The debut Lahore Literary Festival took place Feb. 23 and 24, 2013, at the Alhamra Arts Center.
Some 30,000 people attended the free, two-day public event to engage with and hear over 60 local and foreign panelists discuss books, film, art, architecture and urban planning, poetry, education, and music. With its strong debut, LLF has established itself as the premier cultural event in a city widely considered the cultural capital of Pakistan.
Lahore’s “first-ever literary festival … [attracted] huge crowds to hear some of Pakistan’s literary giants discuss their work, their country and what it means to laugh,” said The Wall Street Journal. “It was the other side of the city that was on display: the Lahore of rich history, culture and debate that has been gradually eroded by contemporary Pakistan’s challenges … The excitement was palpable.”
“Over two days, large crowds filled the halls of the Alhamra Art Center to listen to lilting recitals of Urdu and English language poetry, and to delight in classical dance and music,” said the BBC. “Initiatives like this festival are efforts to reclaim a different narrative, and future, for this country … there was a palpable feel-good factor around the literary festival.”
“Basant is dead and a resurrection seems unlikely. Until this year, [Lahore] had nothing to take its place,” said The Indian Express. “Thank heavens for the Lahore Literary Festival!” The publication described LLF as a “watershed moment” and its “resounding and undeniable success” as proof that Pakistan’s cultural space can be reclaimed. “Despite the rain last Friday, thousands of people made their way to the Alhamra Art Center in downtown Lahore … It was like the Lahori Oscars. I arrived at the festival drenched and cold at 11 a.m., and was immediately handed a large umbrella, a free coffee and a well-thought-out schedule. The energy the moment you entered was palpably and overwhelmingly positive—people were laughing, shouting, arguing, debating. That such a wonderful, intelligent, free public event went off without a hitch renewed a sense of vigor in Lahoris.”
“Last month, the city welcomed spring with a raucous new party—a celebration of books,” said The New York Times. “Thousands of people crammed into a towering red brick building for the inaugural Lahore Literary Festival, flitting between sessions to hear, and meet, their heroes from Pakistan’s swelling firmament of novelists. It seemed as much a rock concert as a scholarly venue, and scuffles erupted as people pushed to gain entry … ‘It was very exciting—the first time I’ve seen Beatlemania among literary groupies,’ said William Dalrymple, a British historian who participated in several sessions. ‘Nobody was throwing knickers, but it was a higher degree of hysteria than I’ve ever seen. I felt we were being treated as rock stars.’”
Describing the “most interesting literary development” of 2013, author Mohsin Hamid told The New York Times: “The first ever Lahore Literary Festival … because, at the sight of its 800-seat main auditorium filled repeatedly beyond capacity, every stair and aisle occupied in the giddiest breach of fire safety, and with so many hundreds more keen but unable to squeeze into this or that talk, most of them half my age or younger, I began to think that, laments to the contrary notwithstanding, the ranks of readers are in fact growing, in Pakistan and I suspect across Asia and Africa, and that this is a wonderful development, worth our taking a minute to cheer.”