International Women's Day: Inspiring stories from day-to-day life

The Women’s Library: Bringing women’s writing to the forefront

Every year around March 8th, people in the books business bring women authors into the limelight, putting them in window displays and organising readings around their work. But The Women’s Library, a collaborative effort driven by Penguin Random House India (PRHI), is a month-long a collaborative effort bringing on board bookstores from across the country and SheThePeople.TV, a multimedia platform for women-centered narratives.

For its part, since 2017, SheThePeople.TV has been organising The Women Writers Fest at different times of the year, across six cities. The event had grown out of an online community and book club that they’d facilitated, in order to help women writers mentor one another, and tap into the experience of navigating the publishing landscape. This year, the timing of the Mumbai and Delhi editions of the fest coincide with The Women’s Library (March 16th and 30th respectively).

“It’s a perfect match — we’ve got the community, PRHI has got the publishing talent. It was therefore in their interest [to collaborate],” says Shaili Chopra, former business journalist and founder of SheThePeople.TV, about their commitment to the effort. Chopra’s portal is making and using its already-existing viewership to push out short video bytes from prominent authors like Rana Safvi and Kota Neelima, among a still-growing list of authors. Each of them talks about why or how they started writing.

PRHI says they have reached out to over 10 major book stores including Higginbothams, Full Circle, Bahrisons, and Odyssey, to participate. Each of the stores will have a dedicated “festive” space to showcase and celebrate women’s writing from all over the world. The books stocked in these spaces will be curated by PRHI, and include authors like Namita Devidayal, Krishna Sobti, Paro Anand, Taslima Nasreen, Fatima Bhutto, and Sally Rooney.

“Women authors will also be visiting these stores for book signings,” says Preeti Chaturvedi, associate vice president of marketing at Penguin Random House India. “From a product perspective, we have also curated a special box set called The Women’s Library, which has three prominent female voices from India, K.R. Meera, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, and Anita Nair.”

But Priyanka Malhotra, Director of Full Circle Bookstore was yet to be informed of her store’s participation in this effort. She has independently already begun a month of ‘Women and Literature’ at her store, curating the collection in-house and having publishers send them suggestions.

“The idea has been to provide a platform for strong female voices. The collection includes poetry, non-fiction, literary and popular fiction, and also a great selection for children,” Malhotra says. For Rajni Bahri of Bahrisons, their participation in the The Women’s Library is a way to “facilitate supportive writing circles by encouraging women to craft more conscious lives through the art of writing and the practices of community.” Together, the two stores are highlighting the idea of discovering literature at a store versus online, and how this reading has the potential to create change.

Publisher Arpita Das, who owns Yoda Press, however feels that this campaign is “tokenism” around Women's Day. “This is not going to take us very far unless we make a concerted effort to publish more women and also women from diverse backgrounds — and that work has to go on all year,” she says.

Acknowledging that there is a marked gender imbalance in prize shortlists, literary critics, and in the media-space devoted to women’s writing, Manasi Subramanian, commissioning editor at PRHI adds that these campaigns are conscious efforts that “redoubles any unconscious efforts: it holds us to our commitments, it diversifies our reading, and brings readers’ attentions to books that may have — consciously or unconsciously — slipped through the cracks.” This is notable, especially since many top posts in publishing houses including Rupa, Roli, HarperCollins, and PRHI too, are held by women.

Writers like Annie Zaidi remain wary: “At this point, these campaigns are not furthering the conversation,” she says, advocating for nuanced ways to read women through the year, for the merit of their work and voice and not their gender. “It’s like brushing your teeth every morning. You do it because otherwise your teeth fall out. That’s how you ought to read women — because otherwise you’re not a healthy society.”

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Printable version | Mar 4, 2021 5:54:48 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/books/books-authors/the-womens-library-bringing-womens-writing-to-the-forefront/article26469957.ece

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