October 2016 Posts

Jaya’s newsletter – 1

( As of this week I will be publishing a weekly newsletter on publishing and book news — international and local across languages. So if there is anything that you would like to alert me to please write: jayabhattacharjirose1 at gmail dot com )

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October is always a very busy month for publishers since the Frankfurt Book Fair is held — the mecca of publishing. So many announcements and deals are made.
  • cinestateWill Evans, Founder, Deep Vellum Publishing announced the launch of Cinestate, a cross-media company. Cinestate is looking to acquire rights to stories for literary translation and also to works that will appeal to a mass audience in multiple media, including print, digital, audiobooks, and film. ( http://bit.ly/2eTEkkX )
  • Ananth Padmanabhan, CEO, HarperCollins India wrote a guest editorial for Publishing Perspectives: “A call to protect freedom of expression and copyright in India” ( http://bit.ly/2dYV0tM) In a landmark judgement on 16 September 2016 Justice Endlaw of the Delhi High Court ruled on the “DU photocopy case”. It is being watched worldwide as a siginificant case study of copyright laws and its interpretation of “educational use” since it is argued that it will impact all forms of reproduction. The judgement and related resource material have been uploaded on SpicyIP, a blog on intellectual property (IP) and innovation law and policy, managed by IP exerts and lawyers. (http://bit.ly/2eTGotj )
The week gone by has been very exciting. Full of news.
  • karthikaIndian trade publishing is abuzz with the resignation of Karthika VK, Publisher, Harper Collins India. She had been at the post for more than a decade. (http://bit.ly/2dYM1ZF )
  • Significant appointments: Dharini Bhaskar, Publisher, Simon & Schuster India and Naveen Choudhary, Head of Marketing – Global Academic Business for India.
  • Prajwal Parajuly, has been appointed to the jury of the 2017 International Dylan Thomas Prize. dylan-prize(http://bit.ly/2eKypzU )
  • Internationally there is grief at the sudden demise of legendary literary agent, Carole Blake, Blake & Friedmann Agency. ( http://bit.ly/2dKymad) .
FBF is significant too since around this time there are innumerable literary prizes announced. Some notable announcements are:
  • The Nobel Prize for Literature was awarded to Bob Dylan “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition”.( http://bit.ly/2f9n3sX ) Bob Dylan is yet to acknowledge the award. (http://bit.ly/2dYQvzq). If he chooses to reject it as Jean Paul-Sartre (1964) the Nobel committee will continue to recognise him as the awardee.
  • paul-beattyThe Man Booker Prize for Fiction 2016 ( £50,000) was awarded to Paul Beatty for his satirical novel The Sellout. ( http://bit.ly/2dGYDWG) It is the first time an American has won. Also indie publishers Oneworld have created history for having won the award in two consecutive years. Last year their author Marlon James won. Only Faber has won this award previously back-to-back in the eighties for Oscar and Lucinda by Peter Carey (1988) and The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro (1989). The morning after the award was announced Oneworld placed an order for 170k more copies of The Sellout of which 10,000 are being reserved for India. It is being distributed by PanMacmillan India. ( http://bit.ly/2eI1tdy )
  • The Nigeria Prize for Literature ( $100,000) was awarded to novelist Abubakar Adam Ibrahim abubakar-ibrahimfor Season of Crimson BlossomsThe Nigeria Prize for Literature rotates yearly amongst four literary genres: prose fiction, poetry, drama and children’s literature. ( https://www.facebook.com/nigeriaprizeforliterature/posts/1244773285544573 )
  • thien-jpg-size-custom-crop-1086x724Madeleine Thien wins 2016 Governor General’s Literary Award for fiction (http://bit.ly/2ePd2xE)
  • A new literary prize for a non-existent book has been announced. ( http://bit.ly/2exG0DW )The winner of the Nine Dots Prize, announced Friday, will be awarded $100,000 (£82,000). The new award hopes to inspire innovative thinking about social science issues and is open to all authors, regardless of whether they have been published or not, from around the globe. The winner of the Nine Dots Prize will be announced in May 2017 and their book will be published in May 2018.The $100,000 prize is funded by the Kadas Prize Foundation, an English charity that seeks to stimulate research around the social sciences.

Book launches: On 25 October 2016 the annual Roli Books exhibition was inaugurated at Bikaner House, New Delhi. (26 Oct – 9 Nov 2016) It is on the Mewar Ramayana, the finest surviving illustrated manuscript. The book was launched by Jerry Losty and Sumedha Verma. Pramod Kapoor of Roli Books spent more than five years putting together this splendid book. mewar-ramayana

