Are Asian Writers still on the outside looking in?

HM Naqvi‘s debut novel, Homeboy became the first novel to win the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature this weekend (January 23, 2011). The prize – which was launched ahead of the DSC South Asian Literature Festival in London – celebrates original fiction from the sub continent. I wouldn’t be least surprised if you have little or no idea what I’m talking about because it seems that this major literary prize is simply not newsworthy enough to report in the national papers.

There are some things I’ve become accustomed to as the editor of The Asian Writer. I have become increasingly aware that when, on a rare occasion an Asian author’s book is reviewed by the papers it is only reviewed by a fellow Asian author. I have learnt to laugh at this over time because it could be just the madness of the politically correct world we live in. But when a major literary prize – the first of its kind in the world – is hosted at an awards ceremony of a major literary festival (the Jaipur festival) you do hope that it makes the UK papers. That even a small column inch or tiny block of text on a website reports this news. It seems bizarre that such a prize, even a shiny new one at that, is snubbed by the press. Is Asian fiction not worthy?

I realise that British Asian writers have written about their identity crisis to the point of over kill and I’m not one to want to add my tuppence worth – but I do feel or rather fear it’s because we don’t matter. That we don’t belong somehow and therefore aren’t as important. Snubbing this prize, which celebrates literature from the South Asian diaspora – stories of back home – snubs us. I wait to publish this in the hope that after 24 hours we might see it mentioned. Somewhere. Anywhere. No!

The prize welcomes entries from all writers writing fiction about or connected to the region – it doesn’t exclude writers based on their cultural background. So failure to report the prize and its winner also fails to give it gravitas and the publicity it needs to spread its message. Its held back and there isn’t any real justification why. I am pretty sure if the prize had at least one UK writer shortlisted for the prize it would be given air time. Sadly this year, we really weren’t good enough to get that far – but there were authors on there who are worth talking about. Homeboy, the winning title has had rave reviews in the US and India and was on Huffington Post’s Top Ten Books of 2009. It’s a coming of age novel about three friends living in New York city pre and post 9/11. I’m not quite sure why no one seems to know anything about it over here. I search all the major news websites to try to locate a review – but nothing!

I suppose being snubbed is nothing new. I was appalled by the lack of press coverage by the first DSC Literature Festival which took place in October last year. A ten-day festival celebrating South Asian literature. It seemed from where I was sitting – all the way in Leicester – that actually no one was really interested. People weren’t tweeting about it, they certainly weren’t moved by it despite it being a world’s first. Not a single paper mentioned it – besides the Independent. The publishing world – that appears on the surface – to want to take up the challenge to reach the missing millions of British Asian readers – really does seem to be missing the point and more importantly missing out. If we are, as Asian writers and readers expected to be consumers of this industry – than surely we need to really believe that we’re part of it. Its time like this, when I feel we’re just outsiders looking in.

 

This piece was originally published on 3rd February 2011 on The Writing Industries website. The site is no longer active.