Commonwealth Writers in Dhaka

Twenty four hours at Hay Dhaka and I already have three anthologies of new writing in my bag. On the way in from the airport, I met Farah Ghuznavi – activist, economist, development worker, columnist, and fiction writer – to discuss her contribution to the Commonwealth Writers’ Conversation (panel debate later today). As I left, she handed me “Lifelines”, an anthology of new fiction to be launched here. It’s a collection of women’s literary voices, with some of the authors writing in English for the first time; Farah is the editor. At the festival’s opening ceremony I sat next to another editor and writer, Khademul Islam. He couldn’t wait to tell me about his English language literary journal, “bengal lights,” also to be launched at the festival. Across the table, was a young man who was keen to trump Khanemul’s project with his own – he’s setting up a new English language newspaper in Dhaka and wants it to include short stories. The Commonwealth Writers’ workshop  the following morning was energised by half a dozen young people from a group called “Writer’s Block” – fifteen poets, novelists and short fiction writers based in Dhaka. One of them, Samir Asran Rahman, said how they’re hungry for tips to develop their craft, but he added, that it would have to be a quick session because they’re launching their first anthology, “What the Ink” at noon. One of the festival’s local directors and a member of the group,  Sadaf Saaz Siddiqi, (also an activist, businesswoman, singer and writer) found five minutes from marshalling hundreds of volunteers  to read one of her moving poems.  A local poet told me how writers in Bangladesh are beginning to be heard on a bigger stage, across the world; he called  it “a wave of expression”. Khademul called it a “re-invention of sorts,” which is truly exciting. I’m on a panel today, called Becoming A Writer. The Hay programme says we’re giving advice to aspiring novelists. I was going to say something along the lines of “there’s no substitute for just doing it,” but now I feel on shaky ground.