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When Belinda Met Kiran Desai

Anita and Kiran Desai Discuss The Influences And Inspirations Behind Their Work

Anita and Kiran Desai Discuss The Influences And Inspirations Behind Their Work At The 25th Anniversary of Wasafiri

Kiran Desai is an Indian-born novelist and the author of The Inheritance Of Loss, which won the 2006, Man Booker Prize. I met her in 2009, at the 25th anniversary celebration of Wasafiri, a literary magazine and this is what she had to say about the magazine and the publishing world.

Belinda: Have you ever contributed to the magazine?

Kiran: Actually I have never contributed and its just chance and happened that we met and I very much respect and admire the work. I know how long it took for writing from our part of the world to get to this place. The journey has been so long and being the daughter of my mother and seeing it from my childhood and seeing it to this place. It’s a different world.

Belinda: How significant is a publication like Wasafiri to the international literary scene of literature and publishing books from different places?

Kiran: Very important. I think it’s very important because it one of the first and if not the first to put a focus on it and not a fake focus but a serious focus against a lot of the trends in the publishing world. The very sort of fashionable trends because there was a way of publicising work from non-western countries even when it was popular and was given a place, it was the wrong place and I saw that a lot as an Indian writer. Even now, it’s not just that it was so in the past, even now it is still given a focus that’s not a real focus. It very easy to write to a particular market or write a book that is set to a particular market. There are so many arranged marriage stories and I also feel that because there is this endless hunger for them and publishers love them, it just goes on and on. But Wasafiri is very different. This space is important and it is important that it continues. The fight hasn’t been won.

Belinda: Do you believe Wasafiri has succeeded in bringing the different voices of the writers it wants to bring to the attention of the literary world?

Kiran: It is a really different world and I’m thinking of my mother’s generation which broke the ground for the next generation. I am thinking of Salman Rushdie generation and it welcomed writers like him unto the stage and he broke the ground for the next generation, people like Arundhati Roy and now it’s a bigger world than its ever been and I think its very good for young writers because their books are being published by publishers and read by agents. And it’s also fashion you know. I have heard so many people say that oh, the fashion of Indian Writers and then the fashion shifts and then you hear its Nigerian authors and it’s really interesting because you meet young Nigerian authors and they say, yes, we are the fashion and now all of a sudden it looks good but it should all be sustained. And then you have other people saying, but there are so many Indian writers now and Nigerian writers now and it’s not true. They are not so many, there are 10, 20 and 30 but that would never be said of American writers, there are so many American authors or there are so many British authors. So that conversation, yes there are more but it’s not that there are so many.

Belinda: Is there any area you think Wasafiri can still explore or is yet to explore?

Kiran: I’ll leave that to Susheila and her team and imagine that this was born on her kitchen floor, continuing 25 years, money problem and still here. It is really remarkable. They have produced so many talents and these talents have broken out and are so famous now. They should shout louder about their work.

Belinda: In what ways can a magazine like Wasafiri continue to bring the voices to the attention of the international writing community?

Kiran: You know if they had connections with more newspapers and it’s wonderful that they are giving awards to young writers. But I also think the publishing world needs to go both ways, the publishing world should also talk to Wasafiri because these people know what’s happening, what writers are saying and understand young writing from these different regions. I wish publishers were more daring because I think readers are. I always think that publishers are quite meek. They tend to go for a book with a niche that is already defined and they know will fit into a certain box. Readers are not like that, they are much braver.

Belinda: How do you think Wasafiri has influenced the publishing landscape across the globe?

Kiran: I think Wasafiri has brought a lot of authors to the attention of the publishing world and the names on their list, is really impressive.

Belinda: In what ways do you think it has affected the way people read book and works of literature?

Kiran: Books change it. I mean people say oh, no one reads short stories and then a book by a Dominican writer, a book called Drown, and it sold so well and all of a sudden, people are buying short stories and it opened the door for other writers.

Image of Kiran and Anita Desai: Graham Fudger

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4 Responses to “When Belinda Met Kiran Desai”

  1. Ogo Ogbata says:

    Well done, Belinda. And how wonderful to see mother and daughter up on that stage together!

  2. Belinda Otas says:

    Thanks Ogo

  3. Thanks for this interview.
    We like ‘Inheritance of Loss’ as well:

  4. Belinda Otas says:

    U r welcome and glad to hear you like the book. Check the BBC Worlservice website, under dramas, they have a recent dramatisation of the whole book on there. Interesting stuff!

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