Jaya recommends: This list is based on the books I have acquired recently.
  • James Gleick Time Travel ( Harper)
  • Kio Stark When Strangers Meet ( TED, Simon and Schuster)
  • Kit de Waal My Name is Leon ( Viking, an imprint of Penguin)
  • (Eds.) Tutun Mukherjee and Niladri R. Chatterjee Nari Bhav: Androgyny and Female Impersonation in India ( Niyogi Books)
  • Vikas Khanna Essence of Seasoning ( Easy-to-make recipes that border on fusion cuisine.)
The following books are for children and would make excellent Diwali gifts too! amir-khusrau-puffin-india
  • Ankit Chadha Amir Khusrau: The Man in Riddles ( A stunning edition by Puffin India)
  • Juhi Sinha Festival Storybook ( Four stories on festivals, Scholastic India)
  • The Big Book of India Festival Puzzles ( Scholastic India)
Extras: 
  • “Algorithms could save book publishing but ruin novels” ( Wired, 16 Sept 2016,  http://bit.ly/2eTDFRZ)
  • A wonderful profile of literary translator and editor, Words without Borders, Susan Harris: http://bit.ly/2f9PSFO
  • “Flag hoisting in Chinnoor” A translation of the Tamil short story Chinnooril Kodiyetram written in 1968 by Saarvaagan, republished in Frontline, 28 Oct 2016. Translated by Subashree Krishnaswamy ( http://bit.ly/2eTw85o )
  • “The House of Fergiani: a Libyan publishing family’s commitment to literature and the liberating power of books” On Darf Publishers ( The National, 15 Oct 2015, http://bit.ly/2dOg9DA )

27 Oct 2016 

Bruce Springsteen “Born to Run”

Writing about yourself is a funny business. At the end of the day it’s just another story, the story you’ve chosen from the events of your life. I haven’t told you “all” about myself. Discretion and the feelings of others don’t allow it. But in a project like this, the writer has made one promise: to show the reader his mind. In these pages I’ve tried to do that. 

Reading memoirs and autobiographies of musicians and rockstars is always fascinating. It contains oodles of gossip and magnificent back stories on how iconic songs were created, performed or relationships forged and broken.  For a long time histories of rock music were seen as popular literature and not necessarily given their due space in mainstream publishing. There could have been innumerable reasons for it but the whole notion of pop and rock music is a relatively recent phenomenon. Post-war the explosive music of rock and roll musicians like Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Beatles, et al was hugely influential but also path breaking in their experimentation within traditions of music. So histories of rock musicians are also fascinating social accounts of the evolution of music and a rapidly changing society. Bruce Springsteen’s long awaited memoir  Born to Run is deliciously rich for exactly these reasons. It is magnificent for its focused structure, fantastically breezy storytelling ( years of practice as a songwriter?), the ability to know exactly how much to present in words much as a seasoned performer  knows exactly how much to deliver to his audience, and to write a memoir in the good old-fashioned literary style.

Most of my writing is emotionally autobiographical. I’ve learned you’ve got to pull up the things that mean something to you in order for them to mean anything to your audience. 

While writing Born to Run Bruce Springsteen gives as “frank” an account is possible of his childhood and his desire to be a musician. It was watching “this hip-shaking human earthquake” Elvis Presely perform on the Ed Sullivan show ( actually it was Charles Laughton covering for Ed who was recovering from an accident) that changed Bruce Springsteen forever. He wanted “THE GUITAR” too. The next day he convinced his mother to rent a guitar for him. “I smelled blood.” He was six.

His co-musicians remarked that Bruce Springsteen was to be admired for his determination to succeed as a musician and never did he work at anything else. It was music all the way. For a man who has never learned to read music ( like George Gershwin) Bruce Springsteen has had an extremely successful career and he is grateful for it. He is very aware that “we were rock’s early third generation”. At the cusp of the best of rock’s reinventors of blues, pop and soul, the British wave, yet young enough to experience its originators. Also Springsteen and his band were able to experience the punk explosion of the late seventies and hip-hop in the eighties….”yet the band was unique: the cross-tensions of the fifties blue-collar world and sixties social experience clashing and melding in our music. We are pre- and post-hippie sixties soul survivors. It’s a blend that won’t exactly exist firsthand anymore when we’re done. The world and society changes too quickly and too much.”

Born to Run took Bruce Springsteen seven years to write. According to a wondeful profile published in Vanity Fair the genesis of this memoir originated in a few scribbles Bruce Springsteen wrote after performing at the Super Bowl half-time.

The germ of Born to Run, the book, lies in a short, diaristic piece Springsteen wrote for his Web site in 2009, afterbruce-springsteen-october-2016-cover he and the E Street Band played the halftime show of Super Bowl XLIII. The logistics and pressure of doing the 12-minute show threw even as battle-tested a performer as Springsteen for a loop, and he thought the experience would make for a good yarn to share. “Fifteen minutes . . . oh, by the way, I’m somewhat terrified,” he wrote in one passage. “It’s not the usual pre-show jitters, not ‘butterflies,’ not wardrobe malfunction nervousness, I’m talking about five minutes to beach landing, ‘Right Stuff,’ ‘Lord Don’t Let Me Screw the Pooch in Front of 100 Million People,’ ‘One of the biggest television audiences since dinosaurs first screwed on earth’ kind of terror.”

Doing the Super Bowl show, Springsteen said, led him to discover a “pretty good voice to write in.” With time on his hands after the big game, he kept at it, writing down vignettes from his life in longhand while he and Scialfa were staying in Florida, where their daughter, Jessica, a competitive equestrian, was participating in show-jumping events. He was pleased with the results. In fits and starts, back at home in New Jersey and on tour over the next seven years, a full-blown, 500-page autobiography eventually took shape, with no ghost or collaborator. Every word in the book is his own.  ( David Kamp “Cover Story: The Book of Bruce Springsteen” Photographs by Annie Leibovitz, October 2016 http://www.vanityfair.com/culture/2016/09/bruce-springsteen-cover-story#1)

Like a veteran storyteller Bruce Springsteen is able to offer a judicious mix of the personal and his professional life to his fans. His revelations include his coming to terms with his Catholicism which for a long time he had rebelled against. But then bemusedly he understands that “once you’re a Catholic, you’re always a Catholic. I don’t often participate in my religion but I know somewhere … deep inside…I’m still on the team.

