Lahore Literary Festival Comes to New York

The Lahore Literary Festival (LLF), an annual three-day gathering in Pakistan’s second largest city, is considered one of the premiere literary festivals of South Asia. Since 2016, New York’s Asia Society has been hosting an edition of this famous festival in the Big Apple, to showcase Pakistan’s contemporary art and literature for American audiences.

Lahore Literary Festival New York is the abbreviated version of a much larger festival that has been held in Pakistan each year since 2011. But it packs a lot into one day, says Rachel Cooper, Asia Society’s Director for Global Performing Arts and Special Cultural Initiatives.

“In Lahore, it’s a three-day festival and there are multiple sessions happening at the same time. So, we are really a condensed version,” Cooper said. “But we try to take advantage of these important ideas and these important personalities. It’s both about ideas and about the people who are talking about them and bringing them to us.”

The festival showcases the work of more than two dozen writers, artists, and commentators — discussing art-related topics such as the Mughal Empire’s influence on Pakistani art, the preservation of historic buildings, or how South Asian writers can heal divisions in conflict prone regions.

For author Maha Khan Phillips, it’s a unique opportunity to present her work to a receptive American audience.

“It is wonderful to share our work with diverse audiences and learn from each other and to have a space where we can come together and talk about what we are doing and how we are doing it,” Phillips told VOA.

For students like Casey Odesser, the festival provides insight into Pakistan’s contemporary art scene directly from the source.

“It is super important for me because at the end of the day, as a New Yorker, I don’t want to learn about Pakistan from Non-Pakistanis and I don’t want to learn about Lahore from Non-Lahorees,” Odesser noted, “so it is super important to have that authentic, subjective opinion that is being celebrated, that is being studied, that’s being understood and debated and is widely accessible”.

The festival is also a great way to bridge cultural divisions created by geopolitical disagreements, says Pakistan’s permanent representative to the UN, Dr. Maleeha Lodhi.

“In today’s world, relations between countries are not just confined to the governments. People to people contact is an important aspect of those relations. So, I think events like these help promote the people to people contact between American and Pakistani public,” Lodhi said.

In a world beset with tensions and conflict, Lodhi says the ‘soft power’ of culture is a powerful bulwark against the walls of hatred, division and discord.