Women in Publishing

Women in Publishing

Arpita Das
Publisher, Yoda Press & Authors Upfront

According to Arpita Das, her publishing endeavours Yoda Press, Yodakin and Authors Upfront, have managed to make the idea of ‘the “alternative” viable, interesting and even fashionable. That the niche too matters, and the niche can grow, in new and interesting ways.’ Das set up her own publishing house Yoda Press in 2004, as a space where she could publish subjects that mainstream publishing houses ignored more often than not— from sexuality to urbanism. From the 2005 published Because I Have a Voice: Queer Politics in India edited by Arvind Narrain and Gautam Bhan that set off the sexualities series of books and developed a cult following in no time, to the 2013 published This Side That Side: Restorying Partition curated by Vishwajyoti Ghosh that brought together 48 writers and artists from the Indian subcontinent on the first graphic book on Partition. But what distinguishes her booklist most is its ability to make the academic accessible. Having recently started Authors Upfront, a self-publishing start-up, Das is incredibly excited about what lies ahead, ‘The uncertainty and fears of being on the verge of the digital era are now giving way to experimentation and new formats. The traditional gatekeepers are certainly on their way out, and I am sure, new gatekeepers will try to make their presence felt, but what is happening for sure is that we are reaching a far larger readership than ever before, and in a strange way, it is a more level playing field for smaller independents like myself. Also, self-publishing is here to stay. I think we are going to see more and more authors opting for self-publishing, and I mean good authors, and good writing.’

Gita Wolf
Publisher, Tara Books

Famous for their Book Building in Chennai, their headquarters and gallery space, a three storied ecologically friendly architectural and artistic marvel, their books are little marvels in themselves. The Night Life of Trees is a handmade book on the Gond tribal vision of trees, while I See the Promised Land is a graphic novel on the life of Martin Luther King Jr. that is also an adventurous collaboration between an African American griot and a Patua scroll painter. Cloth of the Mother Goddess is a textile block-printed book by a Matha-Ni-Pachedi textile artist from Gujarat that will be featured as part of the Indian Summer Exhibit at the V&A in London this autumn. Gita Wolf started Tara Press with a vision to push the boundaries of the physical book, and that’s exactly what her publishing house has achieved over the past two decades or so. By bringing together marginalized visual voices (from various tribes and communities) with strong contemporary design and with innovative methods of production including handmade books, Tara Books have silently, but consistently been producing some of the most precious book objects in the country. The veteran publisher believes it’s an exciting time for publishing but there is need for solidarity, ‘If you consider the vibrant publishing in the regional languages (I’m familiar with Tamil), then it looks healthy. But we really need to form a strong group that will stand up for freedom of expression. I hope this can happen.’

Mita Kapur
Literary Agent & CEO, Siyahi

One of the earlier players in the agenting business in India, Mita Kapur set up Siyahi, a literary consultancy in 2007. From representing authors to organizing workshops and events—Siyahi is also behind one of the most charming and intimate of literary festivals, Mountain Echoes in Thimpu, Bhutan. With Devdutt Pattanaik, Wendell Rodricks and Gurcharan Das as part of her stable of writers, Kapur continues to retain a strong hold over Indian non-fiction and translation. While continuing to discover strong voices remains their passion, it’s all about expanding Siyahi and their bouquet of services as of now, ‘Our quest for imaginative writing in fiction and deeply researched non-fiction continues even as we’re expanding in terms of global sales for our rights and hope to see a sharp incline this year.’ For Kapur, like many in the literary industry, it’s time for experiments and transitions in publishing. While she has her eye on the digital age and new media with its unending possibilities, readying the market remains the goal, ‘With some fresh writing surfacing from India, we’re refocusing our energies to yield a larger readership.’

Shruti Debi
Senior Agent & Director, Aitken Alexander Associates, India

Known to drive a hard bargain, and find each of her writers not just a suitable publishing contract, but a proper home for their book—Shruti Debi has fast become one of the leading names in agenting in India. In 2011, Debi set up and went on to head Aitken Alexander Associates in India, with agenting still in its nascent stages in the country, the entry of the big international player signaled a change in tide. With more and more writers seeking representation and a swiftly evolving publishing industry, Debi is convinced that, ‘[Agenting] is headed into a nerdy space if things go right. As publishing becomes more creative, while tradi- tional publishers become less so, exploiting its opportunities becomes more urgent.’

Debi began her literary career as a publisher, heading Picador in India for seven years where she edited Aatish Taseer, Neel Mukherjee and Booker winner, Arvind Adiga. She realizes the need to maintain a fine balance between the emerging and established. With journalist Prayaag Akbar’s debut novel on our impending future, graphic novelist turned fiction writer, Parismita Singh’s short stories on Assam’s conflict zones and Aruni Kashyap whose material just makes ‘eyes pop’ all part of the precious coterie of writers, Debi is prepping for publication—newer voices seem to be the focus this year. AAAs’ repertory is, of course already packed with a versatile and successful list of books and authors including this year’s favourite Raj Kamal Jha’s She Will Build Him A City, and their previously published The Test Of My Life by Yuvraj Singh and Durbarby Tavleen Singh, among others.

Urvashi Butalia
Publisher, Zubaan

Back in 1984, when India was somewhere between Operation Blue Star and the Bhopal Gas Tragedy, Urvashi Butalia and Ritu Menon founded Kali For Women, India’s first feminist publishing house. In 2003, the two already veteran publishers parted ways, and Butalia started Zubaan. Carrying on within the same tradition, Zubaan continues to publish books by, for and about women of South Asia. From publishing Anjum Hasan’s critically acclaimed debut novel, Lunatic In My Head to translating into English, A Life Less Ordinary, a memoir of writer and domestic worker Baby Halder and discovering 2014’s brightest new writer Parvati Sharma and her debut novel, Close to HomeZubaan has consistently published quality women’s literature under the steady gaze of Butalia’s keen editorial eye.

One of the foremost scholars of partition; 2015 saw Butalia’s edited anthology of essays titled Partition: The Long Shadow, which focused on the most enduring legacies of partition by contributors includ- ing Vishwajyoti Ghosh to Jhuma Sen. Even as she delves into focusing more on translation and discovering younger and newer voices, Butalia carries on decades after she first began with the same mission— to prove that feminist publishing can survive commercially as more and more authors are opting for self-publishing, and I mean good authors, and good writing.’