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Writing Matters: In conversation with Kamila Shamsie

By Sucharita Dutta-Asane

Kamila Shamsie won the Women’s Prize for Fiction (2018), for her novel Home Fire – also long listed for the Booker Prize in 2017 – an extraordinary book that serves as a reminder of the times in which we live. Her other books include In the City by the Sea (shortlisted for the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize), Salt and Saffron that won her a place on Orange’s ‘21 Writers for the 21st Century’, Kartography, Broken Verses, Burnt Shadows (shortlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction), and A God in Every Stone.  She was one of the five judges for the Golden Man Booker winner and is one of the three judges for The Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award, 2018.

Kamila_shamsie

Kamila, welcome to Kitaab! Congratulations on winning the Women’s Prize for Fiction.

Sucharita: Antigone sets up a conflict that ruptures a family and raises complex ethical questions related to the personal and the state, family and identity. When you decided to write Home Fire, what was the immediate trigger to turn to Greek Tragedy and to this particular text?

Kamila: Sometimes the best ideas come from other people.  In this case, it was Jatinder Verma, the artistic director of Tara Arts in London who suggested to me that Antigone could work very well in a contemporary setting. That made me go back to the text, and as soon as I started reading it I saw how directly it spoke to our contemporary times.

Sucharita: Home Fire is a political story firmly rooted in the age of global terror and what it does to individuals and families. It is also about the difficulty of moral certitude in an age of deepening schisms, most evident in Karamat Lone, making him perhaps the most conflicted character in the book, dealing with much more, it seems, than Eamonn or Aneeka – a complex, modern adaptation of Creon’s character in Antigone. The moral burden is terrifying and rests squarely on his shoulders. What led to this positioning of the book’s moral complexity?

Kamila: I’m always interested in the ways in which different readers respond to the characters in the novel. Some see Karamat as shouldering a moral burden; others see him as acting out of political expediency with no interest in the moral questions. I prefer not to interpret the characters and get in the way of readers’ freedom to do so. So all I’ll say is that Karamat and Isma are the two characters who really inhabit the world of adulthood with all its messy complications and contradictions.

Sucharita: At the time of writing the book, the idea of a Tory from a Muslim immigrant, working class family as the country’s Home Secretary would have seemed unbelievable. In fact, you thought it to be ‘ridiculous’. Eventually, when Sajid Javid became Britain’s Home Secretary, how did the writer in you respond? What does prescience mean to a writer?

Kamila: I would love to claim prescience, but the truth is, my first instinct was, as you say, that the idea of such a Home Secretary would be ridiculous, but then I thought a little harder about it and considered the fact that Britain had three prominent up-and-coming politicians from Muslim backgrounds: Sajid Javid, Sadiq Khan and Sayeeda Warsi. One or two is an aberration; three suggests that something has shifted in the political culture. That’s why I was able to create Karamat Lone – because I started to see that actually a Home Secretary from a Muslim background was possible. But it also seemed to me that Muslimness would be something he or she would have to find a way to negotiate around, possibly by creating distance from it.  So what I’ll say about prescience is that actually it’s just paying attention to the currents around us and guessing what’ll happen if you move things forward just one step.

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News: DISQUIET Literary Prize 2019

(From Disquiet International )

Ends on January 10, 2019

$15.00 USD

 

Multi-genre award for the best poetry, fiction, or nonfiction on any subject. Entries must be in English. Entries may not be previously published.

The winner in each genre will be published. The grand prize winner will also receive a full scholarship, including tuition, lodging, and a $1,000USD travel stipend, to attend the Disquiet International Literary Program in Lisbon, Portugal. Runners-up will also be considered for merit-based scholarships.

One entry may include up to six poems (to a maximum of ten pages) or a single prose piece up to twenty-five double-spaced pages in length. Excerpts from longer works are welcome. Multiple entries must be accompanied by multiple reading fees.

Deadline: January 10, 2019

For more info on this year’s program, see our website: http://disquietinternational.org/


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Writing Matters: In conversation with H.S. Shiva Prakash

By Dr Kamalakar Bhat

H.S. Shiva Prakash

O my Kannada words
You became my companions
In far-off Peru
Thanks for keeping me company
From day dreams amidst clouds
To the heights of Machu Picchu
Where eagles circle
And from there
To the cities of the ocean-goddess
And of a god with thunder’s name
With bricks and stones stained with blood
And from there
To the depths of Caral the mother city
And you, voices from the Machu Picchu poem
By my elder brother Pablo
Beloved hearts of my dear readers
That befriended me on my lonely journey;
The fruit of our journey
Was not sand, stone or ancient Peru’s mother city
But these few proverbs I stole from primordial dreams:
Peace is inevitable; not war
Dying is inevitable; not killing
Worship is inevitable; not sacrifice
Mating is inevitable; not longing
Trade is inevitable; not cheating
Enchanting flowers, the dreams of rocks;
Beauteous forms, the dreams of deserts;
Exquisite cities, the dreams of void;
The joy of all, the longing of the soul
Write these down in the slips of paper
Of our dying worlds,
Tie them to the claws of dream doves,
Let them go flying
Into all times
Into all spaces
Into all worlds

— From “Heights of Machu Picchu, Depths of Caral” by H. S. Shiva Prakash

Poet, playwright and translator, H S Shiva Prakash (born 1954) is among the foremost living writers of India. He began as a poet and playwright writing in Kannada and eventually became a bilingual poet and a translator across multiple languages. He teaches English at the School of Arts and Aesthetics, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi and has served as the Director of the Cultural Centre at Berlin, known as the Tagore Centre.

He has nine collections of poems, fifteen plays, and several other books to his credit in Kannada. He has also published a collection of poems in English and many of his plays are available in English translation. His works have been widely translated into French, Italian, Turkish, Spanish, German, Polish, Hindi, Malayalam, Marathi, Tamil and Telugu. His plays have been performed in Kannada, Hindi, Meitei, Rabha, Assamese, Bodo, Tamil and Malayalam. Shiva Prakash has also translated the Kannada vachana literature into English. His interests include Bhakti movements of India, and Sufi and other mystic traditions. He has to his credit many ‘best book’ prizes for his books of poems, plays and translations accorded to him by Sahitya Academy, Delhi, Sangeet Natak Academi, Delhi and Karnataka Sahitya Academy. He is also the recipient of many awards including the Rajyotsava Award given by the Karnataka government and the Kusumagraja Award given by YCMOU, Nashik. While he has been invited to read his poems or present talks in various countries in Europe, Africa, Asia and America, he was also invited to the International Writing Program in School of Letters, University of Iowa.

Shiva Prakash began his writing career when ‘navya’, the modernist literary movement was dominant in Kannada. No doubt influenced by some of the major modernist Kannada writers, when he began writing, Shiva Prakash, wrote out of the many memories housed in him through the years of his growing up. In so doing, in his initial output, he marked a distinct poetic manner – both in form and content – from the one that was then popular. By the time his second collection was published, this difference began to be celebrated by his readers.

Kamalakar Bhat: Your poems forsake the path of obscurity that much of the navya Kannada poetry had chosen though you began writing during the period. Was reaching out to the reader important to you? 

Shiva Prakash: When I first started writing, I thought that my business is to write without bothering about reach and accessibility. Because I was influenced by modernist poetics and thought that one writes for a discerning individual. That was my belief at that time. Later, I discovered that when I read my poems in person, well-read people expressed admiration but the common people were not feeling good.  Then I said no, I must write for these people, not for the scholars and critics. I decided I should make the simple style my model.

Looking at the whole tradition of Kannada poetry and what kind of relationship exists between the poet and the audience, I discovered that in the best of Kannada poetry, even in classical Kannada poetry, the most memorable lines are very simple and they are immediately communicable. Whether it is Pampa, Ranna, Raghavanka, Kumaravyasa, all are very simple.

See, once a poet establishes a kind of rapport with the audience, people remember him.
Because poetry is not a communication of meaning. It may be the discovery of meaning for the critic and the scholar, but for people poetry creates an impact. And nobody reads poetry for accessing meaning. I think I endorse the classical notion that poetry is about impact, not communication.

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Country in Focus: Singapore Literature Prize 2018

By Mitali Chakravarty

 

 

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Past and present SLP winners, judges and organisers of the 2018 gala
(Photo credit: SBC)

The Singapore Literature Prize (SLP) gave out 19 awards for works in English, Malay, Tamil and Chinese across three categories – fiction, creative non-fiction and poetry at a gala organised by the Singapore Book Council (SBC) on August 6th, 2018.

The event included performances by the Nadi Singapura ensemble and the trio of Eunice & Friends. The well-known theatre actress, Karen Tan, compered the event peppering it with bits of humour and anecdotes.

 

 

The Nadi Singapura drummers give festive start to the ceremony

The Nadi Singapura Drummers

The Nadi Singapura band gave a ceremonial and colourful start to the event with their drumming. This was followed by a speech by Claire Chiang, chairperson of SBC and co-founder of Banyan Tree Hotels and Resorts. As she has pointed out in her message, the SLP is ‘arguably the only literary award in the world that recognises such multilingual achievements’.

