When local psychotherapist Jessie Friedman and her husband were traveling in India a few years ago, they came across a free literary festival in Jaipur, Rajasthan, featuring authors of the highest caliber.
The couple was floored by appearances from literary titans like Nobel Prize-winner Orhan Pamuk, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Kiran Desai, but Friedman says the real magic was in the crackling intellectual energy coursing throughout the audience.
“The excitement and the passion and the joy that was there,” Friedman says. “It was like, ‘This is extraordinary. What on earth is going on here?’”
Faces in the crowd of thousands were smiling, peaceful, “like they had discovered something that wasn’t common in their everyday experience — like having found water in the desert.”
And on the long way home to the Front Range, Friedman couldn’t forget it.
“I decided I had to bring this event to Boulder,” she says.
So Friedman contacted Sanjoy Roy, managing director of Teamwork Arts and a producer of the festival. He visited Boulder on a sunny summer day, and “he got it.”
“He saw what Boulder is — he understood. He found the people incredibly well-educated,” Friedman says. “Though he did note that it’s a lot of white people.”
But Boulder fit Roy’s vision of what makes a good festival city. It was walkable and within an hour from an international airport, for one thing, and the surrounding natural beauty spoke for itself. So in 2015, Boulder became the first location to host JLF in the United States.
The Jaipur festival in India has been around since 2006, and bills itself as the world’s largest free literary festival. Since expanding a few years after its inception, events have taken place in London and Adelaide, Australia, with other U.S. iterations happening this year in New York City and Houston.
‘Great joy, great celebration’
Someone attending the Jaipur Literature Festival for the first time should expect to be exposed to what Friedman calls “deep intelligence and knowledge with really eloquent articulation.”
“They will experience an array of diverse views and perspectives from places around the world, and from many different cultures,” she says. “They should expect a lot of intentional sharing of freedom of speech and freedom of thought. They should expect great joy, great celebration and the incredible experience of being a human community.”
As for must-see sessions at the festival, Friedman highlights the appearance of journalist and former Indian statesman Gopalkrishna Gandhi, grandson of Mahatma Gandhi. The 77-year-old will be speaking about the letters the elder Gandhi wrote to his son Devadas, recently collected in his co-authored book Scorching Love.
“We are the last people who have an opportunity to talk to somebody who naturally knew [Mahatma] Gandhi,” Friedman says. “I just get goosebumps when I say that.”
Additionally, journalist Julian Rubinstein will talk about his documentary The Holly, based on his 2021 book of the same name, which depicts the multi-generational story of a northeast Denver community, exploring the history of gang violence and the takedown of activist Terrance Roberts.
“It’s a story about justice and inequity that is mind-blowing in terms of the backstory and what goes on in the justice system,” Friedman says.
Although the festival is free, Friedman encourages people to attend the festival’s fundraising gala at eTown (1535 Spruce St.) on Friday night, which is a ticketed event starting at $80.
In addition to dinner and drinks, the evening will feature the Colorado premiere of the documentary Ahimsa-Gandhi: The Power of the Powerless, a film by Ramesh Sharma about the legacy of Mahatma Gandhi and his message of non-violence, with opening remarks from Gopalkrishna Gandhi.
The Jaipur Literature Festival—Colorado takes place Sept. 16-18 at the Boulder Public Library Main Branch. The event is free to attend. For tickets to the fundraising gala, visit: