The Karachi Literature Festival (KLF) has been a resounding success since its launch in March 2010. Inspired by the first two KLFs (2010 and 2011), the Children’s Literature Festival (CLF) launched at the end of 2011. The momentum begun in Pakistan with the KLF led not only to the CLF but also to the Lahore and Islamabad Literature Festivals (LLF, ILF), both launched in 2013, the Teachers' Literature Festival (TLF) which launched in 2014, and many others since then across the country. This momentum reflects the depth of Pakistan's historical literary and cultural roots, and the great desire and energy here to celebrate the pursuit of knowledge, understanding, and creativity.
The KLF and ILF are directed by Ameena Saiyid, founded by Ameena Saiyid and Asif Farrukhi, and produced by Oxford University Press. The first of a kind in Pakistan, they are open to all and free, and bring together authors writing in diverse languages and genres. They feature debates, discussions, lectures, mushaira, a book fair, book launches, readings, signings, comedy, satire, theatre, film screenings, music, and dance. Since 2014, the KLF and ILF have featured parallel art programming, curated by ArtNow. Additionally, until 2015 the KLF featured parallel children's programming such as storytelling, puppetry, painting, singing, and creative movement but due to festival growth the children's programming was discontinued in 2016.
KLF attendance rose from roughly 5,000 in 2010 to 10,000 in 2011, to 15,000 in 2012, to 50,000 in 2013 to 70,000 in 2014. In 2010 we had 34 sessions with 35 speakers/performers; in 2011, 46 sessions with 104 speakers/performers; in 2012, 62 sessions with 139 speakers/performers; and in 2013 we had around 129 sessions with over 200 speakers/performers (individuals and groups) in Karachi. This year we cut back on the number of sessions, but still featured over 200 speakers/participants at the 2015 KLF. The 2015 ILF featured 171 speakers, 148 from Pakistan and 23 from abroad (India, United Kingdom, United States, France and Australia), who participated in 60 sessions. This year the ILF will feature 58 sessions and 164 participants.
Six literary prizes are awarded at the KLF. The KLF Coca-Cola prize goes to the best non-fiction book originally written in English by a Pakistani or Pakistan-origin foreign national and it comes with Rs 250,000. The KLF Peace Prize which comes with 4000 euros is a joint project of the KLF, the Consulate General of Germany in Karachi, and the Embassy of Germany in Islamabad: it goes to a fiction or non-fiction book that promotes peace, tolerance and international understanding, published in any language translated into English, and written by a Pakistani or a Pakistani-origin foreign national residing anywhere worldwide, or any foreign national who is a resident of Pakistan. The KLF – Embassy of France Prize promotes fiction originally written in English: the author (a Pakistani or a Pakistani-origin foreign national residing anywhere worldwide) of the best novel or short story collection, published anywhere worldwide or self-published, wins an official invitation for a fully-sponsored visit to the Paris Book Fair. The KLF Urdu Prize comes with Rs 200,000, is awarded to poetry or prose book originally written in Urdu, published anywhere worldwide (or self -published) before December 2015, by a Pakistani or Pakistan-origin author living anywhere worldwide. The KLF Fiction Prize comes with Rs 300,000 and promotes fiction written in English by Pakistani or Pakistani-origin authors living anywhere worldwide. The Italy Reads Pakistan Award consists of the acquisition of publishing rights by Metropoli d’Asia in Italian only, for fiction originally written in English or Urdu by a Pakistani citizen under the age of 45.
Each year, the speakers / participants have been outstanding, including, but not limited to, the following keynote speakers: Shamsur Rahman Faruqi (2010), Karen Armstrong (2011), William Dalrymple (2012), Nadeem Aslam and Intizar Husain (KLF 2013), Rajmohan Gandhi, (Mahatma Gandhi's grandson) (KLF 2014), Nayantara Sahgal (Nehru's niece), and Zehra Nigah (KLF 2015), Anatol Lieven, Ataul Haq Qasmi, Paul Harding, Zehra Nigah (ILF 2015), Pervez Hoodbhoy, Arfa Sayeda Zehra and Ziauddin Sardar (KLF 2016).
"I attend a lot of Festivals, but I have to say that this one's sense of urgency and the desire of people to speak about literature, about politics, about their country, about their country in relation to other people's countries -- has been particularly urgent and necessary here. I felt a real buzz and a real excitement in this place. And if I wonder -- as all writers do every day when they get up and sit at their desk -- if I wonder what the hell we're doing this for, when you actually come to a festival like this and meet readers and meet other writers, you get a real sense that writing is important and that writers matter..." Hanif Kureishi in conversation with Susie Nicklin. Susie mentioned that Hanif had travelled back to Karachi after 25 years to attend the 3rd KLF in 2012.
"Different ideas and assessments emerged in every session. In a gathering of such gifted minds, the quality of discourse is sure to be high." Ghazi Salahuddin in The News, March 28, 2010, reprinted in Jahan-e-Rumi