After a careful start in 2007, centuries-old Galle Fort along Sri Lanka's south coast will once again be the focal point of a special cultural event in January 2008.
"Are you crazy?" That was the response commonly heard to Geoffrey Dobbs' plans for an English language literary festival in Sri Lanka. In a country still recovering from the tsunami, where the north is plagued by a civil war between the national army and the Tamil Tigers, a British businessman wants to stimulate tourism in the south-west. Partly for personal interest (he owns a number of boutique-hotels), but also for the good of the local population. Sri Lanka's president awarded Dobbs in 2005 for his emergency assistance and reconstruction activities.
"I have lived in Sri Lanka for twelve years, and these are difficult times. By establishing the Galle Literary Festival, I want to send a positive message and penetrate a new tourist market," Dobbs explains. The first edition of this five-day festival was held in 2007. It was an immediate success: the programme attracted many tourists and not a single hotel in and near Galle had vacancies left. The second edition of Dobbs' pet project will be held from 16 to 20 January 2008. The beating heart of this literary event is Galle Fort, once built by Dutch colonists and now included on the Unesco World Heritage list.
At various locations, ranging from colonial homes and five-star hotels to a dusty library and the District Court square, visitors can bathe themselves in literature from dawn to dusk. In addition to programme items with Sri Lankan and international authors, including the controversial American author Gore Vidal, non-literary items are also included. Group discussions will be held on peace missions, for example, while the programme also boasts architectural tours through the fort, music and film nights, and a debating contest for secondary school students. A variety of events are free, including a photo exposition on eighty homes and their illustrious owners in the past four hundred years. There is also a special children's programme.
The overall theme of the festival is climate change. Attention is devoted to this topic in presentations, panel discussions, workshops and community initiatives. Students and inhabitants have already cleaned the beaches in and around Galle Fort in anticipation of the first festival-goers.