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The Literary Oligarchy is Killing Writing

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.

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Bologna 2017: Varied Perspectives from Asian Publishers

And imagination, Huang added, is something that children’s book writers and illustrations have in abundance. Take Julia Liu and Leo Tang’s Tony Bunny: A Rabbit with Short Ears (CommonWealth Education Media and Publishing Company), which has been published in Korean, Russian, Thai, and Turkish. The story is is inspired by the spike of children with microtia (small ears) and a desire to boost their confidence; a follow-up title, featuring the courageous short-eared bunny and his timid elephant friend, has the same goal. “In fact, illustrator Leo Tang created a piggy bank featuring the bunny and elephant to encourage children to save their coins and donate to their peers with microtia,” Huang said. “One cannot help but be inspired by these unique and uplifting titles.”

Picture books, said Huang, “transcend barriers—cultural and societal—and now, it is time for the picture book to transcend its traditional format, to move beyond print into other forms. That is the mission of this pavilion with its 45 illustrator exhibits. We want our content creators, and those from other parts of the world, to think beyond the printed pages, and to think differently.”

Pushing Technology- and Membership-based Programs

For Kyowon, one of the biggest publishers in South Korea, its picture books continue to sell well, especially new series such as the 30-volume World Folktales and 24-volume Smart Science with Book TV (which incorporates QR codes that link to videos, animations, augmented reality experiences, and virtual experiments).

…. Trend-wise, activity, counting, and game-based titles were popular three to five years ago, according to Nonoka. “We had great success with Toshio Iwai’s 100 Stories series. Then the popularity of Aleksandra and Daniel Mizielinska’s Maps threw the spotlight on illustrated nonfiction, and that category became very popular. This year, we are seeing a return to titles with beautiful illustrations and unique storylines.”

Interestingly, Kaisei-sha has been working very closely with industry counterparts Fukuinkan Shoten, Iwasaki Shoten, and Kodansha to produce a series of tactile picture books with Braille for Japanese children. “We share the technology so as to defray the production costs, and we market the books—currently at around 62 titles—together as a part of our social responsibility and awareness campaign. We believe that visually impaired children should be able to read and enjoy the same picture books that are available to others. While we are not promoting these titles to overseas publishers, we are exhibiting them at this fair to show that Braille can be applied successfully and effectively to picture books.”

Working on Social Responsibility and Beyond

Responsibility is also a major topic at Beijing-based Children’s Fun Publishing Company, a joint venture between Egmont Group and Posts & Telecommunications Press. “We are talking about social responsibility that goes beyond worker welfare and environmental protection. Sustainability when it comes to printing and selecting the correct printing partners is equally important,” said general manager Ao Ran.

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Southeast Asia’s Rising Publishing World: An Interview With Kenneth Quek

Under-translated and overly vulnerable to censorship, the publishing communities of Southeast Asia nevertheless will soon be ‘making waves,’ according to one of Singapore’s industry leaders.

Publishing Perspectives: Let’s start with Singapore, itself.

Kenneth Quek: Singapore’s publishing industry is stronger than it has ever been. This is not to say there aren’t still a few problems or areas in which it could improve, but our publishing industry is still relatively young and has made incredible strides in the short time it has existed.

PP: And how about other markets in the region?

KQ: Our neighbors’ industries are quite varied.

Both Indonesia and the Philippines have very robust publishing industries, and have produced some international bestsellers.

Malaysia, Vietnam, and Thailand are at around the same level as Singapore, while for Cambodia, Laos, Brunei, and Myanmar, the industry is still in a nascent stage.

There seems to be growing interest and development in Myanmar now that it has returned to a more or less civilian government and opened up a bit more.

The fortunes of the individual countries’ publishing industries are directly related to their development and economic growth. In general, the prospects for the publishing industries across the countries of ASEAN look positive as the region’s economies develop and the numbers of the educated middle classes continue to grow and boost demand.

PP: Can you describe the challenges facing the publishing industry in the ASEAN world?

KQ: I think the two biggest challenges that face the region’s publishing industry stem from language and politics.

With the exception of Singapore and the Philippines, most of the publishing in the region is not in English, and is therefore overlooked by the West. Once in a while, an Eka Kurniawan is “discovered” and makes it big in the West . But the chances of a writer in this part of the world getting a US or UK publishing deal when they’re not writing in English are extremely low.

I can see a microcosm of this even in Singapore, where we have writers writing in our four official languages: English, Chinese, Malay, and Tamil. And although we award the Singapore Literature Prize to incredible works of fiction, poetry, and creative non-fiction in these four languages, it’s the English works that most excite the majority of Singaporean readers.

