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V.S. Naipaul, a writer of many contradictions and obvious greatness

(From the New York Times. Link to the complete article given below)

V.S. Naipaul, the Nobel laureate who died at 85 on Saturday, had so many gifts as a writer — suppleness, wit, an unsparing eye for detail — that he could seemingly do whatever he wanted. What he did want, it became apparent, was to rarely please anyone but himself. The world’s readers flocked to his many novels and books of reportage for “his fastidious scorn,” as the critic Clive James wrote, “not for his large heart.” In his obvious greatness, in the hard truths he dealt, Naipaul attracted and repelled.

He was a walking sack of contradictions, in some ways the archetypal writer of the shifting and migratory 20th century. His life was a series of journeys between old world and new. He was a cool and sometimes snappish mediator between continents. Indian by descent, Trinidadian by birth, Naipaul attended Oxford and lived in London, where he came to wear elegant suits and move in elite social circles. “When I talk about being an exile or a refugee I’m not just using a metaphor,” he said. “I’m speaking literally.”

His breakthrough book, after three comic works set in the Caribbean, was “A House for Mr. Biswas” (1961), a masterpiece composed when Naipaul was 29. It has lost none of its sweep and sly humor. It’s about a character, based on Naipaul’s father, who begins his life as a sign painter in Trinidad and Tobago and improbably rises to become a journalist. The first sign he paints reads, in words the industrious Naipaul seemed to take to heart: “IDLERS KEEP OUT BY ORDER.”

The richest and most eminently re-readable books of Naipaul’s fiction after “A House for Mr. Biswas” include “In a Free State,” an intimate suite of stories concerned with colonialism and the vagaries of power. Set in Egypt, America, Africa and England, it won the Booker Prize in 1971. “Guerrillas” was called “probably the best novel of 1975” by the editors of The New York Times Book Review. It is Naipaul’s most propulsive book. Set in an unnamed Caribbean country where the air is thick with postcolonial British dominion, it offers a complex portrait of the manners and motives of third world revolutionaries. It is an uncanny meditation on displacement. You never quite know where the novel is heading. Its author would later say, “Plot is for those who already know the world; narrative is for those who want to discover it.” His last great novel, set in postcolonial Central Africa, may have been “A Bend in the River” (1979).

Read more at the New York Times link here

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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 Lounge Chair Interview: 15 questions with Saikat Majumdar

By Neha Mehrotra

Head of the English department at Ashoka University, Saikat Majumdar is an academic, novelist and critic. He is the author of Silverfish (HarperCollins, 2007), Prose of the World: Modernism and the Banality of Empire (Columbia University Press and Orient Blackswan, 2013 and 2015), The Firebird (Hachette 2015 and 2017). The Scent of God (Simon and Schuster) is forthcoming in 2019.

The Firebird was one of Telegraph’s Best Books of 2015 and a finalist for the Atta-Galatta/Bangalore Literature Festival Fiction Prize in 2015 and the Mumbai Film Festival Word-to-Screen Market in 2016. His 2013 book on global modernisms was a finalist for the Modernist Studies Association Annual Book Prize in 2014.

In addition to being published by major journals such as PMLA, NLH: New Literary History, Cambridge History of the Indian Novel in English, Modern Fiction Studies, and Literary Activism: A Collection of Perspectives, Saikat’s writing also features regularly in mainstream publications such as The Hindu, Outlook, Times Higher Education, Hindustan Times, Los Angeles Review of Books, Times Literary Supplement, Indian Express, Caravan, Scroll, Telegraph, and Times of India.

Saikat Majumdar

Saikat Majumdar

How do you identify as a writer?

Primarily as a novelist. That’s the core to which I keep returning. I do other kinds of writing too, but I realize I do them all on a novelist’s terms. So my literary criticism is criticism by a novelist, and my nonfiction and newspaper essays are often novelistic in spirit and style. Not to say they are ‘fictional’ – hopefully I speak the truth when I mean to – it’s rather about the assumption of a voice of my own and a kind of an eye through which I see the world and think about it. Even when it’s the real world and not a fictionally crafted one. But since I actually do different kinds of writing, I like the term ‘writer’ and the looseness it evokes, and the way it avoids attaching itself to any particular genre or book. I’m not a fan of the word ‘author’ unless it’s used in connection to a particular work – it carries too much authority.

