Tasveer, a nonprofit that produces the Tasveer South Asian Film Festival, launches its literary festival Jan. 11-20 at several Seattle locations.

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Lit Life

In an act of artistic reproduction, the Tasveer South Asian Film Festival has given birth — to a book festival. The inaugural Tasveer South Asian Literary Festival will take place from Jan. 11-20, at several Seattle locations, with an assortment of author presentations, panel discussions, workshops and other events. All events are free, and everyone is welcome.

Founded in Seattle in 2002, Tasveer is a nonprofit whose goal is to celebrate the voices of South Asians through storytelling — specifically through art and film — and community dialogue. (“South Asia,” the organization notes, covers Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and their diasporas worldwide.) The film festival unspooled its 13th annual edition last October, and has had a couple of film-focused spinoffs: Aaina, or South Asian Women’s Focus, and the Tasveer South Asian International Docufest.

Shahina Piyarali, president of Tasveer’s board of directors and one of the literary festival’s three co-directors (alongside Alka Kurian and Sumathi Raghavan), said the new festival grew from the board’s wide-ranging interests. “All of us love the arts,” she said. “Each of us have different passions.”

They started thinking, she said, about showcasing South Asian artists outside of film. A literary festival seemed a natural match, particularly since the board wasn’t aware of any other American book festivals focused on South Asian authors. “We thought, if we can get funding for this, we have all that it takes to have a festival,” said Piyarali, noting that the institutional knowledge of how to run such an event was already in place.

After receiving a “very generous” grant from the Seattle Department of Neighborhoods, planning for the festival began in earnest last summer. Partners quickly joined — Elliott Bay Book Company, Seattle Art Museum and Hugo House, among others — and an ambitious six-day festival began to take shape.

Novelist and Vassar professor Amitava Kumar will read from his new novel “Immigrant, Montana” (recently named one of the best books of 2018 by The New Yorker) and give a keynote address for the festival’s opening night. Panel discussions will focus on race and gender in South Asian-American literature, the issues faced by women of color who are writers in America, and writing South Asian LGBTQ lives.

While many of the panelists are visiting authors — among them Sharmila Sen (“Not Quite Not White”), SJ Sindu (“Marriage of a Thousand Lies”) and Shobha Rao (“Girls Burn Brighter”) — Piyarali said that the literary festival has more of a local emphasis than the film festival, due to the nature of the Department of Neighborhoods grant. Nalini Iyer, an English professor at Seattle University, will present a tribute to Meena Alexander, the acclaimed Indian poet and writer who died last November. Local author Indu Sundaresan, whose novel “The Twentieth Wife” won a Washington State Book Award, will lead a creative-writing workshop on creating a frame for a complete novel. Several local poets will read their work in an evening of poetry, and members of the community are welcome to contribute to a storywallah — an open-mic storytelling event — called “What’s In Your Name?”

In a bridge to its sister film festival, the literary festival will include a film screening: “A Throw of Dice,” a 1929 silent film from India, will show at Seattle Art Museum. The film, Piyarali said, nicely complements SAM’s current exhibit of art from India, “Peacock in the Desert.” There’s another film connection as well: Author Sohrab Homi Fracis (“Go Home”) and filmmaker Allan Marcil team up for a workshop on adapting fiction for the screen.

Tasveer’s LitFest is a brand-new baby festival now, but it has big dreams. Piyarali noted that it’s timed to occur just before the Jaipur Literature Festival, one of the biggest literary festivals in the world. “That’s what we aspire to, eventually,” said Piyarali. “This is a wonderful first effort, and it will be become bigger” — perhaps, she said, with additional funding that might allow Tasveer to bring authors from outside the United States.

And the organizers are proud that LitFest will be free to everyone, thanks to the city’s grant. In a time, said Piyarali, when many conversations are focusing on immigration, “even though South Asians have been here for a long time, they still feel vulnerable.” A festival like this, open to all, feels like a celebration. “It’s great,” said Piyarali, “that our voices should be heard.”


Tasveer South Asian Literary Festival, Jan. 11-20, at Hugo House, Seattle Art Museum and Elliott Bay Book Company; free admission to all events; tsal.tasveer.org