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The Lannan Foundation's speakers, online

May 18, 2010 |  9:15 am

Arudhatiroy Based in Santa Fe, N.M., the Lannan Foundation quietly provides generous grants to writers, visual artists, indigenous peoples and those working for greater cultural freedom. It hosts a reading series along those lines -- with a pretty stellar lineup -- in Santa Fe that runs from September through June.

For those of us not in Santa Fe, readings and conversations are available on the Lannan Foundation's website, for stream or podcast. This season has included author Nicholson Baker, water-rights activist Maude Barlow, poet August Kleinzahler, novelist Don DeLillo and Booker Prize-winning writer Arundhati Roy.

Avi Lewis, Roy's interlocutor, started out asking about her recent long article in India's Outlook Magazine, "Walking With the Comrades," about spending time with India's Maoist insurgency.

"You've been writing about this movement for a while," Lewis said. "You've been vilified for doing so. Now you've just spent two weeks walking with an invisible army in the forest. What was it like?"

"I think what's interesting is that if you look at what's going on in that part of the world, starting in Afghanistan, to Waziristan to the Northwest Frontier provinces, through the northeast of India, to West Bengal ... what you're seeing is a tribal uprising," Roy said. "Sometimes it takes on the face of radical Islam. Here, it's basically radical communism." The conflict, with origins that go back to late-1960s Maoism, has been exacerbated by corporate economic development in the region, which has displaced native communities. Whether you agree with Roy, her perspective is one not often heard. She explained why she took the risk to walk with the revolutionaries and what it was like:

There's so many lies, and there's so much subterfuge, and half the newspapers and TV channels have mining interests, so you just don't know what's true, what's not true. ... We walked so much, and through so many villages. ... Walking, camping, never more than a night in a place. ... Every day, you're getting news of people who are being killed, and I met a lot of families who had lost family members. ... It was an alternative to their own annihilation. It was people who are standing up and fighting and saying we're not going to move, we're not going to buy into your morality.  

During the talk, Roy said she wished she could show photos of her experience; several are available in the online version of her article. The Lannan Foundation also has photos -- of much safer, more sedate events -- with several years' worth of images from Lannan readings in Santa Fe, all recently uploaded to Flickr.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Arundhati Roy at the Lensic in Santa Fe, N.M., March 2010. Credit: Copyright Don Usner; used with permission