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Tuesday, August 01, 2006

More Proof, Please

When it comes to the Best American Short Stories series, there's a guest editor chosen for every edition, and the stories short-listed are among those that have appeared in literary and other magazines in the past year. In the case of the British Council's annual New Writing Anthology (now published by Granta), requests for submissions are made early on, and again, there are eminent guest editors who select the pieces. These steps go a long way in establishing the credentials of such anthologies, and the introductions by the editors comment on the quality of the work and explain why certain stories have been chosen over others.

The seeming absence of such parameters is what bothers one about Penguin India's First Proof: New Writing from India , the second volume of which has just been published. How have these pieces been chosen? Who has chosen them? The cursory Publisher's Note prefacing the volume mentions only "the Penguin India editorial team" -- surely, this isn't enough.

Moreover, there's the knotty problem of defining what "writing from India" actually is. Is being of Indian origin a qualification? Well, as the Contributor's Notes reveal, one of the contributors was born in Singapore and is currently in Yale; another is "British-born" and "brought up in England". (For an interesting exploration of the subject, see Nilanjana Roy's piece on those eligible for the Hutch-Crossword awards.)

At least the "new writing" bit is explained, however sketchily: the aforementioned note says; "...we've included works by unpublished or relatively new authors, and the few established names are represented by writing in a genre that is new to them". (How would one define "established", by the way?)

None of this is meant to cast aspersions on the quality of the included pieces: far from it. One has just had time for a cursory dip, but it's already clear that some of the pieces are of a very high order indeed. It's just that some more rigour in the publication process would have made the anthology that much more credible and satisfying.


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