India’s Publishing Industry Grows up, Expands

By Carmen Comment

Thanks to Kiran Desai‘s Booker Prize win, India has been getting even more attention of late. But not all their notable writers live abroad in places like London and New York, and its homegrown talent, the Guardian reports, is getting further due. But for those who have moved away, Nilanjana Roy, one of India’s foremost literary critics, can understand why. “For the Indian writer working in English, going abroad was one way to reach the marketplace, to lessen the very considerable distance between publishers, editors and agents in the west and the writer at ‘home’,” she says. “Vikram Chandra and Amit Chaudhuri teach at universities abroad; other writers have shifted because they have access to better jobs, more scholarships.”

But the Booker Prize has affected the future of Indian novelists. Arundhati Roy’s Booker prize win in 1997 sparked an interest in Indian writing which has led to many new publishing houses being set up. The fact that this year’s Booker prize winner is yet another NRI does not matter to poet and novelist Jeet Thayil. “There is no difference between non-resident and resident writers now. I see it as one body of work,” he claims. “If you are a 21-year-old writer living in some little town in India and you read everything you can get your hands on and really learn your craft you have every chance of being published in New York.”

And with the recent emergence of the Jaipur Festival, which has attracted expats like Desai, Salman Rushdie, and Sukethu Mehta to return (albeit briefly) there’s a sense India is really coming into its own, and branching out beyond literary borders. “I like the way that other literary genres have begun to open up,” Roy says. “Anushka Ravishankar does excellent children’s writing, Kalpana Swaminathan writes detective stories, Samit Basu spins fantasy Indian-style.” And maybe, English-language publishers will figure it out and publish them elsewhere…