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‘The Macho Man Who Only Wanted to Screw Women Is Dead’ – at least in Israeli Fiction

A crisis of masculinity never before seen in Israeli literature

Something has happened to the male in Israeli literature in recent months. In light comedies, detective tales, as well as serious literature published here during the past year, we encounter male protagonists – portrayed by male authors – who are concerned with the personal and emotional, with relationships and home life.

They are consumed with thoughts about parenthood or love or both, with dreams of a great romance that will stand the test of time. They are seriously pondering monogamy, and thinking about the women in their lives whom they love but maybe don’t really know as well as they should. They’re thinking about their families, and themselves, over which they’re about to lose control, and hoping to get a grip on things before it’s too late. In short, about all the kinds of things that hitherto were traditionally the domain of women writers of Hebrew literature.
Thus, for example, in Yoav Shoten-Goshen’s debut novel, “Pa’am Ahat, Isha Ahat” (“One Woman, One Time”; Zmora-Bitan) published earlier this spring, we see the pleasant and familiar world of Ido, a well-established lawyer nearing 40, fall to pieces one evening when his wife Nurit confesses that she has cheated on him. Everything he thought was secure in his life is suddenly called into question. Overwhelmed with emotion and bursting with wounded feelings, he muses about revenge and about having a fling himself out of spite.
One is tempted to recommend that Ido consider having a good talk with Eitan, the 42-year-old cab driver and amateur sleuth who is the hero of Assaf Gavron’s latest novel, “Shemona Esreh Malkot” (“The Eighteen Strokes”; Aliyat Gag Books). Eitan, whom everyone calls “Croc,” is a divorced father of one.
Though busy trying to solve a historical mystery while snarfing peanuts and shawarma, he also spends quite a bit of time pondering matters of the heart. Has he missed out on his one true love? Will he ever experience a love that’s larger-than-life? His heart is filled with love for his young daughter, but the bedroom maneuvers he tries with the woman he genuinely desires culminate in a disappointing performance – for which he has only himself to blame.
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The Asian American Women Writers Who Are Going to Change the World

This past year of national chaos has often had me thinking, What if? What if, before this year, I’d spoken up more, given more, fought more? On the one hand, if I’d allocated the entirety of my waking hours toward canvassing for the side of political good, I still, in all likelihood, wouldn’t have prevented this year’s kakistocratic events. But if a thousand people like me had done more? Ten thousand?

What-if rue like this is mostly useless, but it can, at least, help lead to future action. Toward that end, I’ve felt heartened and inspired by the examples set forth by fellow writers — especially, at times, by politically outspoken Asian American women. It’s a demographic often expected to be relatively quiet, even docile; what’s more, we’re routinely labeled the so-called model minority, a hateful idea trying to press us into the service of white supremacy. It’s evil shit, and not-at-all-quiet exemplars abound, including Nayomi Munaweera, Celeste Ng, Vanessa Hua, Nicole Chung, Alice Sola Kim, Jarry Lee, Rachel Khong, Tanwi Nandini Islam, Aimee Phan, Vauhini Vara, Jenny Zhang, Karissa Chen, Mira Jacob, Kat Chow, Steph Cha, Kirstin Chen, Tracy O’Neill, Larissa Pham, Marie Myung-Ok Lee, Suki Kim, Marie Mutsuki Mockett, Sonya Larson, Shuchi Saraswat, Catherine Chung, Shanthi Sekaran, Christine Hyung-Oak Lee, Jia Tolentino, Hasanthika Sirisena, Nina McConigley, Krys Lee, Solmaz Sharif, Ru Freeman, Lisa Ko, Janice Lee, Katrina Dodson, Aja Gabel, Sonya Chung, Jade Chang, Rowan Hisayo Buchanan, T. Kira Madden, and, and, and.

In this roundtable, I spoke with four such vocal women: V.V. Ganeshananthan, Porochista Khakpour, Bich Minh Nguyen, and Esmé Weijun Wang. They’re all versatile writers who frequently work across genres, splendid novelists who also write candid, powerful nonfiction, and who are brilliantly forthright about their political views. Here’s Ganeshananthan in the Asian American Writers’ Workshop’s Margins about who gets to write what they don’t know, and her essay “The Politics of Grief” in Granta. Here’s Khakpour on writing as an Iranian American in Catapult, and her essay “How Can I Be a Refugee Twice?” in CNN. Nguyen wrote about being a refugee in Literary Hub, and, along with Karissa Chen and Celeste Ng, published a rap-battle response to Calvin Trillin’s “Have They Run Out of Provinces Yet?” Finally, take a look at Wang in Buzzfeed about the “good” schizophrenic, and in The Believer about metaphors of mental illness.

