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Wonderland@IAAC Literature Fest This Weekend

Wonderland@IAAC Literature Fest This Weekend

The Indo-American Arts Council announces the 5th Annual Literature Festival, this year aptly themed, ‘Wonderland@IAAC’. One of the premier celebrations of works influenced by the Indian sub continent, this year, the festival is larger than ever with not only a stellar adult literature lineup but also the first children’s literature program and a wide selection of poetry.


Nearly 30 authors and participants from across a spectrum of genres and topics will come together with hundreds of book enthusiasts on Saturday October 19 from 10 am-6:30 pm and Sunday October 20 from 10 am–6:45 pm at the Hagop Kevorkian Center for Near Eastern Studies, New York University, 255 Sullivan Street, New York, NY 10012.

The IAAC Literary Festival is one of New York’s premier celebrations of Indian-American literature. With two days of book talks, book signings, lively cultural shows, activities, private receptions and more, the program is sure to satisfy book enthusiasts across topics, interests and genres including literary fiction, non- fiction, mysteries, thrillers, fantasy, adventure, memoirs, poetry, food writing and children’s books. Cultural identity, immigrant stories and challenging cultural norms is a theme that will be explored in both the children’s and adult literature line up and will engage young readers who are searching for their place in the world. 

Internationally acclaimed emcee, poet, translator and professor Ravi Shankar, acclaimed as “ One of America’s finest younger poets” by the late CT State Poet Laureate Dick Allen and called “a diaspora icon as well as bête noir” in The Hindu, will introduce an array of extraordinary South Asian voices that will resonate long into the reception featuring wine and cheese, and book signings. 

The first ever children’s lineup at the Indo-American Art Council’s Literature Festival is being presented in partnership with The Culture Tree whose founder Anu Sehgal noted “We all know there is a huge diversity gap in children’s books. Through Wonderland our vision is to create a platform where children’s books by authors from the Indian diaspora get the visibility they deserve. Additionally, we want Indian-American children to see themselves and their lives in literature. This will instill a deep sense of confidence and curiosity about their culture. Through festivals like this, we also offer cross-cultural exposure that can help develop knowledgeable, open-minded and respectful individuals.”

IAAC Vice Chairman Rakesh Kaul said of the festival “Adbhuta Rasa is the rasa of mystery and wonderment. Descartes stated that Wonder is the first passion. It is in that spirit that we are excited to welcome our talented and globally recognized cast of writers. They will evoke a sense of surprise, wonder and pleasure in you through their literary creations.”

Headlining the Adult Literature Program will be:

