I tried to husband my energy, but it was hard, because there was just so much to do. Mostly fun stuff, because between Lori and Simone and Sucheta and our horde of fabulous volunteers working the registration tables, I really did get to hand off most of the physical labor during the festival itself. (Next time, have to find a better way to organize and marshall volunteers in the six months pre-festival, so I don't exhaust myself and live on the edge of panic for the last few weeks, wondering if it'll all get done in time, but that's a separate issue. Had a few great folks, like the aforementioned plus Priya, Ankur, Satya, etc., but could definitely have used more.)
Thursday night we had a great rapid-fire reading to kick off the festival, with fourteen authors actually managing to read their work in the space of just over an hour, bracketed by much eating of samosas and sweets. A good crowd too -- I counted a little over forty people, which is a very nice number for a reading with no big names. Much fun was had by all.
Friday we started the festival itself, and started a bit late, just because desis aren't so punctual, I think. But we again had a good crowd for Bapsi Sidhwa's opening talk, and I think people really enjoyed it. Then we started splitting off into a variety of readings and panels. It was all a little chaotic, since this started late -- I don't mind 5-10 minutes late, but 15-20 starts creating real difficulties with the schedule, because you end up having to push everything that late. I think I should have been a bit stricter about time. Ah well.
Plus, we had tech issues with the film screening that pushed things even later. But it all worked out in the end, and I heard the film was really great and much enjoyed. If you missed our screening, no worries -- the director has made Sita Sings the Blues freely available online, which is just tremendously generous of her. I plan to watch it this week, and I encourage you to do the same. Would love to hear what you think!
I was on a panel on "Queer Issues," along with Nawaaz Ahmed and Monica Mody, and I'm really glad we did it. At first, I didn't think I had so much to say, but as it turned out, I had a ton, mostly about poly, actually, but also some other stuff. And someone came up to me afterwards and said that she was really glad she'd attended it, because she'd learned so much, so that was tremendously gratifying. :-)
I mostly missed the other Friday panels as I was working registration / book sales, so would really like feedback on the other panels -- what did you think of them? What worked, what didn't? Were any particularly helpful or interesting?
Friday evening was a little disappointing, to be honest. We had a decent crowd for Bapsi Sidhwa's reading and booksigning, but we'd scheduled a dinner break after that, and I think most folks didn't come back after dinner -- either they lingered over their meal or they went out for drinks or to enjoy Chicago's nightlife. Which is totally understandable, but it meant that the audience was very small for the dance performances Friday night, and I felt bad for them. The open mic was small too, but that's less of an issue, I think. I think in future, we should maybe not schedule anything after dinner on Friday night -- not until we get a lot bigger, at any rate. It's just not fair to the participants.
Saturday is our big day, and we had a great crowd -- for the big events, the keynote panel and the Yoni ki Baat performance, I think we had around a hundred folks in the audience. I loved the keynote panel -- it was so interesting listening to Bapsi Sidhwa, Amitava Kumar, and Romesh Gunesekera just talk to each other. They're all so smart and thoughtful; I could have listened to them talk for hours. Lots of folks came up to me afterwards and raved about the panel. :-) And of course, people loved loved loved Yoni ki Baat. I was disappointed that one of the actors was ill, and so they didn't get to do the final piece, my "Silence and the Word" -- I like that one best, of the three pieces of mine they accepted, and I love what Rasaka did with it, breaking it into four parts for four different actors. But what can you do? Illness happens. People seemed to find "Under the Skin" pretty interesting, at least.
More samosas and sweets around those events -- yummy, but I think maybe vary the food just a bit more next time around. I think I ate eight samosas in two days, which was a little overwhelming. Still, Tahoora samosas are still pretty high on my list of deliciousness. If only we'd had a way to heat them -- ah well. More mango and other juices too, I think, instead of mostly just water bottles...they're reasonably priced, up on Devon.
Amitava's reading was popular and much enjoyed; I think scheduling the Sarvodaya presentation at the same time was a big mistake on my part, as it was severely under-attended. What would have made more sense would have been letting them have 5-10 minutes at the start of one of the big readings; we did that on Sunday with AID India and Romesh's reading, and that worked much better.
The "Politics and Writing" panel was packed, as in previous years, and I think it really needs to be at least an hour and a half, or maybe two hours. One hour is just not enough to do more than scratch the surface of the topic. We had a great time with it, though, and I particularly appreciated Romesh being on the panel, as he had such thoughtful and interesting things to say, helping me with some of my own difficulties with the topic. (I have developed a little Romesh crush, in case that hadn't already become clear. I know various women kept coming up to me and telling me how "dreamy" Amitava was, with a slightly stunned look in their eyes, but I am a Romesh gal, I'm afraid. Sorry, Amitava. :-)
For my reading with Sugi, I read chapter 17 of Arbitrary Passions, the one where I talk in detail about poly. It was a little nerve-wracking to read, but went reasonably okay, I think. Based on comments afterwards, I shocked some people, which I think is kind of funny, given that I didn't even talk all that explicitly about sex. :-) Reading the chapter did make it clear that I need more scene in that section -- it's too talky-talky as is. Sigh. I really have to do that all through the damn book, punching up the scenes and overall liveliness. This summer, one way or another. It's a good book as it stands, I think, but I want it to be great. Stunning. Brilliant. You know.
I was pretty wiped by that point, so I cut out at dinner time, leaving the rest of the evening in Lori and Simone's capable hands. Went home and crashed on the couch for snuggling with baby and Kevin. I hear the dance performances were great, especially Natya's, which people were just blown away by. Sorry I missed them and the Chimeras performance, but I think it was the right choice if I wanted to survive the weekend. If anyone has a sense of how they did on audience, I'd like to know that -- it'd be helpful in future planning.
Sunday was quieter, more like like Thursday and Friday. But we had some good discussions, and a nice crowd for Romesh's reading. The panelists surprised me there with a card and even some money that I'm apparently to use on a pregnancy photo session or some prenatal massages -- tough choice! But a very welcome one, and totally unexpected; they're so sweet. :-) It's nice to feel appreciated. Some more good nuts-and-bolts discussions for writers after that, with panels on residencies and fellowships and grants and MFAs and low-residency and PhDs in creative writing, etc. and so on. I think people found it helpful.
And then it was over, and we were packing up the remaining books (we sold a ton, which I'm very happy about, for the bookstore's and authors' sakes) and taking down the signs. Minal and Lori and I hung out for another hour, talking it all over. Then Kevin came to pick me up, and we loaded the dolly full of leftover stuff into the car (much less stuff than we started with!), and headed home.
See you again in two years! :-)