Roxane Gay Posts

Of Bitches

11 October 2017 is International Girl Child’s Day, declared by the United Nations. The idea is to raise awareness of issues facing girls internationally surrounding education, nutrition, child marriage, legal and medical rights. The celebration of the day also “reflects the successful emergence of girls and young women as a distinct cohort in development policy, programming, campaigning and research.”

But what happens when the young woman gains consciousness in a world where many of the structures are still very patriarchal; they inform and dictate many relationships and policies. Feminism, particularly women’s movements, of the 1960s onwards have influenced young girls world over. Women learned how to express themselves in a manner that enabled them to be heard. Slowly and steadily the impact was discernible in different spheres. In publishing too for the first time women’s presses were being set up. Virago and  Kali for Women were established. The magazine Ms was launched by Gloria Steinem. Women in Publishing was established at this time by Liz Calder, one of the co-founders of Bloomsbury. In India for the first time Status of Women Report ( 1975) was released. There was definitely a shift in perceptions and constructive action was being taken. Soon publishers worldwide recognised the growing importance of giving a space in their lists to women’s books — either by women or for women.  In living memory there has been a dramatic shift with now there being more and more women authors being published.

In this context there are three collections of essays that I read recently — Bad Feminist ( Roxane Gay), Bitch Doctrine: Essays for Dissenting Adults ( Laurie Penny) and The Bitch is Back ( ed. Cathi Hanauer). These three books can be yoked together not only for their feminism but also that they mark the manner in which the feminists conduct themselves, the choices they make and how they evolve as individuals. Some of the older feminists as those sharing their experiences in their essays included in The Bitch is Back comment upon living their feminism by negotiating their spaces regularly and thereafter making peace with the decisions made. The common thread running through all these essays is how challenging at times it can be to find the same sense of equality and entitlement that men of diverse backgrounds seem to have in all societies. Women have to negotiate their spaces and stand by their choices, at times it is not easy, but feminism has granted this at least — the space to negotiate and as some of the older women discover it is also about making peace with having your own identity. There are two particularly fine essays that encapsulate and address many of these issues in The Bitch is Back — “Trading Places: We both wanted to stay home. He won. But so did I.” by Julianna Baggott and “Beyond the Myth of Co-Parenting: What we lost — and gained — by abandoning equality” by Hope Edelman.

These books are meant for everyone and not necessarily for feminists. Read them. Discuss them. Share them and not just with the girls in your circle as they come of age. It is a way of seeing. Hopefully reading about alternative gendered perspectives will enable a healthy debate in society and contribute to the transformation of traditional patriarchal structures of thinking.

11 October 2017 

 

Happy Birthday HarperCollins!

2017. A landmark year for HarperCollins worldwide. The publishing firm is celebrating its bicentennary and the Indian office is marking 25 years of its operations locally. Stories from HarperCollins Publishers ( 1817 – 2017)  a succintly produced edition chronicling the firm’s history. There are fascinating nuggets in it. 

HarperCollins Publishers began as J. & J. Harper, a small family printing shop run by brothers James and John Harper in New York City in March 1817. In 1825 the company posted an advertisement in the United States Literary Gazette announcing five forthcoming titles. Scotsman Thomas Nelson ( born Neilson) opened a secondhand bookshop in Edinburgh in 1798, eventually publishing inexpensive editions of noncopyrighted religious texts and popular fiction. Collins also started out as a small family-run printer and publisher. Chalmers and Collins, established by millworker and seminarian William Collins and Charles Chalmers ( brother of evangelical preacher Thomas), published its first work in 1819. It began by publishing only the writings of the Reverend Dr. Thomas Chalmers, but soon published other authors, eventually forming William Collins and Sons.

In 1962 what was then known as Harper & Brothers merged with textbook publisher Row, Peterson & Company, forming Harper & Row. HarperCollins as a brand came into existence in 1989 after News Corporation purchased Harper & Row ( 1987) and Collins ( 1989). Today HarperCollins global brand publishes approximately 10,000 new titles every year in 17 languages and has a print and digital catalogue of more than 200,000 titles. Along the way it has acquired other well-established businesses with robust identities of their own such as 4th Estate, Angus & Robertson, Amistad Press, Avon Books, Caedmon Audio, Ecco Press, Funk & Wagnalls, Granada, Harlequin, J.B. Lippincott, the John Day Company, Thomas Y. Cromwell Co., Thorson’s, Unwin Hyman, William Morror and Company, Zondervan, HarperCollins Christian Publishing and others. Many of these remain as imprints of HarperCollins.

Over the years it established credibility as being an author’s publisher for it protected rights and fought against piracy. In the 1800s Harper brothers ensured that they were fair in paying royalties to their authors, particularly those who were overseas. Their fiercest competitor was Mathew Carey’s publishing house of Philadelphia. A cease-fire between the rivalry happened in 1830s and “The Harper Rule” agreement was reached. According to Stories from HarperCollins Publishers “in [this] a publisher would cease printing when a competitor purchased advance proofs and announced forthcoming titles, or had previously published a British author.” This enabled the Harper brothers to invest more in finding and developing relationships with authors. They also began to explore other markets in the 1800s such as Canada, Australia and India. Interestingly they broke into new markets with texts such as prayer books, geography, gospels, dictionaries, schoolbooks, readers and primers.

Poet Gulzar and veteran Bollywood actress-turned-politician Hema Malini cutting the HarperCollins 25th anniversary cake, New Delhi, July 2017.