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The importance of literary translation for global recognition

 

Before the establishment of the Lontar Foundation, there was virtually no place in the world where one could find translated versions of Indonesian literature. (Lontar Foundation/File)

Since 1987, the Lontar Foundation has been one of the most active independent institutions in translating Indonesian works into English, quietly developing and making local literature accessible abroad as a result.

Before the establishment of the Lontar Foundation, there was virtually no place in the world where one could find translated versions of Indonesian literature, and the foundation itself has remained the only organization since 2009 that focuses on promoting translated Indonesian literature abroad.

But while the foundation itself had a productive few decades behind it, as it celebrates its 30th anniversary this year, Lontar has also fallen victim to the indifference of Indonesians toward the importance of translating those works into English.

Lontar Foundation co-founder John McGlynn once mentioned that even after three decades and the support of many notable Indonesian authors, it remains hard for the arts in general to get sponsored by the government or private investors due to the fact that it has to compete with more lucrative fields that can guarantee higher returns on investment, such as sports.

“The fact is that sales of our books only account for one third of our income. The rest of it comes from contributions from friends and projects that we get asked to do. For example, if someone comes up to us with a book that’s very interesting and is willing to pay us a lot of money, we’ll do that,” McGlynn explained.

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India: Parag Initiative will try to connect publishers

As part of its initiative to promote local languages and create awareness at pan-India level, the Tata Trusts (TT)s Parag Initiative will try and connect local publishers to bring out childrens literature in other languages.

“We have realised that there are many English translations available of many gifted authors but nobody knows about them. So as a first step, what we can do is to procure these books for our libraries, even that itself is going to increase the reach of these books,” head Parag Initiative, Tata Trusts Swapna Sahoo told PTI today.

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India’s Book-Buying Habits Say A Lot About The Country’s Economy

By Iain Marlow

Controversial politicians. Celebrity cricket players. Spiritual gurus. India’s publishing industry, like the country’s broader economic story, has a lot to work with.

So it’s perhaps no surprise India’s GDP growth of 7.1 percent — the fastest among major economies — is fueling a boom in book sales. Indian publishing successes, in return, can help provide insights into the country’s growth and consumer confidence. It is a land where the travails of a saucy, soon-to-be-married Goldman Sachs Group Inc banker — in Chetan Bhagat’s fictional One Indian Girl — is a runaway best-seller.

Nielsen estimates the sector is now worth $6.76 billion. Led by educational books, the sector is set to grow at an average compound annual growth rate of 19.3 percent until 2020.  That compares to compounded growth of less than 2 percent for global book publishing over the next five years, according to PwC.   Read more

Source: Bloomberg


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The ‘middlemen’ who are changing India’s publishing scene

 

India’s publishing industry is as ruthless as it is dotted with glitz. With debutant authors often taking years to find a publisher, the journey of the manuscript to a full-fledged book is not a cakewalk. Changing this trend is the rise of literary agents in India.

Commonly known as “middlemen” in the publishing industry, the literary agents offer their expertise to authors to reduce their struggle in getting books published. Take 34-year-old Kanishka Gupta, one of the youngest literary agents in the South Asian belt whose big break came in 2013 with Anees Salim’s book “Vanity Bag”.

Gupta’s firm, Writer’s Side, was set up in 2010 and he claimed that his agency has sold more than 500 books to publishers in the last six years. Read more

Source: The Indian Express


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Calcutta Club USA to host Third Annual Sanskriti LitFest and Book Fair on June 10th

ACTON, MA–Calcutta Club USA will host its third annual Sanskriti LitFest and Book Fair on Saturday, June 10th, at Parker Damon Building in Acton MA from 12 PM to 5 PM, the organizers said in a statement.

This novel event in North America, which brings together literature, art, cuisine, thought leadership and family fun within a single venue, has risen in prominence in just three years and attracts the top literati and South Asian authors to participate either in person or over videoconference, the statement said.

Books of prominent Indian sub-continent authors are available for purchase in English, Bengali and Hindi. A key innovation of the book fair is the Authors’ Direct program – the popular platform to reach Boston’s reading community leveraged by over 50 rising authors.

The Keynote Speaker will be the globally renowned Shashi Tharoor, India’s bestselling author, former UN UnderSecretary General and member of parliament, who is traveling to Boston to speak at the Calcutta Club USA book fair. Read more

Source: India New England News