  • Kanchan Koya who is the founder of Spice Spice Baby, a platform dedicated to shedding light on the healing potential of spices, demystifying them for a global audience, and inspiring their use in food for the whole family. She has a doctorate in Molecular Biology from Harvard Medical School and is part of the Creators Program at Buzzfeed. 
  • A renowned curator and scholar, John Guy has published widely on South Asian art and curated a number of ground-breaking exhibitions at The Met, most recently Encountering Vishnu: The Lion Avatar in Indian Temple Performance (2016), Y.G. Srimati and the Indian Style (2017) and Vajra Masters: Ritual Art of Nepal (2018). Previously, he served as senior curator of Indian art at the Victoria and Albert Museum London for 22 years.
  • Anjali Sachdeva’s debut short story collection, All the Names They Used for God, is the winner of the 2019 Chautauqua Prize, was longlisted for the 2018 Story Prize, and was selected as a best book of 2018 by NPR. The New York Times Book Review called the collection “strange and wonderful.”.
  • Jennifer Acker is founder and editor in chief of The Common, and author of the debut novel The Limits of the World. Her short stories, essays, translations, and reviews have appeared in Amazon Original Stories, Washington Post and The Yale Review among other places.
  • Author of the bestseller The Last Queen of Kashmir, Rakesh Kaul, notably, after a several years hunt, recovered the Tengapura Durga, the oldest continuously worshipped Durga in the world from the German government for India. He served as Co-Chairman of The Arts of Kashmir Exhibition at Asia Society NY. He is a noted speaker and writer on the arts, culture and history of Kashmir.
  • Susham Bedi currently teaches Modern Indian Literature at City University of New York and previously taught at Columbia University. She is the author of nine major Hindi language novels as well as 4 short story collections and poetry. Her works are thus located squarely in the South Asian diaspora and immigrant experience.
  • Maya Lang, novelist and author of the forthcoming memoir What We Carry, is the first-generation daughter of Indian immigrants and the author of The Sixteenth of June. 
  • Simrita Dhir is a Duke of Edinburgh Gold Standard Awardee and a recipient of the Chancellor’s Medal for Academic Excellence in Post Graduate Studies. She has contributed to leading national newspapers including The Times of India, The Indian Express and The Tribune. She lectures on Writing, Diversity and Imagination at the University of California, Art Institute of California, among others. 
  • BAFTA award nominee, Padma Shree and Padma Bhushan National awards winner, Actor Anupam Kher is one of the lead actors on NBC’s hit TV show New Amsterdam. He has acted in over 500 films and 100 plays in under 35 years, many of them blockbuster films. He has featured in Hollywood films such as Silver Linings Playbook, Hotel Mumbai, The Big Sick and has worked with directors Ang Lee, David O Russell, Woody Allen, Gurinder Chaddha and The Wachowskis. As an author he was ranked 17th amongst top 200 best global authors for his best-selling inspirational book The Best thing About You Is You which has been translated in 6 languages and is in its 20th edition.
  • Anuradha Bhagwati is a writer, activist, yoga and meditation teacher, and Marine Corps veteran. She is a regular media commentator on issues related to national security, women’s rights, civil rights, and mental health, and is the recipient of numerous awards. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Politico, Foreign Affairs, and The New Republic.


Celebrate the perfect end to the inaugural day of the Festival, on Saturday Oct 19 4:30pm, by enjoying some poetry from around the subcontinent and joining us for refreshments, conversation, book signings and photo opportunities. The rich poetry tradition of the Indian subcontinent stretches back for centuries and includes such crucial voices from Kabir to Kalidasa, Andal to Tagore, and this evening will showcase what the new generation of Indian and diaspora writers are doing to stretch the bounds of poetic discourse and probe what it means to be brown in America today. Rejoice in the actuality of diversity in literature by supporting these disparate poets as they perform from their latest works and engage with the audience.

On stage will be diverse writers such as: 

– The Green Rose Prize in Poetry winner Jaswinder Bolina who is the author of three full-length collections of poetry. His first collection of essays, Of Color, is being released in March 2020. 

– The poet laureate of Suffolk County, Long Island, Pramila Venkateswaran. An award winning poet, she has performed poetry internationally, including at the Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival and the Festival Internacional De Poesia De Granada. She is also the 2011 Walt Whitman Birthplace Association Long Island Poet of the Year.

– Kirun Kapur, named by NBCNews on their 2015 list of Asian-American Poets to Watch. Her work has appeared in AGNI, Poetry International, FIELD, Prairie Schooner and many other journals.

– The first non-Irishman to win the Patrack Kavanaugh Prize, Kashmiri-born Rafiq Kathwari has an MFA from Columbia University and divides his time between New York, Dublin and Kashmir.

– Former editor at PEN America, Guernica, and A Public Space, Diane Mehta’s debut poetry collection, Forest with Castanets, came out in March 2019. She is currently finishing a historical novel set in 1946 India and a collection of essays.

– Yale art historian and winner of the (Great) Indian Poetry Collective’s Emerging Poets Prize, Subhashini Kaligotla whose work has appeared in such journals as The Caravan, diode, LUMINA, New England Review, and The Literary Review. In 2018, Subhashini published her first book of poems Bird of the Indian Subcontinent, which owes its existence to New York City.

– Poet and novelist and winner of the Kathryn A. Morton Poetry Prize Monica Ferrell. An author of three books, her poetry collection You Darling Thing was named a New & Noteworthy selection by The New York Times.

