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Interview with Aroon Shivdasani


IAAC, with Aroon Shivdasani at its helm, is well-known in NYC for its cultural programs. They support all artistic disciplines in the classical, fusion, folk and innovative forms influenced by the arts of India. In addition to working with artists and arts organizations in North America, IAAC also facilitates artists and arts organizations from India to exhibit, perform and produce their works here.

IAAC is perhaps best known for its Annual New York Film Festival, the oldest and most prestigious destination for feature films, documentaries, and shorts from and about the Indian subcontinent. It is a smorgasbord of rich and diverse film cultures from the Indian sub-continent and the festival is a heady mix of film screenings, discussions, industry panels, nightly parties, an awards ceremony, and gala red carpet events.

We caught up with Aroon in the hectic activity preceding the opening of the Literary Festival. Small and sprightly, Aroon is a bundle of energy. While she chatted with us, she was busy directing her brilliant volunteers towards the to-do list. From organizing venues for hosting the festival, getting sponsorships for food and wine, checking with authors on their availability and myriad other matters, Aroon was in control.

Here are excerpts from our interview with Aroon

Q : Why an Indian Literary Festival in NYC?

Aroon : I realized Indian arts were invisible and unrecognized in North America so I founded the Indo-American Arts Council to ensure New York City and North America were made aware of artists of Indian origin. For more than 15 years we have brought Indian Arts to the US. Film Festivals, an annual Erasing Borders Festivals of Indian Dance and Indian Art as well as several theatrical productions, music concerts and book launches under the IAAC banner.

To date we have hosted innumerable fabulous authors both veteran and emerging – whose heritage lies in the Indian subcontinent. I realized we were ready for a Literary Festival where we could showcase a host of genres within one time period. I agree it was rather ambitious to put together such a mammoth task in eight weeks…..but I have an equally passionate staff and volunteers along with whom – it’s happening!

Q : What kind of books did you invite ?

Aroon : Our mandate was to feature work by authors whose heritage lies in the Indian subcontinent, as well as those who have written about a subject connected to any aspect of that part of the world.India is a land of stories and we were not disappointed. We got an immense variety of writings when we opened registrations and it was quite a challenge to decide what books to take, what sessions to organize and which authors to put on panels.

What we ended up with was a mix of debut and established authors and interesting panel topics. From writing about the cities that inspired them, to the colonial influences in their writing to immigrant issues that find resonance with them , there is rich literature in all these topics.

Q : How easy is it for Indian authors to find representation in the US ?

Aroon : Well, the dynamics in the US are different. While the themes are universal, there is a method of presentation that works here. So we organized a panel of leading literary agents, editors and writers who will throw light on how authors might navigate this market.

Q : How has organizing the literary festival been different from the film festival you put up every year?

Aroon : Some things are the same. We have to find venues and sponsors for both. What is different is the changes in programming for the literary festival. In the film festival, our schedule was fixed weeks, if not months in advance. Even if the director was unable to attend, the film would be made available for screening. But books are represented by their authors. Most of these authors also have day jobs, many travel extensively, and sometimes their schedules change….. sending our own scheduling for a toss. It has been extremely hectic, but I have a great group of people who are working on this with me – as well as some amazing literary friends who always come thru for me.

Q : What can we look forward to ?

Tons of interesting discussions, a chance to listen to Salman Rushdie in person, hear Aasif Mandvi at his funniest best, actually meet the Playwright of the moment – Pulitzer prize-winning playwright Ayad Akhtar, listen to fascinating insights from established and debut authors, literary agents and other stakeholders from the publishing industry and of course, join us at all the sessions, at the Literary Pub Crawl and at the opening and closing celebrations of the Festival.


About Preeti Singh

I am a bookaholic. I love stories, storytelling. I enjoy helping people structure their storytelling, and I love to share the stories I discover.

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This entry was posted on November 1, 2014 by in Interview, Interviews, The First IAAC Literary Festival and tagged , , , , .
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