This was the world where I found the beginnings of my song. In Catholicism, there existed the poetry, danger and darkness that reflected my imagination and my inner self. I found a land of great and harsh beauty, of fantastic stories, of unimaginable punishment and infinite reward. It was a glorious and pathetic place I was either shaped for or fit right into. It has walked alongside me as a waking dream my whole life. So as a young adult I tried to make sense of it.”

Springsteen also bravely reveals the challenges he has faced while tackling his depression. Mental ill-health being an inheritance from his father. “The fire in me felt like it had gone out and I felt dark and hollow inside. Bad thoughts had a heyday. …You feel the thinness of the veil of your identity and an accompanying panic that seems to be just around the corner….I couldn’t get out of bed.”

Born to Run is a title chosen deliberately by Springsteen as an acknowledgement to his legendary music album. Yet it epitomizes his life well. His desire to escape from the poverty and squalor of his working-class childhood home (but not necessarily the deep love and familial affection he received) to performing on the road nonstop with enviable amounts of stamina and energy and becoming a multimillionaire who own a horse farm now. Today he is sixty-seven and still performing live including a concert in summer 2016 that lasted for nearly four and a half hours. Incredibly too and a fact that he is rightly proud of “I’m one of the few artists from those days who owns everything he ever created. All my records are mine. All my songs are mine. It’s rare and it’s a good feeling. ” This is when stories such as of Elvis Presley’s manager, Colonel Parker, who earned notoriety for pocketing most of the singer’s earnings are legendary.

Born to Run is a memoir written with passion and a raw energy reminiscent of Bruce Springsteen the singer and performer. It is a delight to read since it is evident that Springsteen has a critical and sharp understanding of his place in the long line of musicians while happily acknowledging the love for his family. He is at peace with the choices he made and continues to make.

This is a book not to be missed.

Bruce Springsteen Born to Run Simon & Schuster UK, London, 2016. Hb. pp. 520 Rs 799

26 Oct 2016

 

Janaki Ammal, Botanist

janaki_ammal_younger_picture-738x1024Janaki Ammal was a botanist known for her research in sugarcane. She was trained abroad, worked at Kew Gardens, London and returned to independent India at the invitation of Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. Earlier this year her niece, Geeta Doctor, wrote a magnificent piece about her aunt in the digital ezine, Scroll: http://scroll.in/article/730186/remembering-dr-janaki-ammal-pioneering-botanist-cytogeneticist-and-passionate-gandhian . In October 2016, the Botanical Survey of India, Kolkatta, inaugurated an exhibition on the eminent scientist. ( http://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/science/kolkata-celebrates-botany-legend-janaki-ammal-with-exhibition/article9227048.ece )

Six large blow-ups on her life and her contributions to science, along with several letters presenting anecdotes and highlighting the difficulties the woman scientist had to face during her time, come to the fore at the exhibition.

In one of the letters, dated September 25, 1953, Janaki Ammal wrote to a fellow scientist that the Ministry of dsc06131-768x1024Natural Resources and Scientific Research of the Government of India had accepted her scheme for the reorganisation of the BSI.

Science historians say it was following her memorandum that the BSI was reorganised into four regional centres: Coimbatore (1955), Pune (1955), Shillong (1955) and Dehra Dun (1956), with their headquarters at Calcutta. A number of communications with scientists and officials highlight her struggle to establish herself as a scientist in what was a male-dominated discipline.

The exhibition always provides certain anecdotes, like how she met Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru on a flight and he persuaded her to come back to India in 1948.

janaki-ammalThe Ladies Finger website too carries a wonderful profile of Janaki Ammal: http://theladiesfinger.com/janaki-ammal/ .

Interestingly enough there is a tiny mention of Janaki Ammal in a tumblr_o6rj9utmhh1src5rlo1_500maginificently illustrated book Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers who Changed the World. It has been written and illustrated by Rachel Ignotofsky. ( The other Indian women scientist mentioned in the book is Tessy Thomas who was instrumental in creating the most powerful long-range nuclear missile ever.)

Rachel Ignotofsky Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers who Changed the World Ten Speed Press, Berkeley, 2016. Hb. pp. 130 Rs 499 

26 Oct 2016

American writer Paul Beatty brings back slavery and segregation to win the £50,000 Man Booker Prize

( My review of the Man Booker Prize 2016 winner The Sellout by Paul Beatty was published by Scroll on 26 Oct 2016, a day after the win was announced. Here is the original url: http://scroll.in/article/819961/american-writer-paul-beatty-brings-back-slavery-and-segregation-to-win-the-ps50000-man-booker-prize . I am also c&p the text below. )

‘The Sellout’ is a wicked satire on racism, and makes Beatty the first American to win the Man Booker.

