It is rare, even now in these liberal and emancipated times, for a publishing house to have a dedicated imprint to LGBTQIA+ literature. Under the excellent leadership and forward thinking of the late CEO and son of the founder, Dick Robinson, Scholastic launched such an imprint for its school and trade market — Arthur A. Levine Books. It was an imprint at the firm from 1996 – 2019. After that Arthur Levine left Scholastic to form Levine Querido. Having said that, the fact that Scholastic launched such a specific imprint was commendable. They did it well before it became fashionable or even before other firms became very active in commissioning same sex literature for young adults. This kind of literature is perhaps not very easy for many readers to “get into” as it requires an open heartedness, a sensitivity and an acceptance of different kinds of sexuality without any prejudice. But once you read these books, it changes your outlook on life. These books are astonishing to read as they not only delve into this niche space of teenage sexuality but also experiment with the literary form — prose, poetry, mixing prose and poetry or even graphic novels. Even with Arthur Levine’s departure from the firm, the legacy continues with the launch of a new imprint called PUSH, an imprint for teens, launched by David Leviathan. It is no longer an exclusive imprint for LGBTQIA+ literature but that in itself is a testament to how far we have come since the fin de siecle of the twentieth century, of being more accepting of diversity.
This was first published on my Facebook and Instagram accounts. It was on the last day of #PrideMonth.
I received a Wattpad press release announcing their Pride list for June 2020. I was curious. Wattpad has been in India for a while. A curated list like this was fascinating. What was truly astounding were the number of followers each writer had on Wattpad. While reading the stories it also became clear that the level of engagement of the readers with the author was very high such as 153k reads! Sometimes based on the feedback received in real time the writers were developing stronger voices. At other times the frequency of their updates also improved. So I posed a few questions to Wattpad. Here is an edited version of the interview with Devashish Sharma, India Country Manager at Wattpad:
Why did Wattpad decide to curate this specific list?
Wattpad is known all over the world as a safe space for LGBTQIAP+ readers and writers to find stories by writers in the community, and Wattpad readers spend millions of minutes each year reading stories from the LGBTQIAP+ community.
Q1. What is the principle of selection for curation — Is it based on the number of interactions with readers or an internal editorial assessment in terms of quality of writing?
Our content experts curated this list to elevate and celebrate some of the incredible LGBTQIAP+ voices from the Indian Wattpad Community. You can find other amazing LGBTQIAP+ stories and writers on the Wattpad LGBTQIAP+ Pride Profile. These stories and others from around the world, were selected by looking at a mix of criteria, including popularity, overall reads or reading time, quality, creativity, or stories and writers our content experts love.
Q2. How do authors find their readers on Wattpad?
The best way for writers to find readers on Wattpad is to join the community, connect with other writers, and share their work!
Q3. These stories begin slowly but seem to develop a life of their own as the readers’ comments begin to pour in. Does the Wattpad team at any point offer editorial assistance as well?
We offer a variety of educational resources for writers on Wattpad. The Wattpad Writers Portal is a popular destination for writers who want to improve their craft. For some writers in our Wattpad Stars Program or Paid Stories authors, we also offer individual editorial guidance for certain stories.
For authors published by Wattpad Books, we work closely with each writer to professionally edited their books before they land on bookshelves all over the world.
Q4. Who curates these lists? The content experts on our Content and Creative Development Team
Q5. Is this the first time that WattPad has created such a list in India? If so, why now?
We have been curating such lists from Indian writers for a while now, however this is the first time we are sharing it outside of the platform.
Q6. How do I match the writers mentioned in the press release with their WattPad names on the site? It is impossible to tell who is who.It is also curious that the writers allowed you to use their real names rather than their WattPad handles. How did that come about?
We respect the privacy of every writer on Wattpad. Before sharing a writer’s work we consult with them to determine their comfort participating in our marketing activities, and only proceed if they consent to promoting their stories to a wider audience off of Wattpad. We also determine if they would prefer their real name, a pen name, or their Wattpad handle.
This year’s Pride is different. More than ever before, Pride is an opportunity to showcase the intersecting systems that marginalize and oppress LGBTQ+ communities. The LGBTQ+ community and allies everywhere are coming together to speak to what truly matters – equality.
The community of readers and writers on Wattpad, the world’s leading social storytelling platform, elevating millennial and Gen Z voices every day — not just during the month of June. Whether it’s creating space for Indian perspectives on LGBTQ+ experiences, marginal queer voices in romance, or non-binary perspectives on acceptance and diverse stories in a safe space within the millions of readers on Wattpad.
Ananya Madhusoodanan is a nineteen year-old college student from Mysore who explored her own sexual identity through the LGBTQ+ characters she created in her stories. Through her writing, she wants the readers to know that they are not alone. There will always be someone who understands and listens to them.
Her story, How to Disappear Completely has over 181K reads. It is a coming of age story where Colin Perez wants to disappear but Quentin helps him navigate his way out of the rules he’s made for himself.
Upasa Borah was born and brought up in Assam, and is currently pursuing Economics honours from Miranda House. She is also a spoken word poet who’s performed at many big and small stages. For her, writing more stories featuring queer characters is a big step in normalising queer lives. Very few people are interested in reading articles or news, but stories have a large outreach.
Her story Love-Love, a popular Wattpad story with over 153K reads,is a humorous take on the superhero genre featuring queer characters. Super Storm is your typical superhero with stunning blonde hair and high morale. Gravel is your typical supervillain with a slight obsession over a certain someone’s beautiful blonde hair and a mission he doesn’t want to complete.
Manasha Sahana is an American Tamilian currently in the senior year of high school. Through her story The Wrong Indian Flag, she wanted her story to be more than just being about someone from the community but also talk about culture and friendship and self-love and acceptance that go along with it. She believes that only when people read about communities apart from themselves, do they learn and grow
The Wrong Indian Flagis the story of Shilpa, an aspiring journalist, who is engaged to Raj but develops feelings for her classmate Alisha. She struggles with navigating her own sexual feelings and trying to come out to her conservative family.
While Tanya S doesn’t like being identified as a writer, she chose Wattpad to tell the story of her journey as a lesbian from Uttar Pradesh so the community could have someone to relate to while dealing with the actual struggles of life as an LGBTQ+ person.
Through her first person account My Life, Tanya chronicles the difficulties of growing up lesbian in a conservative environnment and her journey in overcoming the problems of acceptance she faced to reach where she is today.