On Becoming a Writer in Nepal 2

When we started our business in 2008, the idea of a bookshop akin to a literary salon was an appealing prospect. Literary events that were organized in the city were either invite only book launches or a lack luster book fair for the public – mostly brought to the public’s attention in the media after the event had taken place. Our vision for literary events centered on the author and their work. We hosted readings once a month and engaged the media prior to the event so that interested readers could join the events.
The number of events increased with a partnership with the Nepal-Bharat Library. These events focused on the Nepali literary scene both in the English and Nepali languages. These events were free to the public and held in the afternoons so that students, especially girls, would be able to attend. Our partnership with the American Embassy took our events to the next level. American poets, writers and editors were invited to Nepal to hold lectures and workshop. These events revolved around writing and teaching. The format worked well with schools and colleges as we could engage both students and teachers.
We continued the engagement through social media and have brought together 5000+ young poets through a facebook group called Word Warriors. Further, we started a creative writing group for English language writers. Two writers who joined the group, Rabi Thapa and Prawin Adhikari, went on to get published internationally. We worked with the handful of internationally published English language writers to launch their books, organize reading tours to schools and universities and manage media campaigns for their books and events.
These events drew the attention of the literary circle in Nepal. We found ourselves in the midst of a raging discussion about writing in English, Nepali and the long neglected languages of Nepal, the editorial process or the lack thereof, amongst other things. The prospect of an international literature festival to address these issues was exciting and intimidating but we wanted to bring the dialogue onto a neutral platform and contribute to the intellectual discourse. This resulted in the first edition of the Kathmandu Literary Jatra in 2011 and was an astounding success. The vision for the event – that a prerequisite to a just society is a critical mass of informed and thoughtful citizens who engage and challenge prevalent social structures and norms – resonated with writers across the board.
The Jatra was one of the first public events to give a platform for writers writing in languages other than Nepali. There were poetry readings in Tamang, Puma, Urdu, Maithili and Nepal Bhasa. Discussion panels ranged from the state of Nepal Bhasa and Maithili literature, English language writing from the region as well as the future of Nepali language. Unfortunately, the second edition of the Jatra was cancelled as one of our partner organization pulled out three weeks before the event. Regardless, La.Lit, a literary magazine, envisioned as the Jatra’s magazine, was salvaged and launched two months later in January 2013 and now builds upon the vision of the Jatra. Similarly, our BookBus project, a mobile library that travels around the country, was also envisioned to take a literary event like the Jatra outside Kathmandu. Without the Jatra, we are taking the project forward with the same spirit in collaboration with a variety of different organizations.

This essay was written in preparation for the Silk Routes Symposium, held in the Maldives, March 2014.