The stable of authors associated with HarperCollins is extraordinary. The firm published the American edition of Walter Scott’s Peveril of the Peak ( 1823), Edward Lytton Bulwer’s The Coming Race ( 1871), and H. G. Wells’s The War of the Worlds ( 1898) and The Invisible Man ( 1898). These were deemed as “scientific romance”. Later with the acquisition of Unwin Hyman by Collins the firm discovered the winning formula of fantasy worlds furnished with maps and illustrations as has been proved with the success of J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit ( 1937) and The Lord of the Rings trilogy ( 1954 – 55). Other writers include ( listed in no specific order) C. S. Lewis, Paulo Coelho, Deepak Chopra, Erle Stanley Gardner, Aldous Huxley, Herman Melville, Harper Lee, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, John Gray’s Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, George R. R. Martin, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Agatha Christie, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Sylvia Plath, Pearl Buck, Doris Lessing, Frances Hodgson Burnett, Martin Luther King Jr., Maurice Sendak, Shel Silverstein, E. B. White, Michael Bond’s Paddington Bear, Judith Kerr, Armistead Maupin, Alan Cummings, Caitlin Moran and Roxane Gay.

In the 1800s the publisher made exploratory trips to India too and witnessed an explosion in fiction writing in the 1890s due to high population density coupled with growing literacy. In 1992 HarperCollins establish a base in India when it entered into a partnership with the Indian firm, Rupa Publications. After a few years a new collaboration was forged with the India Today group. Finally HarperCollins became an independent entity of its own and its headquartered in Delhi NCR. The CEO is Ananth Padmanabhan.

To celebrate 25 years of its impressive presence in India, HarperCollins India ( HCI) has launched a campaign that consists of special editions of 25 of its iconic books and short films promoting storytelling and books. This list includes writers such as Anuja Chauhan, Anita Nair, Kiran Nagarkar, Rana Dasgupta, Siddharth Mukherjee, Satyajit Ray, Akshaya Mukul, Vivek Shanbhag, B. K. S. Iyengar, Arun Shourie etc. HCI has also launched a scrumptious list consisting of 25 facsimile editions of Agatha Christie novels.

Happy Birthday, HarperCollins!

2 August 2017 

 

 

Garth Greenwell, “What Belongs to You”

Garth Greenwell…more and more I took refuge in books, not serious or significant books but books that offered an escape from myself, and it was these books, or rather our shared love for them, that bound me to the few friends I had… 

Garth Greenwell’s debut novel What Belongs to You is about a nameless American schoolteacher who is based in Bulgaria. Funnily enough even though the narrator remains nameless the two cultural landscapes that influence him are very much fixed in a period —the Republican conservative homophobic Kansas and Bulgaria emerging from the Soviet era, detritus of which are still visible in the dilapidated buildings and in the attitude of the people. The novel is divided into three parts — Mitko, A Grave and Pox. In fact “Mitko” won the Miami University Press Novella Prize. What Belongs to You begins with the narrator looking to have sex and comes across Mitko in a public bathroom and from then on they forge a curious relationship. The second section is about the narrator receiving news about his father’s hospitalisation and the flood of memories it unleashes. The final section is about his mother’s arrival in Bulgaria and due to a concatenation of events primarily the fleeting return of Mitko in the narrator’s life, there is a sudden unyoking of himself from his past–immediate and childhood. It is an epiphany that liberates him paradoxically leaving him in despair too. It seems to happen subconsciously while recalling his experience of a severe earthquake.

…the first time I had known that absolute disorientation and helplessness, the first time I had felt in that incontrovertible way the minuteness of my will, so that underlying my fear, or coming just an instant after it, was total abandon, a feeling that wasn’t entirely unpleasant, a kind of weightlessness. 

At Jaipur Literature Festival 2016, Colm Toibin said while researching for The Master, his novel/tribute on/to Henry James, he realised gay fiction was a 21st century phenomenon. He also observed that “fiction contains many mansions” a comment apt for Garth Greenwell’s debut novel. What Belongs to You is much more than a fine example of gay fiction with its extraordinarily bold voice; it is a Künstlerroman, a narrative about the artist’s growth to maturity. What Belongs to You is in the same category as James Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man or even Alison Bechdel’s graphic memoir, Fun Home. It is evident in the experimentation of form in “A Grave” such as the long unbroken paragraphs sometimes running on for pages and pages that fit snugly with the literary device of interior monologue. The lyrical prose of “A Grave” is structured as magnificently as Isabel Archer’s reflection in Henry James’s Portrait of a Lady.  In both novels the interior monologues by the central characters are pivotal not only to the structure of the plot but also to the radical transformation they wrought in the narrator and Isabel and to the chain of events to follow.

At one level What Belongs to You is reading a story about a young man living in a new land and yet it is also recognising what belongs to you are who you are, what you make yourself. This could be by rejection such as the narrator’s complicated relationship with his father or by accepting new influences as the narrator says by “thinking it half in Bulgarian and half in my own language, which I returned to as if stepping onto more solid ground.”

One of the best interviews published so far with Garth Greenwell has been with Paul McVeigh. “The world according to Garth Greenwell” (The Irish Times, 25 April 2016. http://www.irishtimes.com/culture/books/the-world-according-to-garth-greenwell-1.2623753)

Garth Greenwell is a boldly confident youthful writer who writes extraordinarily beautiful prose with panache. Hopefully one day the following writers will be together on a panel discussing the art of blending truth and fiction, writing a memoir-novel: Damian Barr, Paul McVeigh, Sandip Roy, Roxane Gay, Garth Greenwell and Alison Bechdel.

What Belongs to You is a debut that will be talked about for a long time to come!

Garth Greenwell What Belongs To You Picador, an imprint of Pan Macmillan, London, 2016. Hb. pp. 196. Rs 550

18 May 2016