On November 7-9, the Indo-American Arts Council held its first annual Literary Festival in New York City at Columbia University’s South Asian Institute. An extraordinary lineup of notable writers, editors, publishers and other literary giants from South Asia or with an interest in South Asian literature came together for this momentous occasion.

The three-day literature gathering was chock-full of enlightening panels, book readings, lit crawls and networking events. Attendees gained valuable knowledge from acclaimed authors, first time novelists and experienced publishers.

The IAAC officially kicked off on Mon., Nov. 3, with Indian-American actor and comedian Aasif Mandvi’s book launch, “No Man’s Land.” The opening ceremony, held at Columbia University’s Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian, featured acclaimed author Salman Rushdie as the guest speaker. He spoke about his writing career with professor and director of Columbia University’s South Asia Institute, Akeel Bilgrami.

The highlight of the festival were the fifteen different panels held over two days. Panelists and speakers shared intimate stories about their writing careers and imparted valuable advice. The panels included a vast array of topics, including screenwriting with filmmaker Mira Nair and actress and social activist Nandita Das; comedy writing with Aasif Mandvi and Rakesh Satyal; playwriting with Bangladeshi-American actor and playwright actor Aladdin Ullah, and much more.

Panels also featured unique subjects like writing for the South Asian LGBT community and crafting modern South Asian tales for children. Panels on poetry, short stories and debut authors rounded out the jammed-packed schedule.



Fashion copywriter and aspiring novelist Sonam Hajela found the panel, ‘Learning the Ropes of the Industry: Publishers & Literary Agents’ especially useful.

“Panels like this one allow everyone from first-timers to veterans to discuss and learn from each other. The speakers were incredibly fascinating,” Hajela said.

The IAAC’s Inaugural Literary Fest ended with a closing night reception, featuring Pulitzer-wining Pakistani-American writer and actor, Ayad Akhtar, as the guest speaker. Akhtar shared stories about his childhood and the teacher who inspired him as a teenager. He also mentioned the importance of trusting your own work and to commit to your writing,

“You have to show up at the same time every day, or else the muse doesn’t know where to find you,” Akhtar said.