Nandini Patwardhan [aka Nandini Pandya] lives in North Carolina and Ranjani Rao in Singapore. Bound by the power of stories, they launched Story Artisan Press to publish underrepresented voices. The democratization of publishing options could spell success for their joint venture.
What was your motivation for Story Artisan Press?
Nandini: We decided to launch Story Artisan Press with three goals in mind. One, as avid readers, we want to create the kinds of books that we like to read—books that speak to our worldviews and our experiences. Two, as writers, we want to add our own voices and the voices of others like us to the marketplace of ideas. Three, we want to create a community that fosters reading, writing, reflection, and critical thinking.
Ranjani: Both of us had independently arrived at a similar conclusion based on our separate experiences with the publishing industry. Our writing seemed to be like the proverbial Trishanku, suspended between worlds, belonging to both but not having a foothold in either.
What is the mission of the press and how are you
hoping that it will evolve?
Ranjani: The global NRI population is estimated to be in the range of 25-30 million, spread across multiple continents. Writing targeted towards this diverse group is usually through local magazines, while literature created by and targeted towards this group is scattered across various publishing sectors. We believe that Story Artisan Press will create a close-knit—in spirit, if not in geography—community of readers who are looking for insightful, thoughtful narratives that speak to them and to their experiences rather than pandering to stereotypes about the community.
Nandini: Publication of serious literature by and about Indians is at the whim of the larger mainstream publishers. I understand the financial and market imperatives. But, an unfortunate result of this is that nostalgia-focused or “othered” writing is held up, while the full agency, optimism, history, and the unique insider-outsider perspectives are ignored. Unfortunately, the situation when it comes to publishing within India is not much better. Jhumpa Lahiri became popular in India because her writing was feted in the West. So, the mission of Story Artisan Press is to erase the artificial divide between Indians based on whether they are in India or outside India.
There are hundreds, if not thousands, of small presses in the publishing landscape. How are you looking to get heard, especially when it seems that attention spans are so limited these days?
Ranjani: Most presses, large and small, are competing for the same readers, by categorizing all books into the mass-market segment. We believe our niche is unique—the global Indian who wants to read authentic narratives that speak to her experiences. Keeping in mind the short attention span of the digital age, we intend to publish e-books that are short (about 50 pages each) to suit the limited time that is available to our readers. Our books are available as ebooks to facilitate reading across a variety of devices. Our goal is to create a culture of reading and to provide supportive environment for both readers and writers.
Nandini: The many thousands of small presses are an ecosystem. I think of it as the wonderful diversity of flora and fauna that exists in nature. Each shares some traits with the others around it, and each has its own unique characteristics as well. But, only one kind can grow oranges, for example, and only one kind can grow marigolds. I see Story Artisan Press as a particular kind of tree or bush in the big publishing ecosystem. We have faith that there are readers out there who are looking for just the orange or marigold that we will be growing.
What are you starting with?
Nandini: We published three e-books in March. Negative Space is a collection of short stories that offer a peek at the challenges as well as opportunities that living in the U.S. offers to women. No Longer NRI is a collection of essays about the experience of returning to India for good after living in the U.S. for fourteen years. Abroad at Home is an anthology of selected writings from [her previous online magazine] Desijournal [2002-2009].
Currently in the works are Desi Modern Love and Train Friends. We plan to publish new e-books every quarter.
2020 will be a big year as I will publish my biography of Dr. Anandibai Joshee, India’s first woman doctor.
What has been the biggest reward from this
Nandini: Stories matter; storytelling matters. That is how we construct ourselves and find wholeness. So, the biggest reward for me is knowing that I am no longer silent and invisible. I am speaking my truth and am making it possible for others to speak, or at least get in touch with, theirs.
Ranjani: As [Nigerian writer] Chimamanda [Ngozi Adichie] says, the tyranny of the single narrative needs to be challenged. The more stories we get out there, the closer we move towards breaking stereotypes, and by doing so we rise above the petty and superficial differences, and get to know the humanity of everyone. This is our attempt to create a more cohesive world.
Poornima Apte, a widely published freelance writer, editor, and book reviewer, is based in the Boston area. Learn more at WordCumulus.com.
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