What impels you to write, especially the kind of books you write?

A ghost grabs me and makes me. Seriously, I don’t choose any of the themes or stories of my books – they always choose me and when I realize I have no choice whatsoever but to write, I know I have a real book there. Usually it’s a ghost from my past. A bit different with newspaper articles, or contributions to edited volumes or collections and there is more conscious choice there. But the books, the most important things, especially the novels, I can only write when I feel that absolute compulsion, and at one level I can never make out where they come from.

Tell us about your most recent piece of writing apart from what you have published.

This morning I put the finishing touches to an essay on Calcutta that is part of an anthology of writing by novelists on the cities they’ve written about, Writing in the City, edited by Stuti Khanna, with contributions from Siddharth Chowdhury, Manu Joseph, Amitava Kumar, Indra Sinha, Amit Chaudhuri, Rupa Bajwa, Anjum Hasan, Manju Kapur and several others. Much looking forward to seeing this in print and how everybody has approached the subject.

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Forget Cinderella, these 5 books tell kids it’s okay for boys to cry and girls to be strong

(From edexlive. Link to the complete article given below)

From Cinderella to Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Little Red Riding Hood to Sleeping Beauty — traditional stories may come with morals, but there is no denying the fact that they tend to pander to gender stereotypes and perpetuate biases. The fair maidens and chiseled princes, the damsel in distress and the knight in shining armour routine, kissing women in their sleep (sexual assault lawsuit, anyone?) — these stories are riddled with ‘chivalrous’ crap (for lack of a better word) like this. Who said girls can’t rescue themselves or that all boys are brave?

In today’s world, there is no scope for kids to relate to these characters or situations, despite the various retellings and re-readings of these tales over the years. Children need, scratch that, deserve better stories that they can resonate and relate with. And for that, we need better writers. This is where ‘The Irrelevant Project’ comes in and it’s more relevant now than ever. Started by Alishya Almeida and Meghna Chaudhury as a series of workshops, which has now turned into a power-packed punch of five illustrated books that were released this January, these books tell children that it’s okay for boys to cry and girls to be strong.

Let’s do this

If every conversation between Almeida and Chaudhury, ever since they met through the Young India Fellowship, was subjected to the Bechdel Test, they would easily pass as all they spoke about was intersectionality, feminism and the education scenario. “There is space for more and there needs to be more,” says 29-year-old Chaudhury, during our call with the feisty duo. They decided to initiate a pilot workshop to understand the deep-rooted biases that creep into the minds of kids, in 2015. This was done in four classrooms of two government schools in New Delhi. The activities that they conducted helped children recognise the stereotypes that exist in their minds and the environment, along with certain critical thinking and problem-solving exercises. The inferences they gathered compelled them to start The Irrelevant Project. “We have five books with children, who are all of different builds and temperaments so that more and more children connect with them, as the protagonists,” explains 26-year-old Almeida. And this is just the beginning.

Read more at the edexlive link here


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Writing Matters: In conversation with Saubhik De Sarkar

By Dolonchampa Chakraborty

 

Saubhik De Sarkar.jpg

Saubhik De Sarkar

Saubhik De Sarkar, is a Bengali poet based in Alipurduar, West Bengal, a major district in the eastern Himalayan foothills of India. He has six books of poems of which the first one Sheet O Bayosandhir Haspatal was published in 1995. Other collections include Ekti Mridu Laal Rekha (2005), Jatrabari (2011), Dokholsutra (2013), Anugato Buffer (2015) and Punorbashoner Chil (2016). He is also a prolific translator. His most significant translation projects include but are not limited to the works of Saadat Hasan Manto, Roberto Bolano, Federico Garcia Lorca, Julio Cortázar, Namdeo Dhasal and Rudhramoorthy Cheran. His translation of the much discoursed Dalit chronicle My Father Baliah by Y.B. Satyanarayana into Bengali is set to be published in 2018. His selected poems translated into English, The Evening Gnome is also scheduled to be published from Authorspress in 2018. He is the recipient of Kabita Pakshik Award (2005) and Mallar Award (2017).

Dolonchampa: What encouraged you to be a poet? Can you think of a particular set of moments that still haunt your memory as the initial spark?