This may be hard to believe, coming from a black man, but I’ve never stolen anything. Never cheated on my taxes or at cards. Never snuck into the movies or failed to give back the extra change to a drugstore cashier indifferent to the ways of mercantilism and minimum-wage expectations. I’ve never burgled a house. Held up a liquor store…But here I am, in the cavernous chambers of the Supreme Court of the United States of America, my car illegally and somewhat ironically parked on Constitution Avenue, my hands cuffed and crossed behind my back, my right to remain silent long since waived and said goodbye to as I sit in a thickly padded chair that, much like this country, isn’t quite as comfortable as it looks.

~~~

That’s the bitch of it, to be on trial for my life, and for the first time ever not feel guilty. That omnipresent guilt that’s as black as fast-food apple pie and prison basketball is finally gone, and it feels almost while to be unburdened from the racial shame that makes a bespectacled college freshman dread Fried Chicken Fridays at the dining hall. I was the “diversity” the school trumpeted so loudly in its glossy literature, but there wasn’t enough financial aid in the world to get me to suck the gristle from a leg bone in front of the entire freshman class.

Paul Beatty’s satirical novel The Sellout is a magnificently absorbing story told by a nameless narrator who is referred to by his girlfriend as “Bonbon”. The novel opens with him in court not for a petty crime like stealing, but for encouraging racial segregation and slavery. The narrator has been born in the “agrarian ghetto” of Dickens, a suburb of Los Angeles.

A work of contemporary fiction that revolves around histories of family,The Sellout comes with a twist. It covers only two generations – father and son, and what happens next. Among other things, this includes the reintroduction of slavery and segregation. The father of the narrator is a single parent and a sociologist, who turns his only son into an on-going social experiment in childrearing methodologies.

For instance, the father ties his four-year-old son’s right hand behind his back so that he can grow to be left-handed, right-brained, and well-centered. Or, he tests the “bystander effect” as it applies to the “Black community” on his eight-year-old son by beating the boy in front of a throng of bystanders who don’t stand around for too long. Sadly the father is killed in a police shoot out. The narrator is left bewildered.

You’re supposed to cry when your dad dies. Curse the system because your father has died at the hands of the police. Bemoan being lower-middle-class and coloured in a police state that protects only rich white people and movie stars of all races, though I can’t think of any Asian-American ones. But I didn’t cry. I thought his death was a trick. Another one of his elaborate schemes to educate me on the plight of the black race and to inspire me to make something of myself, I half expected him to get up, brush himself off, and say, “See, nigger, if this could happen to the world’s smartest black man, just imagine what could happen to your dumb ass. Just because racism is dead don’t mean they don’t shoot niggers on sight.”

The inheritance is downright bizarre – the son, like his father, becomes a “nigger whisperer”. It is one of these men he “rescues”, Hominy Jenkins, “the last surviving member of the Little Rascals”, who becomes a devoted slave to the narrator. Curiously enough, just as he was his father’s little social experiment, the narrator turns his neighbourhood into a larger sociological study by promoting segregation to the extent of drawing a white boundary line around the space.

The Sellout maintains a mad pace of breathless storytelling that sometimes only works effectively if read out aloud. In an interview recorded in May 2015, Beatty, pokes fun at racial politics but insists that the novel is about a ton of other things too. ( (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j4PYhbZvz_g ) He refers to his work as a metaphorical tale wherein he has been thinking about segregation and how it will be in modern times. Acknowledging it also changes one’s outlook. He adds, “I don’t try to be satirical but I think in my head and on paper and it takes a long, long time to be poetic and I have a little bit of agenda which is hard to pull off.”

The Man Booker winner says his approach involves humour and personal experience. “I am starting from myself.” With the American presidential elections due in less than a month, was the jury specially influenced by the issues raised in this novel? It is a stupendous decision by the Man Booker Prize judges in awarding the £50,000 award to Paul Beatty for The Sellout. It is the first time an American has won the prize. It is a doubly sweet win for independent publishers Oneworld who have probably made publishing history for their back-to-back win at the prestigious literary award. The Man Booker Prize 2015 awarded to A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James was a Oneworld publication too. In the subcontinent Pan MacMillan India represents and distributes Oneworld.

As a poet, writer, and a trained psychologist, Beatty has brought his vast experience in writing and understanding human behaviour to produce a magnificently raw, hard-hitting, fantastically honest, take-your-breath-away work of dark humour. The Sellout is satire at its finest. At times it is hard to believe this is fiction and not excellent reportage.

Paul Beatty The Sellout Oneworld,London, 2016. Pb. pp. 288 Rs 399 

26 Oct 2016 

On “Dying” and “In Gratitude”

jenni-diski51hmou4betl-_sx311_bo1204203200_I’m writing a memoir, a form that in my mind plays hide-and-seek with the truth. It contains what I imagine and what I remember being told. Absolute veracity is what I am after. 

Jenni Diski In Gratitude 

