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Posts Tagged ‘Nilanjana Roy’

India’s Publishing Industry Grows up, Expands

Thanks to Kiran Desai‘s Booker Prize win, India has been getting even more attention of late. But not all their notable writers live abroad in places like London and New York, and its homegrown talent, the Guardian reports, is getting further due. But for those who have moved away, Nilanjana Roy, one of India’s foremost literary critics, can understand why. “For the Indian writer working in English, going abroad was one way to reach the marketplace, to lessen the very considerable distance between publishers, editors and agents in the west and the writer at ‘home’,” she says. “Vikram Chandra and Amit Chaudhuri teach at universities abroad; other writers have shifted because they have access to better jobs, more scholarships.”

But the Booker Prize has affected the future of Indian novelists. Arundhati Roy’s Booker prize win in 1997 sparked an interest in Indian writing which has led to many new publishing houses being set up. The fact that this year’s Booker prize winner is yet another NRI does not matter to poet and novelist Jeet Thayil. “There is no difference between non-resident and resident writers now. I see it as one body of work,” he claims. “If you are a 21-year-old writer living in some little town in India and you read everything you can get your hands on and really learn your craft you have every chance of being published in New York.”

And with the recent emergence of the Jaipur Festival, which has attracted expats like Desai, Salman Rushdie, and Sukethu Mehta to return (albeit briefly) there’s a sense India is really coming into its own, and branching out beyond literary borders. “I like the way that other literary genres have begun to open up,” Roy says. “Anushka Ravishankar does excellent children’s writing, Kalpana Swaminathan writes detective stories, Samit Basu spins fantasy Indian-style.” And maybe, English-language publishers will figure it out and publish them elsewhere…

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Book Awards: Contract Obligations, CIA Connections, and more

It really does seem like every other day there’s a new award announcement that goes out to the press, and almost as frequent is the backlash. V S Naipaul (paraphrased by Nilanjana Roy) once said that the Booker was “destroying literature” by looking for good, commercial books that died very quickly, while France’s Prix Goncourt rewarded “antiquated” books. Then there’s Gore Vidal, who pointed out that there are now more American book awards than writers. And Peter Whittle at the Times of London belives that “it can’t be a coincidence that [awards] have become so dominant during an era that has seen an odd alliance between the populism of the marketplace and the effects of cultural relativism.” But a couple of recent developments truly underscore how awards are less about the books and more about the behind-the-scenes machinations.

Earlier this week, the Sunday Times reported that Boris Pasternak‘s Nobel Prize win for DOCTOR ZHIVAGO owed much to the CIA and British intelligence, who secretly facilitated the accolade to embarrass the Kremlin, which had banned the novel. “I have no doubt whatsoever that the CIA played a key role in ensuring Pasternak received the Nobel prize,” said Ivan Tolstoy, a respected Moscow researcher who wrote a book about the the matter, which includes excerpts from a letter by a former CIA agent describing the operation that followed.

And then there’s Lemn Sissay, a recent judge for the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize, who was shocked to find out that apparently, agents can collude with publishers to guarantee, through publishing deals, that certain authors are put forward for specific prizes based on contractual obligations. “I heard of this practice, especially when we administered the Booker prize,” said Tarryn McKay at the charity Booktrust, which now runs the Orange prize. “But I don’t know too much about it personally.” Francis Bickmore, an editor at the independent publisher Canongate Books, was more forthcoming. “It’s standard for the big hitters and big prizes,” he says. “Yann Martel, who wrote LIFE OF PI, might not have been put forward if he’d been with a big publisher that already had writers who had to be put forward for the Booker.” Blame the Booker prize rules, which only allow publishers to submit two works – any others have to be called in through other channels.