– Poet, teacher and publisher of Yuganta Press, Ralph Nazareth is the author of four books of poems and lists his years doing poetry with ten-year olds in Stamford schools as among his most memorable.

– Tsering Wangmo Dhompa, raised in exile from Tibet in India is the author of a memoir published by Penguin India, and multiple poetry collections including the finalist for the Northern California Independent Bookseller’s Book of the Year Award for 2012.

– Poet/diplomat Indran Amirthanayagam who writes, translates, and publishes poetry and essays in English, Spanish, French, Portuguese, and Haitian Creole. He has published sixteen collections thus far, including the Elephants of Reckoning which won the 1994 Paterson Prize in the United States.

– Pushcart prize winning poet, translator and professor Ravi Shankar has published, edited or has forthcoming over fifteen books, including the Muse India award-winning translations of 9th century Tamil poet/saint, Andal. He founded one of the world’s oldest electronic journals of the arts, Drunken Boat and has taught and performed around the world. His collaborative chapbook, ‘A Field Guide to Southern China’ written with T.S. Eliot Prize winner George Szirtes was just published in the UK August 2019.

The Children’s literature festival will run on both days – October 19 and 20th. We aim to create a space where children of bi-cultural heritage (ages 3-16) can access stories that will inform and inspire them by reflecting aspects of their identity and enrich them through the powers of imagination and experience. The festival not only serves to expand the world that they live in but will also provoke conversation by stretching the boundaries of imagination and story telling. The children’s program’s stellar line up of authors includes:

  • Veera Hiranandani – whose book The Night Diary is a 2019 Newbery Honor Award Winner and was named a 2018 Best Book of Year by The New York Times, The Washington Post, NPR, Amazon, School Library Journal, Kirkus Reviews, and The Chicago Public Library, among others.
  • Roopa Pai – One of India’s best-known authors for children with many national bestsellers including the 8-part Taranauts, India’s first original fantasy-adventure series for children in English and the award winning The Gita For Children, listed by Amazon among its list of ‘100 Indian Books To Read In A Lifetime’. Roopa will have an interactive session with adults and children on the ‘10 powerful ideas from ancient India’.
  • Sheetal Sheth – acclaimed actress who will be there with her first children’s book, Always Anjali which won the 2019 Purple Dragonfly Book Award Grand Prize.
  • Mona Sehgal – Presents her first book, Under the African Sky, the story of Krishna, an Indian-American boy who struggles to reconcile his Indian heritage with American childhood. Set against the backdrop of the African wilderness, it highlights themes of natural and environmental harmony and conflict.
  • Kavita Bafana will read from Namaste Jaipur, part of the Namaste Series of books, a 6-part series that will bring the cities of India to children all around the world through well-written text and beautiful images. Her interactive session will include a musical journey that brings young children to Jaipur using music, imagination and play.
  • Raakhee Mirchandani: Award-winning writer, editor and pediatric cancer crusader whose work has appeared in Elle, Glamour, Wall Street Journal, New York Daily News, New York Post, Redbook and HuffPo. Super Satya Saves the Day is her first book and is inspired by her own fiery daughter Satya.


Throughout the festival, children are also encouraged to participate in entertaining and interactive workshops about cultural identity, empowerment and even folklore. Kulture Khazana will engage young ones in an interactive session about cultural identity and empowerment. Packed with their imaginations, music and imagery, Little Ustaads will transport young audiences to a far off magical place reminiscent of the Old Pink City of Jaipur. Not-to-be missed is The Culture Tree’s performance of Ramleela, the story of Ram & Sita, through the art of puppeteering.  

The festival will conclude with the Expressions Contest, where kids of Indian heritage aged 4-16 will participate in a literary contest where they will express and interpret their heritage and experiences of growing up as bi-cultural kids in America. Enjoy delicious Indian Food and desserts such as Kulfi as a perfect ending to the festival!


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