Two women writers, Jenni Diski and Cory Taylor, are diagnosed with cancer and its inoperable. Trying to come to terms with the doctor’s grim prognosis is not easy. Suddenly time takes on a different meaning. Jenni Diski began a column for the London Review of Books once her cancer was diagnosed. It was a series a essays that were published reflecting on her life, her birth family, her writing, her school and most significantly her complicated relationship with the Nobel Prize winner, Doris Lessing, who took fifteen-year-old Jennifer Simmonds under her wing. The Australian writer Cory Taylor too spends a while in her memoir, Dying, remembering her mother and the choices she made. In both the memoirs what comes across clearly is that the two dying writers are reflecting upon their past but are also hugely influenced by and acknowledge the presence of the women who made the writers what they are. Jenni Diski had always nursed a desire to be a writer but had not been very focused about it till she met Doris Lessing and was introduced to her world of writers and other creative minds who always made interesting conversation and had ideas to offer. Cory Taylor discovered that her mother had had a dream to be a writer but never achieved it. She writes in Dying : “Writing, even if most of the time you are only doing it in your head, shapes the world, and makes it bearable. …I’m never happier than when I’m writing, or thinking about writing, or watching the world as a writer, and it has been this way from the start.” Three Australian writers including Benjamin Law wrote a beautiful obituary for Cory Taylor in the Guardian terming Dying as a “remarkable gift” for providing a vocabulary and invitation to speak about that “unmentionable thing”, a “monstrous silence” — death. ( 6 July 2016, http://bit.ly/2dPq0Mx ) These sentiments on writing and the gift of the memoir can probably be extended to Jenni Diski and In Gratitude too.

Apart from Jenni Diski’s and Cory Taylor’s preoccupation with writing and their evolution as writers what comes 41vdphgesjlthrough strongly in both memoirs is the tussle between secular and religious modes of coping with death and its rituals. Also how ill-prepared a secular upbringing makes an individual in understanding burial rites or managing one’s grief once a loved one departs. How does one mourn? The structures of religious rituals seem to take care of the moments of sorrow. There is much to do. Yet the challenge of speaking of death and the process of dying is not easy. Cory Taylor had even contemplated euthanasia and ultimately passed away in hospice care.

In Gratitude and Dying: A memoir put the spotlight on the magnificent leaps medicine and technology have made, in many cases it has prolonged life but with it is the baggage of ethics — whether it is possible to go through the agony of pain while dying a slow death or to end it all swiftly by assisted suicide or euthanasia. These are critical issues not necessarily the focus areas of both books although Cory Taylor confesses in having contemplated euthanasia. While reading the memoirs innumerable questions inevitably arise in a reader’s mind.

Some of the literature  published recently has been seminal in contributing to the growing awareness and need to discuss death increasingly in modern times when advancement in medical technology seems to prolong human suffering. Also in an increasingly polarised world between the secular and religious domains bring to the fore the disturbed confusion that reigns in every individual on how to deal with the dying, the finality of death, disposal of the mortal remains and the despair it leaves the distraught survivors in. Some links are:

  1. “Daughters of Australian scientists who took their own lives reflect on their parents’ plan” http://bit.ly/2dDfvc8 ( Jan 2016)
  2. Amitava Kumar’s essay “Pyre” published in Granta ( https://granta.com/pyre/ ) and recently republished in Best American Essays 2016, edited by Jonathan Franzen.
  3. Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal ( 2015)
  4. Paul Kalanithi’s When Breath Becomes Air ( 2016)
  5. Aleksander Hemon’s moving essay on his infant daughter’s brain cancer ( “The Aquarium: A Child’s Isolating Illness” JUNE 13 & 20, 2011 ISSUE http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2011/06/13/the-aquarium )
  6. Randy Pausch’s The Last Lecture  ( 2008, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ji5_MqicxSo )
  7. Andrew Solomon’s essay on his mother’s decision to opt for euthanasia ( “A  Death of One’s Own” 22 May 1995 http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/1995/05/22/a-death-of-ones-own )

In Gratitude and Dying are strangely comforting while being thought provoking in raising uncomfortable questions about mortality, importance of time, maintenance of familial ties and doing that which pleases or gives the individual peace. Both the memoirs have a confident writing style as if by capturing memories in words the writers are involved a therapeutic process of facing their mortality while the urgency to their writing has an unmistakable strength to its tenor as if no one will have the time to dispute their published words.

Read these books.

Jenni Diski In Gratitude Bloomsbury, London, 2016. Pb. pp. 250 £12.99 

Cory Taylor Dying: A Memoir Canongate, London, 2016. Pb. pp. £12.99 

24 Oct 2016 

 

 

Press Release: Dylan Prize judges announced

dylan-prizeNEWS RELEASE

Monday 24 October 2016

Judges for the 2017 International Dylan Thomas Prize announced

Distinguished novelists, professors, a poet, a historian and Head of BBC Audio Drama UK make up the judging panel for the 2017 International Dylan Thomas Prize in partnership with Swansea University, one of the world’s most prestigious prizes for young writers.

The £30,000 prize, which opened for entries on 5 September 2016, is awarded to the best eligible published literary work in English, written by an author aged 39 or under.

‌‌Launched in 2006, the annual International Dylan Thomas Prize is aimed at encouraging raw creative talent worldwide.  Past winners have come from Wales, England, the USA and Vietnam, and include: Max Porter (Grief is the Thing with Feathers [Faber & Faber]), Joshua Ferris (To Rise Again at a Decent Hour [Penguin]); Claire Vaye Watkins (Battleborn [Granta]); Maggie Shipstead (Seating Arrangements [HarperCollins]); and Rachel Trezise (Fresh Apples [Parthian]).

The judging panel for the 2017 International Dylan Thomas Prize:

•     Professor Kurt Heinzelman: poet, translator and scholar; professor at the University of Texas at Austin.

