Sudipta Datta reviews Address Book: An Editing Memoir in the Time of COVID, by Ritu Menon

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The publishing industry was already struggling to acquire more readers when the pandemic hit. The small community of independent publishers has been particularly affected and most have tried to keep the “crippling desperation” at bay, as Ritu Menon writes in his slim and candid account, Address book: an editorial brief in the time of COVID.

Menon, who co-founded Kali for Women, India’s first feminist press in 1983, is the founder and director of Women Unlimited, a partner of KfW. Weeks after the March 2020 lockdown began, Menon began to write a journal. Although she enjoyed the silence and the “forced slow pace”, the distress all around shook her to the core. She found the response to COVID-19 as virulent as the disease: “Things are falling apart and the Center has isolated itself. “

Discovery of writers

As she looks back on her career, including a stint at Doubleday in New York City, we get a glimpse of the entire feminist publishing process, from writers to editors, to the readers who are at the center of it all. . It was at Doubleday, for example, that she learned to “integrate obsolescence into pricing”. One of the recurring points in his entourage was that of volume, “the number of books that must be published each year to be viable”. The problems facing all “freelancers,” as she calls small publishers, are that there are “too many books, too little space on the shelves; high yields, storage and inventory.

From the launch of Kali for Women and through international feminist book fairs, Menon had the chance to meet a multitude of publishers, designers, booksellers, writers, librarians, opening his universe in the most charming way possible. Between the covers are some great anecdotes – she found, for example, a Post-It on the last page of an old address book, where Paul Brickhill, co-organizer of the Zimbabwe International Book Fair, had written a little note on a book she must read, In eye of the sun by Ahdaf Soueif. Years later, Menon would invite Ahdaf to India who would introduce her to several Palestinian writers for publishing their work, including Raja Shehadeh, Mourid Barghouti, Suad Amiry, etc.

Lunch with Taslima

She talks about one of her oldest friends, Simone Manceau who translated Shashi Deshpande, Radhika Jha, Kunal Basu, Amit Chaudhuri, Neel Mukherjee and Bulbul Sharma into French as well as the Pakistani writer Feryal Ali Gauhar, whose novel on l ‘Afghanistan, No space for other burials, was published in 2007. It recalls in detail how a century-old edition of Attia Hosain’s work was produced. Menon writes of a lunch that Taslima Nasreen prepared for her in exile in Delhi: “It’s my birthday and I wanted to cook for my friends. This was what I was doing in Dhaka. Menon is in possession of valuable books, including a signed copy of Svetlana Alexievich’s book Zinky Boys: Soviet Voices from the Afghan War.

She tells fascinating stories about her experience working with the two pillars of Urdu literature Qurratulain Hyder and Ismat Chugtai. How, for example, a reluctant Aini Apa (Qurratulain Hyder) finally agreed to meet her Italian translator because he was a practicing Sufi; or the delightful surprise of receiving a royalty check for $ 2,491 from New Directions publishers for River of fire; and Ismat Apa willingly agreeing to have his stories published in English.

Menon’s memoirs, summarizing her career as an editor and writer, recording stories of women and their movements, testify to Vandana Shiva’s conviction that one must at all costs resist “monocultures of the mind”.

Address book: an editorial brief in the time of COVID; Ritu Menon, Unlimited Women, 300.

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