By Dhriti Mehta
The year 2015 shook the literary world up and for all the right reasons.
A research study conducted by acclaimed author Nicola Griffith analysed the winners for the last 15 years of six of the biggest literary awards. And the results were shocking.
“Women aren’t interesting. Women don’t count.” are the findings as listed on Griffith’s research website accompanied by more detailed graphs that outline the lack of representation and recognition for female writers. She drew attention to the fact that “women wrote zero out of 15 prize-winning books wholly from the perspective of a woman or girl,” for a prize as prestigious as the Pulitzer.
In the same year, novelist Kamila Shamsie in her critical piece for The Guardian made a statement that she called a “provocation” for the literary world and brought out the disproportionate representation of female authors in the publishing industry. Her suggestion was to make 2018 a ‘year of publishing women’ in order to celebrate the centenary of women over 30 getting the right to vote in the U.K. and bring recognition to more female authors.
This idea of hers seemed to infuriate some, confuse some and recently – inspire at least one!
Fast forward to 2018 and Stephen Tobler, founder of a publishing house in Sheffield, ‘And Other Stories’ was the only one who stepped up to Shamsie’s challenge and declared that his publishing house would only publish books written by women in 2018. Tobler agrees that the importance given to male writers is still more and believes that this decision has given their publishing house the opportunity to pursue and publish more female authors.
The literary scene in India is no different with an undeniable lack of female authors and feminist writing. However, the efforts to overcome are ongoing and have been since a long time. Interestingly, India has been at the pioneering forefront for encouraging feminist literature and is home to many feminist publishing houses.
In fact, it was during the women’s rights movements of India in the 1980s, that Kali for Women was founded by Urvashi Butalia and Ritu Menon. These pioneers envisioned a safe space for South Asian female authors to grow and provide empowered literature for women. Some of the books published by the founders were the anthology Recasting Women: Essays in Colonial History and a unique book about the female body written by a community of 75 village women called Shareer Ki Jaankari.
Kali for Women eventually split in 2003 into two separate publishing houses: Menon’s ‘Women’s Unlimited’ and Butalia’s ‘Zubaan’ and they continue to pursue their goals of bringing affordable and readable feminist literature into India.
Even before Shamsie proposed her provocation, India had publishing houses that said, “Women are interesting. Women do count.”