With the staggering rise of wealth inequality and the increasing concentration of ideas and access to an audience in the hands of a few, largely elite writers, it’s the voices on the margins that need to be heard.
Years ago, when I was first trying to make a name for myself as a writer, a prominent Indian novelist and one whom I admired told me I was being a fool to ever think my fiction – influenced by the American and European modernists I grew up reading – would ever be accepted by the mostly white boy club of the terminally hip who ruled New York City publishing – the trustafarian rich kids who defined cool, and by extension, who got published, who got reviewed and who got attention.
He told me to start wearing a turban and pen a gritty but ultimately celebratory novel about Sikhs in California, where I grew up – be the native informant for the bored white US searching for a new ethnicity to discover, consume, go all gaga over and ultimately discard. That way, he said, lay my surest path to even the slimmest foothold in the literary world.
I ignored his advice and told him so. What he described sounded like self-cannibalisation to me. For me, the whole point of writing – great writing at least – was that at its heart it promoted a fundamental freedom of the mind to engage the world in whatever way one chooses. Soon after, the prominent writer made a point of “dropping” me. I suspect he decided my poor judgment proved I was never going to be famous enough for him to waste his energy cultivating while my insufficient sycophancy was in no way going to compensate.
At the time, I had written two novels. One was about an enormously fat satellite television magnate who gets eaten by a huge fish; the second about a wild girl found in the mountains of an imaginary Asian country. While the former suffered from many usual first novel failures, the latter, I believed, and still do, genuinely succeeded.