator, actor and author, Suhel Seth around his memoir ‘Doglapan’ and his life experiences. “The term B-school is a misnomer. They don’t teach you how to do business, they only tell you how to get jobs,” said Grover during his session.

Motivational speaker and author of the self-help book ‘You Can Win’, Shiv Khera, hosted a houseful session at the litfest. Lt. Gen. (retd) Kanwal Jeet Singh Dhillon, who recently wrote his debut memoir, was also a speaker at the festival.

And how can Bollywood stars stay behind, when one talks about celebrities? Bollywood celebs who have either written their books or screenplays were a part of the litfest– thus making it an interesting platform for thinkers from various fields of life. Veteran actress Deepti Naval delivered a house-full session with regard to her latest memoir ‘A Country Called Childhood’. Filmmaker Vivek Agnihotri in his session talked about the importance of his film ‘Kashmir Files’ and the plight of Kashmiri pandits. Actor Amrita Rao and RJ Anmol held forth on their debut book ‘Couple of things’ and what prompted them to write it.

Some other big names with astounding sessions at the festival were Arun Shourie, Barkha Dutt, activist-author Meena Kandasamy, feminist author K.R Meera, Maroof Raza, former RAW-chief AS Dulat, filmmaker and screenplay writer Juhi Chaturvedi, author and VO artist Shobha Tharoor Srinivasan, RJ Sukriti, journalist-author Priyanka Sinha Jha, veteran sports journalist Pradeep Magazine, Sunit Tandon- Director of the India Habitat Centre and President of the Delhi Music Society, Navtej Sarna– former diplomat turned author, Suhel Seth, Suhas LY- IAS officer and silver medallist at the Tokyo Paralympics (2021) and Chairman of Flag Foundation, Parliamentarian and industrialist Naveen Jindal, among others. Apart from them, many publishers also took part in the two-day festival.

To watch all the Times Literature Festival videos, click here!
Watch all the recorded sessions with biggest International literary stars here.



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