In November last year, Mita Kapur, 53, founder of Siyahi, a leading literary consultancy, was announced as the literary director of the annual JCB Prize for Literature, the richest Indian award for literature at Rs 25 lakh. Kapur, who will have a two-year tenure, assumed responsibilities in January, succeeding writer Rana Dasgupta, who’d helped launch the Prize in 2018.
What is your vision for the upcoming editions of the JCB Prize?
I hope to build on the strong foundations of the Prize and continue to intensify the quest for excellent Indian writing. As the Prize matures, we strive to make it more inclusive, welcoming fiction written in English or translated from Indian languages from a wide spectrum of publishers. Apart from books already translated into English, we aim to engage in conversations with major players in language publishing to see what their recommendations are for translations into English. If we could facilitate excellent translations of some of these books, we can create more readership for the stories. Since the core idea of the prize is to introduce readers to the finest of Indian contemporary fiction in English, what better way than to add to the library of available titles? Through this approach, we would encourage an industry that looks for the best of writing that is accessible to everyone. I also hope the Prize encourages readers to look at India’s literary culture as a whole — in translation, in Indian languages, and, in English.
You come with a formidable reputation as a literary consultant, a festival producer (of Mountain Echoes, the literature festival in Bhutan, among several others) and a writer. How do you see these experiences coming together in your new role?
First and foremost, I am a reader. I am not a reader who only goes for a specific genre/ type of books. If something about a book on the shelf catches my eye — whether it is the blurb, the title, or even the cover — I will pick it up. It is my love for books and writing that has dictated my entire career and for all the initiatives that Siyahi has spearheaded. It is with this love that I approach my role as the literary director, and every action that I take will be dictated by that.
Mountain Echoes completed a decade in 2019. When you look back, what are the significant ways in which publishing and reading in the subcontinent have changed?
The festival has had a significant impact that can be measured by the fact that book sales in Bhutan have multiplied four to five times from the point where we began, there are a larger number of writers writing in Bhutan and have been published in India as well, there are more bookshops now and all institutions, schools, and colleges have their own book clubs. Literary events have acquired the energy and frequency that was not there before.
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