•    Alison Hindell: Head of Audio Drama, UK for the BBC; Visiting Professor in Radio Drama for the University of Derby and a Fellow of the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama.

•    Professor Sarah Moss: novelist and professor; author of five novels and a memoir based on a year spent in Iceland, Names for the Sea;member of Warwick University’s Writing Programme.

•    Prajwal Parajuly: author of short stories and the novel Land Where I Flee, an Independent on Sunday book of the year; Clayton B. Ofstad endowed distinguished writer-in-residence at Truman State University, Missouri.

•    Professor Dai Smith (chair of panel): historian and writer on Welsh arts and culture; Honorary Raymond Williams Research Chair in the Cultural History of Wales at Swansea University.

Professor Dai Smith, Honorary Raymond Williams Research Chair in the Cultural History of Wales at Swansea University said:

“The panel of judges assembled for 2017 under my chairmanship bring to their formidable task experience of Wales and the world, of the practice of creative writing in prose and poetry, of drama and communication, of readers’ expectations and writers’ risk taking, and, of course, of the multifariousness of Dylan himself. We have a hard act to follow after last year’s panel plumped, spectacularly, and justifiably so, for Max Porter’s poem novel Grief Is The Thing With Feathers, but the entrants for 2017 are already queuing up for the amazing accolade of being acclaimed the winner of the International Dylan Thomas Prize in Swansea in May next year.”

The winner will be announced at the final awards ceremony in Swansea University’s Great Hall, Wales, on 10 May 2017.  The closing date for entries is 4 November 2016.

About the judges

Professor Kurt Heinzelman is a poet, translator, and scholar. His most recent book of poems is Intimacies & Other Devices and he has translated Demarcations, a collection of poems by Jean Follain.  He has been the Executive Curator at the Harry Ransom Center and the Director of Education at the Blanton Museum of Art. A Professor of Poetry and Poetics at the University of Texas-Austin, he is also Editor-in-Chief of Texas Studies in Literature and Language (TSLL), and the co-founder and currently Advisory Editor of Bat City Review.

Alison Hindell is Head of Audio Drama, UK for the BBC.  She has directed over 260 radio plays, from international co-productions to soap opera, and has won many awards.  She runs one of the biggest radio drama production departments in the world and is responsible for the creation of over 400 hours of drama, ranging from the iconic The Archers (including steering the Helen and Rob story to its culmination this year) to award-winning new writing and classics for many BBC radio networks.  Most recently, she has worked with internationally acclaimed theatre director Robert Wilson on a multi-lingual co-production with German broadcasters called Tower of Babel.  Alison worked for the Royal Shakespeare Company before joining the BBC and has directed theatre and worked as voice and casting director on several international animations.  She is currently Visiting Professor in Radio Drama for the University of Derby and a Fellow of the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama.

Professor Sarah Moss was born in Glasgow, grew up mostly in Manchester and studied at Oxford. She began her academic career with a doctoral thesis on Wordsworth, Coleridge and travel writing, and wrote a monograph on food and gender in eighteenth-century literature before turning to fiction. Her novels are Cold Earth (Granta, 2009), Night Waking (Granta, 2011), Bodies of Light (Granta, 2014), Signs for Lost Children(Granta, 2015) and The Tidal Zone (Granta, 2016). She has also written a memoir of a year spent in Iceland, Names for the Sea (Granta, 2012). Sarah has taught at the Universities of Oxford, Kent, Exeter and Iceland, and has been part of the Warwick Writing Programme since 2012.

Prajwal Parajuly is the son of an Indian father and a Nepalese mother. The Gurkha’s Daughter, his debut collection of short stories, was a finalist for the International Dylan Thomas Prize in 2013 and a semi-finalist for The Story Prize. Land Where I Flee, his first novel, was anIndependent on Sunday book of the year and a Kansas City Star best book of 2015. Prajwal is the Clayton B. Ofstad endowed distinguished writer-in-residence at Truman State University in Kirksville, Missouri. He has written for The New York TimesThe Guardian, the New Statesmanand the BBC.

Professor Dai Smith is a distinguished historian and writer on Welsh arts and culture. He was Pro-Vice Chancellor of the University of Glamorgan from 2001 until 2005 and is currently the Honorary Raymond Williams Research Chair in the Cultural History of Wales at Swansea University.

He was Chair of the Arts Council of Wales from 2006 until 2016 and is Series Editor of the Welsh Assembly Government’s Library of Wales for classic works. In 2013, he published a novel Dream On and in 2014 edited definitive anthologies of Welsh Short Stories, Story I & II, for the Library of Wales. His latest fiction, the novella What I Know I Cannot Say, and the linked short stories All That Lies Beneath, will be published in 2017 by Parthian Books.

judges

Notes for editors:

Pictures of the judges, last year’s winner, and the Prize logo can be downloaded via this Dropbox link: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/m3soqlkmsv6xznk/AAB1SwPV1kQQ_XpL_C1JKgGra?dl=0

International Dylan Thomas Prize:

Website: http://www.swansea.ac.uk/dylan-thomas-prize/

Twitter: @dylanthomprize / https://twitter.com/dylanthomprize

Hashtag: #IDTP17

Swansea University is a world-class, research-led, dual campus university.  The University was established in 1920 and was the first campus university in the UK.  It currently offers around  350 undergraduate courses and  350 postgraduate courses to  circa 20,000 undergraduate and postgraduate students.

The University’s 46-acre Singleton Park Campus is located in beautiful parkland with views across Swansea Bay.  The University’s 65-acre science and innovation Bay Campus, which opened in September 2015, is located a few miles away on the eastern approach to the city. It has the distinction of having direct access to a beach and its own seafront promenade.  Both campuses are close to the Gower Peninsula, the UK’s first Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Swansea is ranked the top university in Wales and is currently The Times and The Sunday Times ‘Welsh University of the Year’. It is also ranked within the top 350 best universities in the world in the Times Higher Education World University rankings.