The awards were presented by former SLP winners, including Suchen Christine Lim.

Farihan Bahron, co-founder of a publishing agency and a much-awarded Malay writer, received two prizes this year, one for his poetry collection and a commendation for Malay fiction.

Farihan Bahron, the Malay writer who won awards for poetry and fiction together

Farihan Bahron

A.K. Vardharajan, one of the award winners for poetry in Tamil said that his book, Lee Kuan Yew’s Imaginary Childhood, had won the award because the book was about a very famous man, the founder of Singapore. However, he is an established writer himself and this book had won an award from the Singapore Tamil Writer’s Association in 2017.

Jeremy Tiang received the award for English fiction for his book State of Emergency, his debut novel mapping the leftist movements and political detentions in Singapore and Malaysia through a family saga spanning a large swathe of time, from the 1940s to the current day.

Lively performances by both the musical groups and video clips of the past winners discussing their reaction to the awards and its outcome punctuated the event.

Eunice and friends

Eunice & Friends

The concluding speech by the executive director William Phuan reflected the history and future of both the awards and of the outreach events organised by them through the year, which include the launch of a Chinese translation of Isa Kamari’s Malay novel Duka Tuan Bertakhta, in September 2018, the launch of a Singapore Literature Prize commemorative book featuring extracts from past SLP winning works in November and the fiftieth birthday celebration of the SBC this December.

The awards this year spanned the diaspora of cultures that thrive in Singapore. From when it started in 1992, the award has evolved to create a platform to recognise excellence in the variety that is iconic of this island. In 1992, the first Singapore Literature Prize went to Suchen Christine Lim and a commendation was given to Tan Mei Ching. Both the works were in the English fiction category. Now the awards span nine different categories in four different languages!

This award is regarded as the top literary award in Singapore. When asked what this award has done for the literary scene in Singapore, Suchen Christine Lim, regarded as a doyen of Singapore Literature, reflected, ‘The Singapore Literature Prize has brought some of Singapore’s best literary works to the attention of readers in Singapore and overseas.’ She added that it has also ‘helped to draw the public’s attention to new writers and new works like Jeremy Tiang’s State of Emergency.’ Suchen Christine Lim’s award winning book, Fistful of Colours was unpublished when she was given the first Singapore Literary Prize in 1992. Now both traditionally published and self-published books by Singaporeans and permanent residents are eligible for the award.

Nominated writers Charmaine Chan and Balli Kaur Jaswal

Nominated writers Charmaine Chan and Shubigi Rao

The evening was a paean to the literary efforts from diverse cultures. It ended with an interesting joint performance by the Malay drummers and the classical trio… a fitting end to a celebration of the evolving potpourri of Singapore literature.

(Photo credits: Mitali Chakravarty)

 

 


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The 2018 Man Booker Prize for Fiction longlist is announced in London

(From Publishing Perspectives. Link to the complete article given below)

‘Slavery, ecology, missing persons, inner-city violence, young love, prisons, trauma, and race’ all are said to figure into the Man Booker Prize for Fiction longlist, as the award starts its second 50 years of competition.

Just two weeks after being handed the “Golden Man Booker” award for The English Patient, Canadian Michael Ondaatje is on the Man Booker Prize for Fiction 2018 longlist, announced today (July 24) in London. Ondaatje’s Warlight is in contention with 12 other longlisted titles by American, British, Irish, and Canadian authors.

The best-recognized and most-honored literary fiction prize in the English language, the Man Booker Prize for Fiction—not to be confused with the translation-focused Man Booker International Award—is entering its 51st year with this “Man Booker dozen” longlist of 13 titles.

The prize confers a purse of £50,000 (US$65,606). The shortlist of six titles is to be announced on September 20, with the winners’ announcement scheduled for a ceremony at Guildhall on October 16.

This year’s list has several distinctive elements, many involving the number four:

  • Four titles are debut novels: The Long Take, The Water Cure, In Our Mad and Furious City, and Everything Under
  • Four authors are younger than 30: Sally Rooney and Daisy Johnson are the youngest, both of them 27
  • Four independent publishers are on the list: Faber & Faber has two titles, while Granta and Serpent’s Tale have one each
  • Four nations are represented, with six writers from the UK, three from the USA, two from Ireland, and two from Canada
  • One work, that of American author Nick Drnaso, is the prize program’s first nominated grahpic novel

And of key interest in the industry, the effect of a Man Booker win can be lucrative, organizers say, using last year’s winner as the example.

