When the pandemic hit, books provided a much-needed portal to other worlds beyond our living rooms. Sales of everything from vintage paperbacks to Kindle downloads increased when COVID-19 came on the scene.
Whether folks curled up with familiar classics or dove into fresh releases, prose and poetry provided a nice reprieve from all that global-health-scare binge watching.
Jaipur Literature Festival Colorado — a celebration of the written word — morphed into a virtual platform last year for safety reasons. The beloved event — highlighting cross-cultural perspectives — returns Friday-Sunday, and while it will still be offered online, the multi-day festival promises a diverse lineup of authors, engaging talks, captivating readings and passionate presenters.
After the vaccine helped drop COVID-19 numbers, Jessie Friedman, JLF Colorado’s executive director, said the crew was optimistic about hosting a hybrid festival that would feature both in-person and virtual events this year.
“As we started to program and plan for an exciting, in-person event with all the color, passion, meaning, depth and charm of JLF Colorado, we came to learn that many many authors still were not willing to travel,” said Friedman.
While folks will not be able to gather in person, taking the fest to the web allows more book lovers to join in on the fun at no charge and allows participants to log on regardless of their schedules.
“The virtual format has provided many new opportunities in regard to accessing presenters more easily, as well as significantly increasing our audience worldwide,” said Friedman, noting that by March 2021, the fall 2020 virtual festival garnered more than 700,000 views.
In addition to delivering virtual content over the course of last year’s festival, organizers made efforts to provide a platform for continued conversation around a variety of pertinent topics.
“In 2020, JLF Colorado also presented eight year-round panels with BIPOC and LGBTQ Colorado writers on issues of structural racism and inequity, resilience, the power of the arts and dismantling systemic oppression,” Friedman said.
Stories of resilience and justice are woven throughout this year’s JLF programming.
From poet and activist Suzi Q. Smith and Indigenous author Erika T. Wurth — both Denver-based creatives — to Marcus Moench, a climate change expert who founded the Boulder-based nonprofit Institute For Social and Environmental Transition, local Colorado representation can be found within the extensive schedule.
As always, international voices also echo through the vast contributions.
“This coming weekend we will bring you renowned journalists from Kabul, Israel, Europe, India and Australia,” Friedman said. “The virtual format has extended our reach and made it possible for many arts organizations to continue to bring the illumination of the arts to audiences, even while financial resources for the arts have largely dissolved.”
While the event is free, donations to JLF Colorado are always welcome, Friedman said.
“For those who are able to offer a donation with registration — or if you are inspired during the festival and throughout the year — we are profoundly grateful,” Friedman said.
An archive of hundreds of recorded sessions are available to view on the JLF YouTube channel should individuals want to revisit previous talks.
The Colorado event — first held in 2015 — is a spinoff of a festival of the same name in Jaipur, India, that, pre-pandemic, drew more than 300,000 attendees a year.
London, Belfast, New York, Toronto and a number of other cities have put on vibrant JLFs of their own.
“I love the variety of authors who speak at JLF,” said Arsen Kashkashian, head book buyer and general manager for Boulder Book Store, who is one of this year’s featured participants. “I’m always learning about writers that I don’t know from other parts of the world. It’s just a wonderful place to discover new stories. I’ve attended every JLF in Boulder and I had the pleasure to attend the JLF in Jaipur in January of 2020.”
For JLF Colorado, Kashkashian will be speaking with Alka Joshi, the author of the “The Henna Artist” and “The Secret Keeper of Jaipur.”
“These are riveting novels that tell intimate stories and yet have the epic backdrop of Jaipur and Indian society,” Kashkashian said.
Joshi’s 2020 release “The Henna Artist” has received praise from Reese Witherspoon, and the actress included the novel as a pick in her Hello Sunshine Book Club.
Miramax TV has plans to bring the bestseller — about a strong female protagonist who escaped an abusive marriage — to the screen as a series.
“I’m looking forward to seeing Damon Galgut talk about his book ‘The Promise,’” Kashkashian said. “It’s short-listed for this year’s Booker Prize. I always enjoy hearing from Laird Hunt and William Dalrymple. I’m excited to see Charmaine Craig, the author of ‘Miss Burma.’”
Attendees can peruse the jam-packed schedule that provides cyber happenings at a variety of times at jlflitfest.org/colorado/schedule.
While JLF may not be in person just yet, Kashkashian continues to consistently offer many in-store events at Boulder Book Store that folks can experience this autumn.
“We are hosting events here at the store every week,” Kashkashian said. “We recently hosted Colorado favorites Peter Heller and Stephen Graham Jones. We also hosted one of my favorite musicians Rickie Lee Jones for her new memoir. We have Jackson Crawford on Oct. 20, Jenny Shank on Oct. 21 and Michelle Nighuis on Oct.12, among others.”
The full schedule can be found at BoulderBookStore.net/event.
JLF organizers are hopeful about the festival’s in-person return next year, given future circumstances don’t disrupt plans.
“If we can rouse the support of our audiences, we will be live in 2022,” Friedman said.