10 reasons why the 2016 Asia House Bagri Foundation Literature Festival line-up is the best yet

Food writer and cookery teacher Sumayya Usmani will launch her book 'Summers Under The Tamarind Tree: Recipes & Memories from Pakistan' on 13 May at 12.30 during the Asia House Bagri Foundation Literature Festival.

Food writer and cookery teacher Sumayya Usmani (pictured) will launch her book 'Summers Under The Tamarind Tree: Recipes & Memories from Pakistan' on 13 May at 12.30 during the Asia House Bagri Foundation Literature Festival. That is one of many good reasons not to miss this year's festival, says Jemimah Steinfeld, Asia House Literature Programme Manager

10 reasons why the 2016 Asia House Bagri Foundation Literature Festival line-up is the best yet

19 April 2016

By Jemimah Steinfeld

Asia House’s literature festival has been going for 10 years and over that time the festival has grown from a small-scale event to a major highlight of the London cultural calendar, showcasing literature from across Asia, with fantastic partners – the Bagri Foundation – now on board.

To celebrate this milestone, we’ve been busy programming what we believe to be the best festival yet. Here are the reasons we think it really stands out – and why you should get your tickets before they sell out.

1. It features cake

We’re thrilled that Nadiya Hussain, winner of the 2015 Great British Bake Off, will officially open our festival on Wednesday 4 May. She will be in conversation with Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, journalist and author of Exotic England, and the pair will discuss the topics of integration and identity in the UK. But there’s more to the event – Patisserie Valerie are sponsoring it with delicious cakes and pastries!


Bake off champion Nadiya Hussain will officially open the Asia House Bagri Foundation Literature Festival on 4 May in conversation with author and journalist Yasmin Alibhai-Brown

2. And other cuisines

Keeping with the food theme, we’ve got some fantastic cookbook writers taking to the stage. The chefs behind London favourite Honey & Co. will discuss the evolution of Middle Eastern food on Thursday 13 May and the following day we’ll explore what food from Uzbekistan and Pakistan is like in our event Food for Thought. Learn about different cultures and improve your cooking skills simultaneously.


On top of capturing the rich and aromatic pleasure of Pakistani cooking, food writer and cookery teacher Sumayya Usmani’s new book which is being launched on 13 May during the literature festival will celebrate the heritage and traditions of her home country

3. It celebrates other anniversaries, too

2016 is not just the 10th year anniversary of the festival (and 20th year anniversary of Asia House), it is also the 400th year anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare and we have a mini-festival on the Bard as part of the programme. Then there’s the 40th anniversary of the start of the Cultural Revolution (and 30th anniversary of its end). Acclaimed historian Frank Dikötter will launch his new book The Cultural Revolution on 5 May at Asia House in an event that promises to be incredibly informative.


Frank Dikötter will be in conversation with Roger Garside, who was a diplomat in China during the Cultural Revolution, about his book ‘The Cultural Revolution’ on 5 May

4. Countries, countries, countries!

While the Festival has plenty of events featuring the big two – China and India – we’re featuring many smaller countries too. Japan – we’ve got it covered! South Korea –it’s in there. Then there’s Pakistan, Syria, Iran and Myanmar, just to name a few. A particular highlight has been our pre-lit events Georgia25, a week of talks held last week on Georgia to coincide with 25 years of Georgian independence, which featured Boris Akunin. There was free Georgian wine courtesy of the Georgia Embassy, and a Georgian polyphonic choir, on top of some fascinating conversations.

5. Women, women, women!

We’ve got heaps of wonderful women. Last year, following news that women were under-represented in the publishing industry, Kamila Shamsie proposed that 2018 be the Year of Publishing Women, featuring no new titles by men. In that spirit, we have plenty of women in our programme, including Kamila Shamsie herself, who will talk about Pakistan’s art scene on Thursday 5 May. We even have a talk solely about women, entitled The Good Wife. Get tickets here now.

6. The names are superb

As you might be gathering from the above, we’ve got a fantastic line-up. Some of the most esteemed writers and thinkers of today are in our programme. Others to look out for are Elif Shafak and Julia Lovell. But don’t forget about the emerging talent. Over the years the Asia House Bagri Foundation Literature Festival has spotlighted talent before they reach the big time. Last year alone, two of the writers we showcased – Sunjeev Sahota and Anuradha Roy – went on to receive nominations for the Man Booker prize. We expect this year to be the same, so come and discover the names of the future.

7. There will be rare appearances   

I am thrilled to be welcoming plenty of out-of-towners, some of whom will be speaking about their work for the first time in the UK. This is a truly international festival and the line-up reflects this. We have people flying in from China, India, South Korea, Hong Kong, Russia and the US. A particular highlight will be Mei Fong, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, who will speak about her new book One Child: The Story of China’s Most Radical Experiment.


Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Mei Fong will discuss her book ‘One Child: The Story of China’s Most Radical Experiment’ at Asia House on 31 May

8. It takes risks

On the note of radical experiments, that’s exactly what we’re doing this year. We love books, but we also love how widely the written word can stretch. For this year, in addition to traditional talks and panels, we have a series of cross arts events. Enjoy a dancer turning a talk into movement, a poet cum comedian fusing film and sound,  storytelling themed around The Jungle Book for families, a creative writing masterclass and more. Indian Shakespeares on Screen, a collaboration with the BFI, perfectly shows this new direction. During this three-day event (April 27 – 29), Asia House will have a series of talks on the relationship between the Bard and Bollywood, accompanied by film screenings.

9. It gives a voice to those on the margins

It’s not just the format of the events that is more out there, it’s also the content. Literature can have a transformative effect and we want to use it to discuss the issues that really matter today, the ones that don’t always get much airtime. Take our event on Friday 6 May as example – Hijra! The word hijra describes cross dressers, naturally intersex people and transgendered people in South Asia and this event will cast both a serious and entertaining eye on the topic.

10. It features great collaborations

We’ve teamed up with some really exciting companies. We are excited to announce our first collaboration with China Exchange for an event on Monday 9 May. Taking place at their Chinatown headquarters, the talk will look at protests in Hong Kong over the years. Then there’s top travel agency Greaves. They’ll be sponsoring the closing night A Passage Across India, which will be a perfect end to an action-packed festival.


One of the most exciting authors to come out of India Mahesh Rao will disucss his books at the Asia House Bagri Foundation Literature closing night event on 18 May

Bonus round! It promises to thrill

Put The Bridge on pause and come and hear some of the best crime writers around – Lisa Brackmann and Diane Wei Liang. Now that really is a wrap.


The Asia House Bagri Foundation Literature Festival takes place from 4 to 18 May 2016. To see the complete lineup of events and to book tickets click here.