The Long Night of Literatures, an international collaboration between India and 11 European countries that annually celebrates literary diversity, kicked off Thursday at the Embassy of the Czech Republic in New Delhi with a discussion on the shortened cultural distance between Indian and European literature – made possible by the expansion of publishing networks and a growing interest in translation. “Changing Literary Landscapes in India and Europe” lecture, organized in collaboration with the Oxford Bookstore, was attended by Janice Pariat, Writer and Assistant Professor of Creative Writing and Art History, Ashoka University; Milee Ashwarya, Publisher, Penguin Random House India; Krisha Kops, author and journalist; Mercedes Cebrián, Spanish poet and translator; and moderated by author and translator Sutapa Basu.
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Areas examined included the changing modes and formats of storytelling over the decades, with Kops saying he’s observing a “dangerous” trend of book authors mimicking and competing with social media and video platforms. This results in books that aren’t as provocative or challenging as they could be. “It’s about writing books that can be adapted to Netflix movies, or just thinking about entertainment, hitting the numbers… It’s a disturbing tendency to just think about the audience.”
Pariat responded that many societies, such as Northeast India, have rich traditions of oral storytelling that do not revere the written book as much. She added that the modern interest in audiobooks and podcasts “seems to have come full circle.” “Some parts of the world have never been interested in reading, and that’s okay…Their ways of understanding the world and consuming stories come from different sources,” she added.
Speaking of translation, Cebrián said there was a long-standing fear that the English language would be “the big mouth that eats everything,” but the Anglo-American market has the power and allows ideas to be exchanged. “We used to even translate names in Spanish – William Shakespeare became Guillermo Shakespeare, for example! We don’t do that anymore, so translations also reflect how societies evolve,” she said, adding, “We keep certain names [in the translated language] identical to the original language, so the reader has to go to the trouble of looking it up [for the original effect].”
As the conversation shifted to diversity and representation at literary festivals, Pariat added a warning that writers are only typecast into certain parts of their identities. “Why should queer writers only be on queer boards or Dalit writers only on Dalit forums?” She said, adding, “Lighted festivals should be more critical, more recalcitrant and more disruptive.”
Basu mentioned the rising cost of paper in the book production cycle and challenges the publishing industry may face, which Ashwarya said the physical book is here to stay because the experience of reading one is irreplaceable. “Penguin has also done well during the pandemic and has helped us also innovate in what we publish and how we build our lists. The industry is only growing,” she said.
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