You may have wondered, as I did, why there are so few anthologies of fiction fromNepali writers writing in English. After all, by now we have a substantial pool of well-educated and well traveled people fluent in English who both consume and produce literature. These anthologies are common in other countries, but Nepal, after An Other Voice in 2002, has seen no attempt to replicate the effort. And finally, after plunging into this vast and thankless task by pitching New Nepal, New Voices to Rupa, the Indian publishing house, I finally understood why two friends whom I had approached to join me in this venture had politely but firmly rejected my offer.
Editing an anthology is a labor of love that requires enormous amounts of time, energy, email communication, and patience. The meager editorial fee I received doesn’t begin to cover the almost two years of work that is going to go into this seemingly small book. Fortunately, I had a co-editor (Ajit Baral), with whom I navigated the most difficult decisions. Since both of us were employed in a fulltime job, we had to do this anthology in our spare time. The solicitation of story was our first task. We wrote up a little Call for Submissions, but found it had little effect or response. So in desperation we started to tap into the people we knew well. When faced with no stories, something is better than nothing so we gratefully took what was given to us without a great deal of negotiation.
Only later would we realize that such and such a story was weak and should have been replaced with a stronger one, or a newer one. But these editorial demands appear uppity when writers are busy and have done you the favor of going through their files and finding you one, so you do not argue. Then there is the task of payment. In the solicitation process, we’ve been clear about our payment. And yet this seems to be insufficient for a reality check. Writers dream of big advances, and are very, very disappointed to hear that an anthology featuring mostly unknown writers does not bring the same sort of advance as the one they give to Amitav Ghosh. Perhaps a better marketing system, and a more energetic local publishing industry, might bring better payment to writers, in turn encouraging more production of literature.
In my own experience, the joy of editing an anthology comes from nurturing new writers, and in featuring new writing from the already famous. And there is a special charm in being featured in an anthology—the form seems to affirm that there is a community of writers out there who are engaged in the same literary tasks and sharing the same love of literature, despite their diverse backgrounds and isolation.
In an ideal world, and if I had all the time and money to spare, I would put out the call for submissions in all the newspapers, and wait for the stories to pour in. I’d have a team of five work with me to select the best stories, and then I’d hone it down further to the best twenty. I’d call it Best Nepali Short Stories and put it out through a publishing house with a good record of marketing and distribution. After all, we have twenty-six million people and by now a whole load of them read and write in English. But this dream may have to wait a few years still.
Sushma Joshi is a freelance writer, filmmaker, and co-editor, with Ajit Baral, of New Nepal, New Voices, published in Kathmandu by Rupa (2008). It is available from Educational Bookstore, Jamal, for NRs 250.
SushmaAAC Joshi can be contacted at AAsushma@alumni.brown.edu.
The book An Other Voice, mentioned in the text, is subtitled ‘English Literature from Nepal’. It was edited by Deepak Thapa and Kesang Tseten and published in Kathmandu by Martin Chautari (2002). Amitav Ghosh, also mentioned, is the author of such novels as Sea of Poppies, The Calcutta Chromosome, The Glass Palace and The Shadow Lines.