The results of the Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2014 showed the University has achieved its ambition to be a top 30 research University, soaring up the league table to 26th in the UK, with the ‘biggest leap among research-intensive institutions’ (Times Higher Education, December 2014) in the UK.

The University has ambitious expansion plans as it moves towards its centenary in 2020, as it continues to extend its global reach and realising its domestic and international ambitions.

Swansea University is a registered charity. No.1138342. Visit www.swansea.ac.uk

For more information, contact Catrin Newman, Swansea University Press Office:c.a.newman@swansea.ac.uk +0044 (0)1792 513454

On Chetan Bhagat’s “One Indian Girl”

As a woman I seek justice in a patriarchal world. i-want-to-destroy-myself_website-480x748

Malika Amar Shaikh, I Want to Destroy Myself: A Memoir *

frontEnough outrage has been expressed on various platforms at Chetan Bhagat’s latest novel, One Indian Girl . Critics, readers, journalists etc have ripped the novelist apart for  his attempt at portraying a feminist protagonist, Radhika Mehta. The story has been told in first person for which Chetan Bhagat says he interviewed and spoke to more than a hundred women. But alas, portraying a “feminist” does not a feminist make. Feminism is a way of living and it cannot be possibly imbibed to tell a story particularly in an attempt to capitulate to the current trend of being just and aware of women’s rights. The fact is patriarchal structures are far too deeply embedded in society and if popular writers like Chetan Bhagat who too remain shackled to these interpretations it will be challenging to progress further. What is alarming is that there is the distinct possibility of much of the space fought for and won by feminists will be rapidly lost.

If One Indian Girl is analysed within its contemporary literary milieu it becomes evident that the novelist is fairly clueless about how far the idea of a powerful woman is being explored. In fact much of the progressive interpretations of what constitutes a strong woman (whom some may interpret as a feminist) is being explored in fiction published nowadays — available in English and in translation. Most of these stories depict an ordinary woman negotiating her daily space thus defining herself and by extension living her feminism whether they chose to acknowledge it or not.

ratika-kapurSome of the modern writers to consider who are questioning, portraying, and contributing a significant amount to the conversation about who is a strong woman kiran-manraland what can be construed as woman power are:  Chitra Bannerjee Divakurni, Sremoyee Piu Kundu, Kiran Manral, Ratna Vira, Kota Neelima, Sowmya Rajendran, Sakshama Puri Dhariwal, Trisha Das, Vibha Batra and Ratika Kapur write in English. In translation there are a many who are now being made available such as Malika Amar Shaikh, Ambai, Lalithambika Antharajanam, K. R. Meera, Bama, Salma and Nabaneeta Dev Sen. This is a list that can easily be added to and it will bems-draupadi-kuru-b_090816092030
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self-evident how far women writers have evolved to depict the ordinary and how challenging the most seemingly innocuous task can be — such
as asking a man to love her as K. R. Meera does in The Gospel of Yudas or the horror of living with a famous man like Namdeo Dhasal who in his public life spoke of rights and was concerned for others but showed least sympathy for his own family as narrated by his wife, Malika Amar Shaikh, in her memoir  I Want to Destroy Myself: A Memoir.  Another writer to consider is Rupi Kaur whose self-published Milk and Honey has sold more than half a million copies and yesterday ( 12 October 2016) she signed a two-book deal with Simon and Schuster. Milk and Honey is erotic fiction which is remarkable for the strong feminine voice and gaze employed with which she narrates the tale. Rupi Kaur is also responsible for the photo-campaign which went viral recently on social media about a woman whose clothes were stained with blood during her period.

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Ironically many of these women writers would fall into the same category of fiction as Chetan Bhagat of being commercial fiction writers and yet, there is a chasm of difference in how they view and portray women. But Chetan Bhagat is in good company of other commercially successful male writers like Novoneel Chakraborty who too employ the first person literary technique to write from a women’s perspective but alarmingly incorporating the “male gaze”. ( http://bit.ly/2eiUXuR ) Thereby regressing any gains the women’s movement may have made by getting women their due rights and space. It is a dangerous precedent being set in literature by male writers like Chetan Bhagat of appropriating women’s space in an insensitive manner with little understanding of how complicated women’s literature and writing is. It is irresponsible use of the immense influence these writers have upon new readers since they will create confusion in these minds about how to behave and respect women, what is right and wrong social behaviour amongst genders and not to undermine a woman’s choice by imposing a patriarchal construct on it. Good literature can only be seen as feminist through nuanced writing not via terrible conversation and aggressively marketing the protagonist as a feminist.

*Malika Amar Shaikh is the wife of Namdeo Dhasal, co-founder of the radical Dalit Panthers.

13 October 2016 

Note: All images are off the internet. I do not own the copyright to any of them. If you do or you know of anyone else who does please let me know and I will acknowledge them in this post.

Devdutt Pattanaik’s “The Girl Who Chose”

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Incredible dedication in the book

