It’s a bizarre bazaar, a mashup of mental might, a creative caravan. The second annual Jaipur Literature Festival starts September 23 in Boulder, throwing seventy writers from around the world together in fifty overlapping conversations over two days — and it's all free. The festival reflects the predilections of its founder, cultural-event producer Sanjoy Roy, who moved from television production in 1995 to alternative music and theater stagings. The namesake festival in India recently completed its ninth year, drawing approximately 330,000 people. Roy currently guides 23 festivals in 27 cities in 11 countries.
“Growing up, I had exposure to an array of cultures,” Roy says. “There was that last bit of the old world of the British Raj, and the light-speed cultural changes since then are astonishing. But we still need something solid, ideas — we still have a hunger for real connection. That underlies everything.”
Included on the Boulder roster are 2016 Pulitzer Prize winner Viet Thanh Nguyen (The Sympathizer), Queen Mother of Bhutan Ashi Dori Wangmo Wangchuck, and locals like Patty Limerick, Anne Waldman and Margaret Coel. It’s a gathering of writers, but not a book-selling gig. Neither is it an academic exercise, though it resembles the University of Colorado Boulder’s annual spring Conference on World Affairs. Jaipur emphasizes the interchange of perspectives, in the context of discussing timely topics such as the environment, guns, immigration and race. For instance, for “Ideas of America,” Waldman will toss concepts around with Michael Patrick McDonald, Arthur Flowers, G. Willow Wilson and Sanford Ungar.
Another attendee is Nick Sousanis, comics writer and artist out of Detroit via San Francisco, whose dissertation at Columbia in graphic-novel form is now a best-selling graphic novel, Unflattening. It’s a brash mixture of philosophy, art, science and mythology, making the case for using the visual to create dimensionality in communication and learning.
“I like working in comics, and I just didn’t think I had to dumb it down,” Sousanis says. “I think the medium can handle it.” He'll discuss his work at the festival, but he’s also down for sessions on genre-crossing and inspiration.
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“Drawing and generating the text together, instead of doing what almost everyone does, which is write a script and then illustrate it, allowed me to think differently and create something much stronger,” he says.
Sousanis is looking forward to thinking differently at his upcoming Jaipur experience in Boulder. He says he has no idea what will come up, where the conversation will go. But the real draw of this festival is the heady uncertainty that comes when there’s no script and the talk gets real.
The second annual Jaipur Literature Festival Boulder runs from Friday, September 23, through Sunday, September 25, at the Boulder Public Library, 1001 Arapahoe Avenue, Boulder. All events are free, but registration is required. If you miss the deadline of midnight, you can register at the library. For complete information, visit jaipurliteraturefestival.org/boulder.