‘Stop putting women’s writing in a box’ | India News


Shashi Deshpande Won The Lifetime Achievement Award At The Fourth Round Of AutHer Awards. ‘Women Writers Were Earlier Ignored, Dismissed, Stereotyped, But That Has Changed Now,’ She Said
Why do you write about women? Shashi Deshpande, eminent novelist of contemporary Indian literature in English, has often faced this question from journalists and academics in her writing career. “Novel after novel, I hoped I would be read as a serious writer. Not as a woman writer writing about women, but it never seemed to happen,” she said while accepting the Lifetime Achievement Award at the fourth edition of AutHer Awards, organised jointly by The Times of India and JK Paper Ltd on Sunday.
The 84-year-old author, who lives in Bengaluru and sparingly travels these days, made a special appearance at the awards ceremony where she raised compelling questions through her speech.
“. . . from the very beginning I saw and experienced the belittling of women’s writing. It was regarded as insignificant, trivial, it was ignored and dismissed, ridiculed, overlooked, marginalised and stereotyped,” she said about the hurdles women writers have had to endure through the ages.
“But today, when I look around me this evening, and I think of the three writers who received this award before me (Romila Thapar, Anita Desai, Nayantara Sahgal), when I think of Annie Ernaux, winner of the 2022 Nobel Prize in Literature who only wrote about women’s experiences, and International Booker Prize winner Geetanjali Shree, who wrote about women’s lives, I dare to hope that such questions will never again be asked of any writer who happens to be a woman,” said the firebrand writer who is known for her soul-stirring short stories that revolve around the lives of women.
Over 1,900 Entries
To celebrate the contribution of women in Indian English writing, authors, academics, publishing mavens, bureaucrats and celebrities in arts and entertainment came together on March 19 to award writers in four key categories with Shabana Azmi as the chief guest and Sonali Bendre as the ambassador. The winners of AutHer Awards 2023 were whittled down by anesteemed jury that sifted through more than 1,900 entries submitted by both publishers and authors.
Janice Pariat bagged the Best Author Fiction for her novel ‘Everything the Light Touches’, published by HarperCollins. Vauhini Vara won the Best Debut Author for ‘The Immortal King Rao’ while the Best Author Non-Fiction was awarded to journalist Barkha Dutt for ‘To Hell and Back: Humans of COVID’, by Juggernaut Books.
“I feel like my life has been bookended from Kargil to Covid-19 in some ways. So, to be recognised for this book, which is among the works that I’m proudest of in my life, means a lot to me,” said Dutt in her acceptance speech, pointing out how she lost her father in the pandemic while reporting the human story of Covid in a series of road trips across the length and breadth of the country.
The prize for Best Children’s Author was shared by two writers, Bijal Vachharajani for ‘Savi and the Memory Keeper’ (p ublished by Hachette India) and Vaishali Shroff for ‘Batata, Pao and All Things Portuguese’ (published by The People Place Project). Vachharajani had also won in the same category in the inaugural edition of AutHer Awards in 2019 for ‘A Cloud Called Bhura’.
Winners in two additional categories were also announced. The Popular Choice Award was won by Vaishnavi Roy for her book ‘Unwind’, riding on the back of 22,000 votes, and a brand new entry introduced this year for the Best AuthorManuscript went to Aditi Sowmyanarayan for ‘With You, Right Through’.
‘Women Writers Are Read More’
From publishing under male pseudonyms and trivialising their writing genius as a “hobby”, to breaking barriers for future generations to claim their voices, women writers have come a long way in the publishing industry. New research by University of Minnesota economist Joel Waldfogel shows that, for the first time in history, women are publishing more books than men. Waldfogel tracked the contribution of both men and women in the book publishing trade for the last 70 years and found that wom e n’s share of published titles increased from 20% in the 1970s to over 50% by 2020.
“And the reassuring news is that women did not displace the men. In fact, the whole industry grew once more women started writing, and by 2021 female-authored books sold more copies on average than those written by men. As a result, there are a lot more books in the market today that offer us narratives and perspectives that belong uniquely to women,” said Vinita Dawra Nangia, literary director of AutHer Awards, in her inaugural speech.
“I have grown up with Ismat Chughtai and Qurratulain Hyder. Can you imagine the stories they have written could not have been written by men? Because we have a gaze which is a woman’s gaze and that’s what we are celebrating here,” said Shabana Azmi on the importance of literary awards dedicated entirely to women.
“Events like these are a reminder that literature continues to be vibrant, despite all the fears that the novel is dying, or that people don’t read anymore,” said Jonathan Gil Harris, a jury member among a glittering cast of judges that included Navtej Sarna, Lillete Dubey, Suneet Tandon, Ramesh Sharma, Prabha Chandran, Ranjit Lal and Swati Roy.
In her speech at AutHer Awards 2023, Shashi Deshpande (above) said, “As a celebration of women’s writing, a Lifetime Achievement Award is very special because it is your whole life’s work which is being celebrated here. ”
She said her writing life has not been a journey of regret because the joy that reading and writing have given her is something she would never have got otherwise. “One of the greatest boons of literature is that you don’t have to go out in search of a guru. They come to you between the covers of books. ” Deshpande’s father Sriranga was also a famous writer. She received the Sahitya Akademi Award in 1990 and the Padma Shri in 2009.

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