Saubhik: I grew up in the cultural and literary ambience of Alipurduar which had some artistic and traditional inheritance. The Little Magazine Movement also played a significant role in shaping and sharpening me up as it has had tremendous impact over the progression of Bengali literature. Since a young age I got to know the avant garde litterateur and poets of North Bengal who were involved in little magazine movements and an experimental writing process. Taking part in the movement provided the opportunity to access different avenues of literature and I chose poetry as the medium to express myself. Not any special incident or spark, but as a whole many features of poetry enticed me toward it. I found the essential freedom and a sense of unrestricted liberation within the realm of poetry.

Dolonchampa: Tell us about your literary influences.

Saubhik: A poet is indebted to many other travellers of the labyrinth of poetry. According to my recollection, Jibananda Das, Utpal Kumar Basu, Manindra Gupta, Swadesh Sen, Bhashkar Chakraborty, Nitya Malakar, Buddhadeb Dasgupta, Sajal Bandyopadhyay, Shyamal Kanti Das, Samar Roy Choudhury, Shyamal Singha, Jahar Sen Majumder and Rahul Purkayastha are those few Bengali poets who had initially impacted my nous of poetry. Among the ones who wrote in other languages, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Ana Akhmatova, Frank O’Hara, Julio Cortázar, Charles Simic, A.K. Mehrotra, Namdeo Dhasal, Agha Shahid Ali, Mahmud Darwish, Martin Espada and Kim Hyesoon influenced me a lot.

Dolonchampa: The unique elements of North Bengal—the landscape, languages, folk tales, myths, music have influenced your already rich linguistic inheritance. How do they shape your poems?

Saubhik: North Bengal, where I have lived so far has some particularly distinctive features. Located amid lustrous natural landscape within the range of three international borders, it is a unique multicultural, multilingual and multi-ethnic confluence. Populations hailing from separate ethnic clusters native to this place present themselves in different forms of myths, folktales, customs and rituals, and music different from each other. In congruence with the changing dynamics of the rivers flowing through the mountain range of North Bengal, the disposition of the people here also changes its form. People constantly move in and out of North Bengal. A larger phase of history has been a witness to this shifting identity and its restlessness for a rather consistent period of time. When I try to capture that particular identity in my poems, it appears with all its restlessness.

Political and economic contexts are not the same either. They are altering at a rather slower pace, but the transformation is indeed visible. Against the backdrop of the marginal and rural practices transforming towards a pro-urban formation, the decadence in the local colonial set-ups primarily established through the railways and tea-gardens become more prominent. The conservatively rural and marginal folk elements are developing themselves in an innovative manner, which to certain extent is definitely and more inevitably contributing to the degeneration of an old customary set-up.

All these shifts and changes, anomalies and transformations present themselves subtly in my poems. Although I feel the limitation of the standard lingua franca in expressing these conflicts, struggles and the confluences of the beauty, silence and serenity of North Bengal which appear in my poems. Hence, it is only reasonable that I should use words from the dialects, sub-dialects and other languages of North Bengal in my writing.

The other and more significant reason for me to use the elements of North Bengal is the responsibility to represent an aware and alert society which registers a systematic and sensible resistance in favour of the liberation of a language no matter how apparently insignificant and distant it is from the power hub of the premier language. Every language practises a kind of monopoly over its dialects and sub-dialects. So when I use a local word in my poem I do not want it to carry its local flavour only. I enable it to stand strong against the monopoly and aggression of the premier language.

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What rereading childhood books teaches adults about themselves

(From The Atlantic. Link to the complete article given below)

When I return to my parents’ house and the neighborhood where I grew up, the tension between sameness and difference is disorienting. The gym is still there, but the bookstore where I hung out after school is now a Target. There are new neighbors renovating the house next door. My parents might turn one of our childhood bedrooms into a study. I see versions of my old self in local kids, running around the back alley or aimlessly browsing our local Sephora. They make me feel both nostalgic and relieved to be an adult.

That’s when I find myself reaching for a comforting set of pastel-colored spines on my childhood bookshelf: L. M. Montgomery’s classic Anne of Green Gables series. My mom first read it to me when I was a toddler, and I’ve been rereading it ever since. For many years, the main draw was Anne’s love interest, Gilbert Blythe, whom I had a crush on. But now I read it more for the compelling female friendships—“bosom friends,” as Anne would call them—and the gorgeous descriptions of the jewel-toned countryside. Most of all, Anne’s home of Avonlea, animated by Anne’s idealism and exuberance, feels like a refuge from the real world, where those traits can be hard to find.

