Essay: On The DSC Prize for South Asian Literature 2019
South Asia has long been a political nerve centre. Over the last two decades, it has become a driver of economic growth and has also emerged as a strong literary hub. More people are now writing and reading about the lives of people here. Given its rich cultural history coupled with the new challenges and aspirations of its peoples, there are myriad stories to be told.
The spectrum and diversity of South Asian fiction writing has evolved substantially over the last 10 years, and the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature, now in its ninth year, has been a witness, and possibly a catalyst, to the changing trends in this literary landscape. The entries that the prize receives each year serve as a bellwether to the changing dynamics of fiction writing in and about South Asia.
Firstly, more women than ever before are writing about this region. Women authors, many of whom are first-time writers, are exploring themes like social equality, love, the pain of conflict and separation, evolving family structures, and other issues rooted in their own personal experience. This year, 42 out of 90 entries to the prize, or 47 percent of the total entries received, were by women authors. That’s up from 35 to 40 percent in the first three years of the prize (2011-13). 40 percent of these women authors were debutants indicating that fresh stories are coming to the fore.
Speaking of new writers, many young debut novelists who break into the scene each year are making a lasting impression. Until three years ago, the share of debut authors whose works were in the running for the DSC Prize was between 25 to 30 percent. This year, it has gone up to 41 percent. These authors are writing in an impactful way about a range of issues including migration and exile, borderless worlds, rapid globalization, the environment and the future.
South Asia is linguistically and culturally diverse. A significant volume of the writing emerging from the area is written in local languages. These deserve to be translated in order to reach a wider readership. The DSC Prize encourages translations and this year too, the prize received several translations into English of works originally written in languages like Tamil, Bengali, Malayalam, Assamese, Kannada and Hindi.
While local translated works are being recognized, an increasing number of authors who do not live in the region or “belong” to it are writing about South Asian life with familiarity and brilliance. More publishers based outside the region are also finding it profitable to publish fiction pertaining to South Asia. The globalization of South Asian literature is underscored by the fact that this year, of the participating publishers, about 30 percent were based outside South Asia in countries like the UK, USA, Canada, Australia and Singapore. 27 percent of the nominated authors are citizens of a country outside the region.
More writers, whether based within or outside the region, are writing about it. Clearly, a growing readership can look forward to more brilliant fiction writing from and about South Asia.
The longlist for the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature 2019
• Akil Kumarasamy: Half Gods (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, USA)
• Amitabha Bagchi: Half the Night is Gone (Juggernaut Books, India)
• Devi S. Laskar: The Atlas of Reds and Blues (Counterpoint Press, USA)
• Fatima Bhutto: The Runaways (Viking, Penguin Random House, India, and Viking, Penguin Random
• Jamil Jan Kochai: 99 Nights in Logar (Bloomsbury Circus, Bloomsbury, India & UK, and Viking, Penguin
Random House, USA)
• Madhuri Vijay: The Far Field (Grove Press, Grove Atlantic, USA)
• Manoranjan Byapari: There’s Gunpowder in the Air (Translated by Arunava Sinha, Eka, Amazon
• Mirza Waheed: Tell Her Everything (Context, Amazon Westland, India)
• Nadeem Zaman: In the Time of the Others (Picador, Pan Macmillan, India)
• Perumal Murugan: A Lonely Harvest (Translated by Aniruddhan Vasudevan, Penguin Books, Penguin
Random House, India)
• Rajkamal Jha: The City and the Sea (Hamish Hamilton, Penguin Random House, India)
• Sadia Abbas: The Empty Room (Zubaan Publishers, India)
• Shubhangi Swarup: Latitudes of Longing (HarperCollins, HarperCollins, India)
• T. D. Ramakrishnan: Sugandhi alias Andal Devanayaki (Translated by Priya K. Nair, Harper Perennial,
• Tova Reich: Mother India (Macmillan, Pan Macmillan, India)
Bashob Dey, Steering Committee Member, The DSC Prize for South Asian Literature