NY Celebrates Diversity in Literature at the [email protected] Literary Festival

New York

At the 5th Annual IAAC Literary Festival, the Indo-American Arts Council celebrated literary works representing South Asian heritage. On October 19 and 20, authors and poets, all of them multiple award-winning and acclaimed in their own right, participated in talks and readings, making it an unforgettable experience for adults and children alike. Festival Director Nili Lakhani said that in addition to the Adult Lit festival, "The need of the hour is diversity in youth literature and pioneering initiatives such as the children's lit festival help push forward important conversations and lead to a real change in children's literature publishing. Our vision is to create a place where Indian-American children see themselves reflected within the literature they read".

At the festival -
Kanchan Koya presented The Spice Spice Baby Cookbook, a first-of-its-kind cookbook detailing the science of spices. She held the audience's attention by debunking myths, discussing the powerful benefits of the spices and inspired the attendees to cook with the spices.

Renowned scholar and curator at the MET Museum, John Guy, shared his extensive knowledge of South Asian art with a visually stunning presentation, detailing his book
Art and Independence: Y. G. Srimati and the Indian Style

Anjali Sachdeva talked about growing up between two cultures, how her debut short story collection, All the Names They Used for God, Best book of 2018 by NPR, written over 12 years, came to be, the common thread between the stories, how it was written and more

Jennifer Acker, author of the debut novel The Limits of the World, was in conversation with Megha Majumdar, the associate editor at Catapult. She spoke about how the book is framed by family that has moved to a new continent almost every generation, to India, East Africa and then to the US. Spanning four generations and three continents, the book illuminates the vast mosaic of cultural divisions and ethical considerations that shape the ways in which people judge others' actions

Author of the bestseller The Last Queen of Kashmir, Rakesh Kaul was in conversation with Gabriela Nik Ilieva, Director of the South Asian Languages program at NYU. The festival featured the NY launch of Dawn: The Warrior Princess of Kashmir, a sci-fi saga that reveals eternal truths as it traverses the terrains of the Kashmir Valley, the birthplace of the greatest stories ever. In this Dystopian story, the protagonist seeks out secrets hidden in the Niti folk tales of Kashmir and unlock the powers within her to become the ultimate warrior.

Susham Bedi, who currently teaches Modern Indian Literature at City University of New York and previously taught at Columbia University, held a very engaging talk with Gabriela and spoke of her journey and her work in Hindi Literature which has been widely translated.

Maya Lang, novelist and author of the forthcoming memoir What We Carry, presented an intimate and personal account of her relationship with her mother in conversation with IAAC Chairman Dr. Mattoo. The talk left the audience in a very emotional state.

Actor Anupam Kher held the audience in rapt attention during his chat about his new book Lessons Life Taught me, Unknowingly: An Autobiography. The crowd was entertained and inspired with the stories and snippets he shared from his life. On the occasion, he said: "Thank you, Indo-American Arts Council for launching my book with so much of warmth. Thank you, Dr. Mattoo for being such a generous moderator. And having Sarod Maestro Amjad Ali Khan in the audience was my ultimate high and honor."

This year, IAAC also celebrated the 1st Annual [email protected] Children's Literary Festival. The Indo-American Arts Council and The Culture Tree partnered together to program a festival that helped ignite young minds in a way only words and thoughts can.

Speaking at the event, Anu Sehgal, Founder of The Culture Tree, said, "Our mission is to provide Cultural Literacy specially on South Asia. As cultural educators, we are looking to providing children with authentic, immersive, fun and inspiring experiences. This fall we have introduced puppet shows and a literary festival that will take cross-cultural learning a different level. Through events like these, we can offer cross-cultural exposure that can help shape knowledgeable, open-minded and respectful individuals. We all know there is a huge diversity gap in children's books in America. People of color make up 37% of the U.S. population, but only 10% of children's books published in the past 21 years include multicultural content. We want books that our kids read to be Windows into a new world, but we also want them to be MIRRORS into their heritage and their experiences, something that is extremely empowering!"

The authors who participated in this session were:

Veera Hiranandani with her Newbery award winning The Night Diary, A fictional account of one family's experience during the partition of India into two countries in 1947. The story is told in the form of diary entries written by the main character, Nisha, beginning on her 12th birthday, addressed to her deceased mother. Moderating Veera Hiranandani's session was Namrata Tripathi, Publisher at Kokila Books, an imprint of Penguin Young Readers, which publishes inclusive books for children and young adults across all formats and genres.

Celebrated author Roopa Pai, who flew in from India, presented an interactive session with her talk on The Ten Powerful Ideas From Ancient India that explores modern day questions parents and children face everyday

Actress Sheetal Sheth with her first children's book Always Anjali, which won the 2019 Purple Dragonfly Book Award Grand Prize

Mona Sehgal, with her debut novel Under the African Sky. The story of Krishna, an Indian-American boy who struggles to reconcile his Indian heritage with American childhood. Set against the backdrop of the African wilderness, the story also highlights themes of natural and environmental harmony and conflict. The session was followed by the acclaimed Ramleela Puppet Storytime show presented by The Culture Tree. Through the art of puppeteering, the children celebrated the magic of Diwali while learning the true meaning of devotion, love, kindness and valor.

Kavita Bafana, who presented the cultural show Little Ustaads and read from Namaste Jaipur part of the Namaste series of books, a six-part series that brings the cities of India to children all around the world through well-written text and beautiful images. Her interactive session included a musical journey that brought young children to Jaipur using music, imagination and play.