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Popular mythologist and storyteller Devdutt Pattanaik’s The Girl Who Chose is about the five choices Sita makes in the Ramayana. These choices have consequences. The beauty of Devdutt Pattanaik being so familiar with the Hindu img_20161007_223036epics is that he is able to play with the material which exists making apparent that has always been in the stories but largely ignored. This book is about one such aspect — the choices a woman can make and has the right to do so. In this case it is Sita no less who is otherwise in an overtly patriarchal interpretation of the epic is made out to be demure and obedient wife. Whereas Devdutt Pattanaik with his vast knowledge of the various versions of the Ramayana and the local interpretations is able to create an image of a strong and independent woman who knows how to negotiate and exist. In fact she is considered to have taught her twin sons — Luv and Kush — the art of warfare.

This slim text has been illustrated in the characteristic style by Devdutt Pattanaik. This is a must have text and should be circulated widely to counter many of the wrong and inevitably patriarchal interpretations of the epic. It would be interesting to see if even a small fraction of the strong Sita that comes through the evidence collated by the mythologist will ever makes its presence felt in the interpretation of Sita enacted in the Ramlila during navratri.

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Devdutt Pattanaik The Girl Who Chose:  A New Way of Narrating the Ramayana Puffin Books, Delhi, India. Pb.pp. 112 Rs 199 

 

7 Oct 2016 

 

 

 

 

Arshia Sattar’s “Ramayana” for children

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Arshia Sattar’s Ramayana for Children is based on the original Sanskrit text of Valmiki. As she writes in a recently published article “…although there are ‘three hundred Ramayanas’, I work only with Valmiki’s text. His is the first version of Rama’s story that we have but it’s also the version that people know the least, perhaps because it’s in Sanskrit. My thirty-year obsession with the Ramayana is thus even stranger − not unlike a scholar spending all their working life reading only the first folio edition of The Tempest.” ( Hindustan Times, 30 Sept 2016 http://bit.ly/2cTU5fl ) The text reads smoothly. One of the toughest challenges in translating a well-known text is how well will it sit with the readers who are more than familiar with its stories. Somehow in this modern English translation of Valmiki’s text the story reads beautifully without any glitches, without any of those annoyingly forced attempts at putting down a living text in words. Instead what comes through is the incredible manner in which Arshia Sattar to retell these age-old stories but in the true spirit of a storyteller who is herself in sync with the stories. She has made it her own and made it available to a new generation of readers. It is a crucial contribution since more families are becoming nuclear and unable to rely on older generations to share these stories. img_20161006_092637 img_20161006_092709 img_20161006_092744

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ramayana for Children has been beautifully illustrated with double-page spreads by Sonali Zohra. There is something grungy-funky with the almost wood-cut like impressions that are very appealing.  The illustrations complement the text well too.

This is a reasonably priced hardback book for children. A maginificent gift for children — to read, to treasure and well timed too given that it has been launched during the navratas when they can watch Ramlila too — making the text come alive!

 

Arshia Sattar Ramayana for Children ( Based on the original Sanskrit text of Valmiki), Illustrations by Sonali Zohra. Juggernaut Books, New Delhi, India, 2016. Hb. pp. 240. Rs. 499

6 Oct 2016 

 

Shirley Jackson

27-shirley-jackson-cover-story-drawing-1-w1024< Love this!> #ShirleyJackson “The #NovelistDisguised As a #Housewife
Shirley Jackson wrote 17 books while raising four children — and she couldn’t have had a successful career without them

Jackson often complained about the mental calisthenics required to be at once a mother and a writer — the “nagging thoughts” about finishing the laundry or preparing meals that often interrupted her creative work. When she was working on a novel, she once wrote to a friend, she preferred to “lock myself up in my cave for four dogged hours a day, and sneak a minute or so here and there for writing letters and making lunch (‘You will eat vegetable soup again today and like it; Mommy’s beginning chapter three’).” But many writers, especially women writers, learn to derive imaginative energy from their constraints. Alice Munro has said that she began writing short stories because as a young mother she had no time to write novels: “When you are responsible for running a house and taking care of small children, particularly in the days before disposable diapers or ubiquitous automatic washing machines, it’s hard to arrange for large chunks of time.”

Writing in the hours between morning kindergarten and lunch, while a baby napped, or after the children had gone 27-shirley-jackson-cover-story-drawing-2-w1024to bed demanded a discipline that came to suit Jackson. She was constantly thinking of stories while cooking, cleaning, or doing just about anything else. “All the time that I am making beds and doing dishes and driving to town for dancing shoes, I am telling myself stories,” she said in one of her lectures. Many of her stories were already virtually finished by the time she managed to sit down at the typewriter. Her friend Kit Foster told of playing Monopoly one evening with Jackson and Hyman when Jackson abruptly withdrew from the game and went into her study, where she banged audibly at her typewriter. Less than an hour later, she emerged with a story that was sent off to her agent the next morning. The idea for “The Lottery” came to her while she was grocery shopping with her daughter Joanne, then age 2. After they came home, she put away the groceries, put the child in her playpen, and wrote the story.

http://nymag.com/thecut/2016/09/shirley-jackson-rather-haunted-life-c-v-r.html?mid=fb-share-thecut

4 October 2016