Read more at this Publishing Perspectives link


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The trouble with prizes and translation

(From Asymptote Journal. Link to the complete article given below)

If you love reading fiction by writers from around the globe, you are used to hearing about the big prizes that put international literature in the spotlight: the Nobel Prize for Literature, the Neustadt International Prize for Literature, the Man Booker International, the Caine Prize, the Prix Goncourt, the German Book Prize, the Cervantes Prize, the Tanazaki Prize, and many others.

In fact, you might even have trouble keeping up with the variety of United States–based awards just for literature in translation, from the Best Translated Book Award (now eleven years old) to the National Book Award’s new Translated Literature category. It’s getting to be like following the Olympics, without all the fuss over new stadium construction. For one thing, winning books, like medal-bedecked Olympians, don’t get to the podium all by themselves. Winners need a team (and a coach and money) behind them. For another, we know that lots of great contenders don’t make it to the final round.

So what should we know about book prizes as we are reading the shortlisted candidates or hoping for a win for one of our favorite writers?

First of all, many of the biggest prizes aren’t simply a competition among books. With the exception of those giving awards for lifetime achievement, prize committees aren’t out scouring the shelves for great literature, they’re reviewing submitted books. Publishers, usually from the country where the prize is awarded, submit those books. The publishers actually do the first round of selection simply by choosing the prizes they will submit for, and then selecting books they think have a chance of winning.

If that sounds easy, think of the small presses weighing the cost of their time for the submission process, maybe even paying a submission fee, and shipping off multiple free copies (often presses have to supply a bound copy for each member of the prize committee) year after year. They may even have to commit to attend the award ceremony at their own expense, just to watch another publisher’s submission win the prize. A look at the 2017 finalists for the National Book Award shows, for example, a book by the small independent Graywolf Press alongside those from much larger Scribner, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, Grand Central, a Hachette imprint, and Knopf Doubleday, itself a division of the international behemoth Penguin Random House. When you compare the financial and marketing resources these big publishers have behind them, it seems like a daunting David vs. Goliath competition for smaller presses to enter. Of course, it is worth all the trouble when you win.

Read more at this Asymptote Journal link


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Singapore Literature Prize 2018: Shortlist announced

By Mitali Chakravarty

Singapore Literature Prize 2018

Singapore Literature Prize 2018

On 19th June, 2018, the Singapore Book Council (SBC) announced 50 shortlisted titles for the Singapore Literary Prize (SLP) 2018.

Twelve judges, including prominent writers like Isa Kamari and Alfian Sa’at were part of the panel of judges who whetted English, Chinese, Malay and Tamil entries by Singaporean or Permanent Resident authors before shortlisting the books. Awards will be given out in twelve categories in a ceremony on 6th  August 2018. The categories span the four official languages of Singapore and three genres — fiction, creative non-fiction and poetry.

shortlisted authors 2018

Singapore Literature Prize 2018 – shortlisted writers

As the SBC turns fifty this year, Mr William Phuan, the Executive Director, announced that the event would be opened to the public for the first time. Admission will be free by registration at http://slp2018ceremony.peatix.com/

William Phuan

Singapore Literature Prize 2018 – William Phuan

A number of outreach events have been planned to create awareness among the public, including talks by shortlisted authors in bookshops, schools and National Libraries. From July 16th to September 8th , former SLP winning titles will be displayed at the Bras Basah National Library on level 9 in an exhibition titled “Celebrating Our Writers: The Journey of Singapore Literature Prize”. Besides reaching out to people on social media, readers will also be encouraged to guess the winners of the awards as well as choose the best cover designs, added Mr Phuan. Continue reading


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Kamila Shamsie wins Women’s Prize for Fiction for ‘story of our times’

(From The Guardian. Link to the complete article given below.)
Kamila Shamsie’s Home Fire, which reworks Sophocles’ tragedy Antigone to tell the story of a British Muslim family’s connection to Islamic State, has won the Women’s prize for fiction, acclaimed by judges as “the story of our times”.

The British Pakistani author’s seventh novel riffs on the ancient Greek play in which Antigone is forbidden to bury her brother Polynices after he is declared a traitor. The novel follows three orphaned siblings, elder sister Isma and twins Aneeka and Parvaiz, the latter of whom has left London to work for the media arm of Isis. When Eamonn, son of the British Muslim home secretary, enters their lives, Aneeka hopes to use him to save her missing brother.

Announcing Home Fire as winner of the £30,000 award, chair of judges Sarah Sands said the panel “chose the book which we felt spoke for our times … Home Fire is about identity, conflicting loyalties, love and politics. And it sustains mastery of its themes and its form. It is a remarkable book which we passionately recommend.”