Raakhee Mirchandani, a crusader against pediatric cancer, brought to the children, the story of Super Satya Saves the Day, a brilliantly animated story that explores the inner hero in all children

Akruti Babaria, Founder of Kulture Khazana, which made the festival even more fun by incorporating song and dance into the sessions, had this to say, "This is a phenomenal platform to bring creatives together for our children, passing down heritage and sharing stories about Indian culture. Everyone has a story and every child loves a good story.we need to make sure our children see themselves in these stories and grow up to be fearless to tell theirs!"

Attendee Havisha Karihaloo, who flew in from Houston, said of the event: "Thank you for such a wonderful opportunity for Indian heritage kids. wrapping this travel with peace in heart and an experience that will last. Hope to you bring this to other cities soon."

The awards for the Expressions literary contest for children were given out by Consul General of India in New York Sandeep Chakravorty, who provided his support to the festival and encouraged IAAC to take the literary festival to other cities. Other dignitaries who graced the occasion and gave away the awards were actor Anupam Kher, Sarod Maestro Amjad Ali Khan and his sons Ayaan Ali Bangash and Amaan Ali Bangash. Director of the South Asian Languages Program at NYU Gabriela Nik Ileva provided extensive support to all aspects of planning and execution of the festival as IAAC forged a new partnership with the Hagop Kevorkian Center at New York University.

The winners of the Expressions Literary Contest for children at the [email protected] Literary Festival were:

Uma Tiwari, 5 years, Drawing
Vikram Sethi, 7 years, Hamare Gandhiji poem
Nikhil Sethi, 10 years, Interpretation of Eidgah
Dev Lakhani, 11 years, Drawing
Sahana Dhama, 13 years, essay

Ravi Shankar, poet extraordinaire and a diaspora Icon, led an evening of poetry reading at the end of the inaugural day. Poets from all over the world participated in this one-of-a-kind experience for the audience. Guests mingled, had book conversations and got their books signed at the post event wine reception. Poets who participated include:

The Green Rose Prize in Poetry winner Jaswinder Bolina. His first collection of essays, Of Color, is being released in March 2020.

The poet laureate of Suffolk County, Long Island, Pramila Venkateswaran. She is also the 2011 Walt Whitman Birthplace Association Long Island Poet of the Year.

Kirun Kapur, named by NBCNews on their 2015 list of Asian-American Poets to Watch.

The first non-Irishman to win the Patrack Kavanaugh Prize, Kashmiri-born Rafiq Kathwari.

Former editor at PEN America, Guernica, and A Public Space, Diane Mehta whose debut poetry collection, Forest with Castanets, came out in March 2019.

Yale art historian and winner of the (Great) Indian Poetry Collective's Emerging Poets Prize, Subhashini Kaligotla who read from her first book of poems ,Bird of the Indian Subcontinent.

Poet and novelist and winner of the Kathryn A. Morton Poetry Prize Monica Ferrell whose poetry collection You Darling Thing was named a New & Noteworthy selection by The New York Times.

Poet, teacher and publisher of Yuganta Press, Ralph Nazareth who is the author of four books of poems.

Tsering Wangmo Dhompa who has multiple poetry collections and is the finalist for the 2012 Northern California Independent Bookseller's Book of the Year Award.

Poet/diplomat Indran Amirthanayagam who has published sixteen collections thus far, including the Elephants of Reckoning which won the 1994 Paterson Prize in the United States.

Pushcart prize winning poet, translator and professor Ravi Shankar who has published, edited or has forthcoming over fifteen books, including the Muse India award-winning translations of 9th century Tamil poet/saint, Andal. His collaborative chapbook, 'A Field Guide to Southern China' written with T.S. Eliot Prize winner George Szirtes was just published in the UK August 2019.

Speaking about the event, Festival Director Suman Gollamudi, said: "To say that the festival was successful would be an understatement. Everybody came together to celebrate the work these authors and writers are bringing to the diaspora community. It was a wonderful two days of a community bonding over literature. We thank our friends, donors, the Board, the Advisory Council and the staff who have worked tirelessly to make the event a success."

IAAC Vice Chairman Rakesh Kaul concluded, "The Indo-American Arts Council is playing a very useful role in bringing to the forefront and making the Indian diaspora aware of these shining jewels in the community. We are delighted to collaborate with The Culture Tree on youth literature and to bring to the children, a sense of wonder through the books. We are looking forward to a continued success in providing a platform for Indian-Americans to see themselves in the stories which represent them. We aim for the festival to be a benchmark in celebrating diversity in South Asian literature."

Links, Social Media, Photos, More
Authors Photos and Bios, Event Posters and more are downloadable at
Photos: https://iaac.us/iaac-literary-festival/#photos-child
Videos: https://iaac.us/iaac-literary-festival/#videos

Social Media
Indo-American Arts Council
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Twitter: https://twitter.com/IAArtsCouncil
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The Culture Tree:
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TheCultureTreeNY
Twitter: https://twitter.com/TheCultureTree
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/theculturetree/

Event Hashtags


The Indo-American Arts Council supports all the artistic disciplines in classical, fusion, folk and innovative forms influenced by the arts of India. We work cooperatively with colleagues around the United States to broaden our collective audiences and to create a network for shared information, resources and funding. Our focus is to help artists and art organizations in North America as well as to facilitate artists from India to exhibit, perform and produce their work here.

About The Culture Tree:
The Culture Tree promotes cultural literacy about South Asia through educational and cultural programs for children and their families to instill a deeper connection with their heritage and the world around them. For information please visit: www.theculturetree.com


Suman Gollamudi
Media, Sponsorships & Public Relations
Indo-American Arts Council
[email protected]