The Pune International Literary Festival (PILF) 2018 will soon be upon us. Every year, PILF along with Vishwakarma Publications, the publishing partner, holds a contest for fiction/non-fiction writers. We invite submissions from unpublished writers which will be judged and three winners will be rewarded with a publishing contract. Submissions can be in either English or Marathi.
Such contests go far beyond encouraging the talented writers, they play a broader role of bridging the gap between quality narratives and the market. Not to mention the heartaches and hassles of publishing with big publications.
What then is the relation of literature or art to the market? In the world of Rupi Kaur and Instagram poetry, what is the role of the market in determining the quality and role of art? Is the market redundant now? Such questions have no easy answers. However, it is undeniable that the processes of transmitting and publishing literature have changed drastically. While change is always a part of nature, the advent of small presses has changed the complexion of the literary landscape in ways never imagined. The expansion of opportunities it has brought to the neglected artists is unprecedented both in scale and impact.
The history of small presses in India is a chequered one. Clearing House, the poetry publishing collective was started by Avind Krishna Mehrotra, along with poets Adil Jussawalla, Gieve Patel and Arun Kolatkar, in erstwhile Bombay in the mid 70s. The collective aimed at publishing manuscripts that were not considered publication-worthy by presses like Oxford. The collective went on to publish several path breaking books like Arun Kolatkar’s ‘Jejuri’ – considered a modern classic. In the same vein, the little magazine movement in 60’s gave vernacular literature in India a new lease of life. The legacy they have left behind demands that it be accorded a worthy successor. Vishwakarma Publications is part of this worthy succession.
But is it enough to rest on the laurels of history, and justify everything from rosy tints of nostalgia? Absolutely not! We must delve into reasons that justify why such contests by publishers are necessary.
First and foremost is the basic economic principle of supply existing in relation to demand. There is a profusion of talented fiction writers as well as of other literary forms in the country. They tell such compelling stories of human frailties of our times and demand a place in the world of readers. Second, it is a common complaint, and largely true, that the big reputed presses are greatly motivated by considerations of monetary gain. Money making has moved to the top of the publishers’ priority – a common lament in the artistic world.
Contests as the one by PILF & Vishwakarma Publications, invert this pyramid of economic logic. Their primary concern is with showcasing the quality. It also takes care of the other problem – networking. In the publishing world, it is a common observation, you need the invisible hand of a mentor over your head to be considered for reputed publishing houses. If you are a nobody, your manuscript will not get much of a look, much less attention. At Vishwakarma Publications, and fellow upcoming publishing houses like Dhauli Books, RedLeaf, The Great Indian Poetry Collective, Hawakal and Ki, we go by a different philosophy – the philosophy of democracy. Every manuscript is equally important, and receives equal attention. It effectively ensures that no one receives any patronage, nor is anyone unduly discriminated against. The only criterion is talent and quality of the narrative. What happens as a result? The diversity in voices is necessarily a good thing, and it enriches the literary scene, more specifically the fiction scene in the country. It does so at minimal expense to the author, and with little effort on his part. It can only lead to the encouragement of budding writers and contributes directly to the fiction scene in the country.
Second, it breaks the monopoly of the big presses. Confronted with compelling fiction and literature, they will be forced to revise their processes, and their standards. The reader will ultimately gain.
Third, it is a well established fact that the intellectual prowess of a nation depends largely upon the quality of work they read. Young readers, especially in the era of Chetan Bhagat and rom-com fiction have lost touch with quality work, as presses only concern themselves with the economic outcomes. Naturally, this leads to a dumbing down of the youth, and they are hindered in evolving creative and thoughtful responses to the challenges facing them. In a global economy where a sound knowledge of English language is the prerequisite they suffer from lack of reading quality work. Endeavours like that of Vishwakrma Publications ensure that this is not the case anymore as it brings quality work to the literary scene. In a manner of speaking, it is an act of nation-making.
Kashmiri poet, Agha Shahid Ali famously remarked:
The world is full of paper.
Write to me.
The contest echoes those blessed words, and seeks among other things voices that compel, nudge and goad readers in directions yet hidden for the want of an explorer. Let the words flow!
Authored by Richa Singh, Content Writer, Investronaut