Shamsie, who grew up in Karachi and now lives in London, beat a shortlist that included US author Jesmyn Ward’s novel Sing, Unburied, Sing, for which she won the National Book Award, and Imogen Hermes Gowar’s debut, The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock.

To read more, go to this link.


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Book review: The Bamboo Stalk by Saud Alsanousi (translated by Jonathan Wright)

Reviewed by Krishnasruthi Srivalsan

The Bamboo Stalk

Title: The Bamboo Stalk
Author: Saud Alsanousi, translated by Jonathan Wright
Publisher: Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation Publishing
Pages: 384
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The protagonist of Saud Alsanousi’s The Bamboo Stalk is a deeply conflicted man. Jose Mendoza is raised in his mother’s country as a god fearing Catholic who was baptised in the church at the age of ten. Yet, his mother prepares him for a life in the promised ‘paradise’, his father’s country, Kuwait. Jose has a Kuwaiti passport, a Kuwaiti name – Isa al Tarouf – but as the son of his father’s Filipino maid, he’ll never be accepted by his father’s family, despite being the only male heir to carry forward the family name.

Expertly translated from the Arabic by Jonathan Wright, this is an immensely moving novel, weighing heavily on metaphors, that explores multiple themes like race and religion, identity and class, and highlights the often humiliating immigrant experience overseas, especially in the Gulf.

Alsanousi, a Kuwaiti journalist and novelist whose earlier work includes the novel The Prisoner of Mirrors, explores the concept of ‘the other’ in this book. Often the underdog, the ‘other’ is viewed negatively by the majority. Not being able to fit into clear boxes, the ‘other’ find themselves in a murky marshland of mixed up identities, rootless and unwanted. Blinded by one’s own prejudices, society fails to acknowledge and empathise with the ‘other’ and it is precisely for this reason that al Sanousi modelled Jose as his protagonist.

Jose’s story begins with his mother, Josephine, who leaves the squalor of poverty back home in the Philippines and goes to Kuwait in search of a better paying job. She lands at the house of the illustrious al Tarouf family whose matriarch, Ghanima, is as superstitious as she is stubborn. Joza, as Ghanima refers to the Filipino servant girl, arrives on the day a bomb explodes near the Kuwaiti Emir’s motorcade, narrowly missing him. Ever since, Ghanima has viewed Joza’s arrival as a sign of bad luck. Rashid, Ghanima’s only son, an aspiring idealistic writer, is taken by Joza’s good looks, and she agrees to a ‘temporary marriage’ which ends the day Jose is born. Josephine returns home and her son is raised with the promise that he will one day go back to Kuwait.

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Book Review: Ladders Against the Sky by Murli Melwani

Reviewed by Kusum Chopra

Ladders Against the Sky

Title: Ladders Against the Sky
Author: Murli Melwani
Publisher: Kaziranga Books (2017)
Pages: 453
Price: INR 500

Ladders Against the Sky is a collection of 16 stories, written between 2011 and 2017, which were first published in literary journals and anthologies. One of the stories, “Water on a Hot Plate,” was included in The Best Asian Short Stories 2017, published by Kitaab. Two stories were nominated for the Pushcart Prize in 2012 and 2013.

Murli Melwani is a short story writer, a literary activist who runs two websites, and a critic, whose book, Themes in the Indian Short Story in English: A Historical and a Critical Study, tracks the growth of this genre from 1835 to 1980.

The short stories in the collection can be divided into two broad categories. About half the stories, set in India, reflect social concern, the conflict between tradition and modernity, science and superstition and the pressures on national unity. The other half, set in foreign countries, focuses on a unique Indian community, the Sindhis, whose culture – a blend of Hinduism, Islam and Sikhism, and their language, written in the Arabic script with linguistic elements of Sanskrit and Persian – are in danger of gradually fading away.

The writer’s approach is determined by the subject of each story. Thus, “Water on a Hot Plate”, with Toronto as the background, a story of cultural displacement and change, captures the interaction of an Indian tourist and a restaurateur, a Chinese lady born in India. They are two enterprising expatriates who carry diminishing bits of home, as well as of the countries they have lived in, to their newest place of sojourn.

Similarly, in “A Bar Girl,” the lifestyles that Amar Badlani and Rak have chosen prevent them from stopping and evaluating their lives or asking where they are headed. Amar Badlani’s visit with Rak to her village brings home to him the fact that his estrangement from his family has its roots in his working life. His damage control efforts lead him to finance the nursing education of Rak on the one hand, and to make overtures to his kids and grandkids on the other.

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