Scribe publishing assistant Stephanie Siriwardene was recently in India as part of the India Exploratory Program, investigating the country’s growing literary scene. She has written a summary of her trip below.
About the program
The India Exploratory Program is funded by Australia Council for the Arts and is an initiative to enable Australian publishers and festival directors to explore the Indian publishing landscape, and create new relationships and opportunities.
The program ran for twelve days and there were six delegates — Fiona Henderson (Affirm Press), Cate Blake (Penguin Random House), Margot Lloyd (Wakefield Press), Edwina Johnson (Byron Writers Festival), and Laura Kroetch (Adelaide Writers Week). Wendy Were from Australia Council was also was with us, and our leader Mary Therese Kurkalang is a trailblazer who has been on the Indian publishing scene for a number of years.
Over the twelve days we visited the Hindu Lit for Life Festival in Chennai, the Apeejay Kolkata Literary Festival, Jaipur Literary Festival and Jaipur Bookmark, and partook in industry meetings and networking events at each of these cities, and in Delhi.
The Hindu Lit for Life festival in Chennai was our first stop. This festival was perhaps my favourite of the three we attended (although we were only there for one day). The programming was fantastic, with a wide range of topics on discussion by writers that were inspiring, knowledgeable, and political. The audience was a range of young and old, and all completely engaged, booing and cheering, and asking really great questions. I think what I loved most here was the coming together of different arts and ideas. A recurring theme that emerged across all the cities we visited was how literary festivals have become the type of space that universities should be — a safe place for learning and discussing ideas — and I really had a sense of that here.
We attended a roundtable meeting with eight local publishers, a few of them specializing in children’s publishing. Dedicated to local craftsmanship, it was inspiring to see children’s books made with such high production values, some even handmade.
In Kolkata we visited the offices of the beautiful Seagull Books. We were all in awe of their office space, full of colour and art. Downstairs is a shop dedicated to their books and across the road they have a school where they host a three month publishing course.
Next was the Kolkata Literary Festival, where events were held at various sites across the city. I was a part of a panel discussion about niche publishing, and as there was a mix of different types of publishers forming the panel, we were able to have an interesting discussion about small and independent publishing.
We spent most of our time in Jaipur, a whirlwind five days. Alongside the Literary Festival, the Jaipur Bookmark is a type of satellite festival for the trade only. We were lucky this year that Bookmark took place on the same site as the Literary Festival in Diggi Palace, so we could go back and forth between the two. On the first day of the festival all of the Australian delegation were on a panel discussing publishing in Australia. Bookmark started a day earlier than the Lit Festival, so we were very fortunate to see the space (five tents and one hall across one site) before it became full.
This year in its 10th anniversary, the Jaipur Literary Festival is the largest free literature festival in the world. I think there was an anticipated 400,000 footfalls and 80,000 registered visitors, the majority of the crowd under the age of 30. It was wonderful to see so many school groups too. International guests included Paul Beatty, Anne Waldman, and Alan Hollinghurst, but I really enjoyed the debates and discussions around local issues. It was a thrill to be caught up in crushes of young people with such a thirst for literature. And that there should be a crush at all to see a local poet, I think, is amazing.
The networking events we attended in Jaipur were equally buzzing, held in some of the most beautiful sites in Rajasthan’s capital.
I ventured to Old Delhi on my own to visit the offices of Speaking Tiger, who have published a number of Scribe titles in India. And as a group, we visited the offices of Navayana, who focus on issues of caste in India, and Zubaan, a feminist publishing house.
On our last night of the program, we had the largest of our roundtables followed by a reception at the Australian High Commission. It was great to catch up with so many of the publishers we’d met earlier at the festivals in Kolkata and Jaipur, and to talk about all of the great things coming up for Scribe and Scribble in 2017.
We fit so much into the 12 days we were there, and it has been a wonderful opportunity for Scribe to be a part of this program again — I am thankful to Mary, the team at Australia Council of the Arts, and the Australian High Commission in Delhi for making it happen. I am also thankful for the warm hospitality of the festival directors and publishers who welcomed us during our time in India. While Henry did the groundwork when he took part in the program two years ago, my attendance this year was an opportunity to reconnect with those who we have relationships with already, and to meet and make new friends. We are looking forward to considering works from such a vibrant literary community and seeing what happens next!