We talked with Carlin Carr, Boston Book Festival’s new Director of Operations and Outreach, about her experience volunteering with the Mumbai International Literature Festival in India, what she looks forward to about working with BBF volunteers, and what’s been inspiring to her about her own volunteer experiences.
How did you first get involved with the Boston Book Festival?
When I moved back from India in 2018, one of the first things I did was to reach out to BBF. I had worked on the festival in Mumbai and loved it and wanted to be involved with something similar here. I ended up spending six months launching the Roxbury edition that year, which has now become an integral part of the festival weekend. It was an amazing experience working with the Roxbury community to get it started, and I’m so happy to see how it’s grown. I’m just thrilled to be back working in both Roxbury and Copley.
What are the similarities and differences between producing a book festival in Mumbai and one in Boston?
Well, the biggest similarity is the insane number of details that goes into planning a large-scale event. But planning for traffic in Mumbai is definitely on a different scale. We would have to alot 2.5 hours for authors to get to our other venue, which was only about 15 miles away!
Also, the Mumbai Lit Fest goes for four days, so there’s a lot of stamina involved. We would start early morning and end with festive dinners each night, but there was always such good energy from writers from all around the world, so it was easy to keep going.
At the Mumbai festival, you encountered a lot of international authors. Who’s an author who’s well-known elsewhere in the world and you wish was better known here?
If I had to choose one, I would say it would have to be an Indian author, since I am so grateful for all the literature that helped me better understand the country I was living in for so long. I was really happy that we gave the Lifetime Achievement Award to a Mumbai-based author, Kiran Nagarkar, who unfortunately passed away last year. He was well-known in India, but I don’t think many people would know his name here. He was the most delightful human who cared about people’s stories from all walks of life, and I loved that about his books, too, especially Ravan and Eddie, which was about two boys from a chawl, traditional housing for the poor in the city.
What do you miss most about living in India? What did you miss about the US when you were living there?
I miss tons about India! I love that so much of life happens on the streets. I miss magical sunsets on the Arabian Sea. And I miss the warmth of the people–from the street vendors to the person who would come collect the trash at home every day to people who took me in and made me feel like family. The city is so massive but it often feels like a village.
Now that I’m back home, I realize how much I missed really simple things, like trees and fresh air. I definitely like to just be outside in nature, which was much harder in Mumbai.
What do you most look forward to about working with BBF’s volunteer team?
I’m really looking forward to seeing all the festival love they bring to the visitors who come. In Mumbai, whenever we would ask our authors what made their experience so special, they would inevitably say the wonderful volunteers. I know it’s the same at BBF, and I’m looking forward to getting to know all our volunteers who make the festival come alive for our audience members.
What’s a memorable experience you’ve had while volunteering for an organization or project?
In 2008, when I first landed in Mumbai, I started volunteering at a shelter for street children (that’s me with one of my kids in the photo above!). It was just a public bathroom block on the beach where kids slept at night after it closed. I started teaching them under a plastic tarp to protect us from the blazing sun. I ended up spending the next 10 years with them–they are amazingly resilient and joyful despite how little they have materially, and taught me so much about life. The shelter has transformed a lot, and some of the kids have since left and gone on to forge their own lives in the city. I miss them like crazy, but I go back once or twice a year to see them.
What are you reading right now?
I just got two shipments of books, so I’m restocked! I followed some of Ella’s advice from our bibliotherapy session, so I’m reading The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert. I also ordered a couple books from Frugal Books, which were featured on its homepage: American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins and Beneath a Ruthless Sun: A True Story of Violence, Race, and Justice Lost and Found. After so many years of reading about cities and Asia, I find myself picking up books to catch me up on U.S. issues or to just escape into nature. Are you starting to get how much I missed trees!