People’s favorite childhood stories often stick with them throughout their lives. When the book-centric social media site Goodreads tracked the books most reread by its users, many of them were children’s books, including J. K. Rowling’s entire Harry Potter series, C. S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, and Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince.

Read more at The Atlantic link here


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The Bookstore That Brought Together Urdu’s Literary Greats

(From The Wire. Link to the interview given below)

For 88-year old Shahid Ali Khan, Urdu literature has been a lifelong passion. His journey with Maktaba Jamia, a publishing house and bookstore, took him from Delhi to Mumbai in 1957, where he befriended renowned Urdu writers and poets like Sahir Ludhianvi, Jan Nisar Akhtar, Meena Kumari and Jagan Nath Azad.

Now running his own small publishing house called ‘Nai Kitab’, which is tucked away in a quiet lane in Delhi’s Jamia Nagar, Khan takes us down memory lane and talks about his contributions to Urdu.

Watch the video at The Wire link here


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13 literary writers who have adapted other people’s books for the screen

(From Literary Hub. Link to the complete article given below)

Hollywood has long been a mysterious place where literary writers can sometimes make a little extra money—sure, there’s the nice paycheck when their own work gets optioned, but as it turns out, movies actually need writers too! And sometimes literary writers are pretty darn good at writing movies (though sometimes, as you will see, they are not). After discovering this week that Aldous Huxley had written the screenplays for early film adaptations of Pride and Prejudice and Jane Eyre, I got interested in what other literary texts (besides their own) literary writers had ushered towards the big screen. Here are some of my findings.

Aldous Huxley, most famous for his literature of dystopias and drug trips, wrote the screenplays for the first film adaptation of Pride and Prejudice (1940) and, with John Houseman and director Robert Stevenson, an early adaptation of Jane Eyre (1943). Not only that, but he might have been the screenwriter for Alice in Wonderland (this, of course, being quite a bit closer to the dystopia/drug trip fame). Knowing that Huxley was a massive fan of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Walt Disney contacted the writer in 1945 and commissioned a script for a combination live action and animated adaptation. He completed a draft, and the two icons worked on it together, but in the end Disney felt it was “too literary.” He was paid, and a wholly different and fully animated version (the one you know) was released in 1951.

As you probably already know, F. Scott Fitzgerald toiled away to little success (one friend compared him to “a great sculptor who is hired to do a plumbing job”) in Hollywood in the 1930s, and wound up with only a single screenwriting credit. I was tickled to learn that he had worked on a draft of the script for the adaptation of Gone With the Wind, for which, apparently, “he was forbidden to use any words that did not appear in Margaret Mitchell’s text.” His draft was rejected.

Read more at this Lit Hub link


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How a Pakistani novelist and translator learned to love dictionaries

(From Zocalo Public Square. Link to the complete article given below)

An image from a winter morning in Hyderabad, Pakistan, when I was four, forms my earliest memory of literacy.

Bundled up in layers of sweaters, I am reciting from an Urdu newspaper as I sit astride my neighbor’s pet goat. I am certain that the sequence of words or their relationships to each other made no sense to me. But my prowess in reading individual words made the exercise as meaningful and empowering as the ability to ride the goat.

That pride, perhaps, explained my ecumenical approach to reading texts in my native language. Possessed by the joy of recognizing words, I did not pass judgment as to the nature of the content, but devoured everything, from my grandfather’s homeopathy manuals to legal documents and exercise guides for warding off old age. A devoted reader does not discriminate between one arrangement of words and another, or between words and numbers. For someone in my situation, Anna Karenina and the railway timetable were one.

As I grew up and moved to Karachi and then Toronto, however, the order and meaning of words took on agonizing importance. I made language my career, becoming a novelist and translator of Urdu classics.

Expanding on the latter role, I eventually developed programs to reintroduce Urdu literature into schools in Pakistan and teach children the vocabulary necessary to understand them. Along the way, I would compile the Urdu language’s first online thesaurus. Oddly enough, it was not the early experience reading astride a goat that shaped my approach in working with children, but a more unfortunate early memory that served as a cautionary tale.

Read more at this Zocalo Public Square link


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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