When thinking about the diverse themes, ideas, styles, forms and voices that coalesce in this anthology, it is this all-pervading attribute of peace and the unifying spirit of creative consciousness that strikes us about the book and makes us want to read it to understand its uniqueness and artistic/literary appeal. In conversation with author, editor, literary critic Dr. Koshy A.V. about a magnum opus literary anthology that he released, The Significant Anthology.
Amid today’s fast paced publishing world, when books and anthologies are churned out in dimes and dozens every day, many of them released and not making much of a mark on the readers, there arrives The Significant Anthology, a big, classy volume of prose, poetry, fiction, non-fiction and drama edited with a relentless passion for literary excellence.
In this mind-blowing collection showcasing literary greats and award winners along with debutantes and talented emerging poets and writers, literature and humanism walk hand-in-hand, spearheaded by the two editors Dr. Koshy A.V. and Reena Prasad. These two immensely gifted editors, assisted by another brilliant poet, author and creative artist Michele Baron have gone out of their ways to gift us with this wonderful comprehensive anthology that is a collaborative labour of love of a group of 176 gifted poets and authors from all over the globe.
What had started a couple of years back as a small, intimate poetry and literature group on Facebook named ‘Rejected Stuff’ (the name itself denotes an alternate literary microcosm the mainstream literary world has consciously avoided) has today blossomed into a thriving, constantly evolving and expanding community of poets, writers, intellectual thinkers and artists whose prose pieces, autobiographical vignettes, essays, short stories and poetry grace The Significant Anthology.
In his introduction to the book, Dr. Koshy A.V., the editor says: “…The best thing about the anthology is that it stands for peace. Here, Pakistani and Indian, young and old, man and woman, black and white, Muslim, Christian, Jew and Hindu, and people from all professions and walks of life or ones without jobs as well as from places as far flung as Ghana or UK or Australia, all nestle together in the pages of the same book, with no wars amongst them…”
When thinking about the diverse themes, ideas, styles, forms and voices that coalesce in this anthology, it is this all-pervading attribute of peace and the unifying spirit of creative consciousness that strikes us about the book and makes us want to read it to understand its uniqueness and artistic/literary appeal. It features the scintillating ‘Oh Hark!’ poem by Dr. Santosh Bakaya from India, which had been serially posted in her blog as well as the Rejected Stuff group, an unforgettable play on autism scripted by the award-winning poet and Indian author from Canada, Jawaid Danish, and a plethora of winning poetry, fiction and nonfictional pieces by writers who have pushed their boundaries of creative expressions, with exceptional results that are evident in this anthology.
Dr. Koshy A.V., the author, poet, literary critic, scholar and anthologizer who is the prime person behind this wonderful literary and humanitarian initiative talks to us in this heart-to-heart interview about his brain child, The Significant Anthology.
Lopa Banerjee: Welcome on board, Dr. Koshy and heartiest felicitation on the launch of The Significant Anthology’. Can you tell our readers a bit of the history of this anthology and how it came together? Also, a few words about the name of its title, and what made you choose it?
Dr. Koshy A.V: Lopa, thanks to you and Antara first, for giving me this chance to be interviewed regarding this anthology. It is a great honour for me! Especially as it is on behalf of Learning and Creativity, as I am also a popular columnist here. I would like to talk a bit about the name of the anthology initially. Sarala Ram Kamal, poetess friend, suggested to me that the group from which we got the submissions, namely Rejected Stuff, had a name that would not be suitable for the anthology.
While thinking about it, the name that occurred to me was The Significant Anthology as I felt this one was genuinely significant, in many ways.
I wrote a note on its significance in points and here it is.
– It has writers from various countries.
– It has writers who are being published for the first time, that too in a book.
– It has young writers and old writers and writers of all ages in between.
– It has writers from many places, different states in India, countries and continents.
– It has many award winning writers.
– It has established and famous writers with lots of books and publications in it and others who publish on the net with no books.
– It has unknown and emerging writers and one or two who use pen names and pseudonyms.
– It has medical doctors writing and writers of various other professions including self-employed and home maker.
– It has poetry (free verse and in forms), prose as short story, memoir, musings, a long poem and a drama. Has criticism too in it. Has translations in it!
– Has writers in it from different races, classes, genders, religions.
– Addresses topics and themes that encompass almost all of life!
– It is evenly uneven in being interesting, challenging, enjoyable, readable, intriguing, easy, difficult for the reader.
– Never seen a book like it.
– Never read a book like it!
– First of its kind and one of a kind, the only one of its kind, anthology as of now!
– Will never be forgotten in the annals of literature.
Only Significant fits.
Talking of anthologies I was very much influenced by Michael Roberts’ Faber Book of Modern Verse and its subsequent editions. Jeet Thayil and Sudip Sen made famous anthologies for Blood Axe and Harper and Collins but my inspiration came unconsciously from the one I named first.
The truth or the history of it is the anthology came about because Reena Prasad, my co-editor, and I both enjoyed reading the fare on the group we had made on Facebook called Rejected Stuff and felt it should be made available to the world to enjoy and encouraged in the idea by Dr Santosh Bakaya, we set out on this exciting journey. We wanted people to read the writing for itself and come to their own views of it and not be weighed down by prior baggage of knowing who the writer was etc. So we collected material after a submission call with the idea of letting the writing speak for itself.
Another thing we wanted was to ENCOURAGE and so we rejected none except those who submitted late or did not reply to editorial comments or regarding translation. We got a huge number of entries and some were rank beginners and we both wanted not to turn them away but make their writing worthy of reading by editing it instead. We did all this mainly because of Reena’s unflagging enthusiasm and the support of many friends in terms of sponsorship and emotional support.
Lopa Banerjee: The book, we have seen, has been launched in a homely setting in a restaurant in Bangalore, with a few of the contributors present to grace the occasion. Also, now that the author copies are reaching the contributors by mail across the world and also to the readers via Amazon India, how do you feel as the editor about the way the entire process is unfolding gradually? Are you gradually reaching your goal and objective with the anthology?
Dr. Koshy A.V: This is a huge project. We had announced that the book will come out in 2016 only. It is no mean feat that mainly just three people fuelled only by passion should bring out an anthology with 180 pieces by 177 people in it. But it is still only August 2015 and we have brought out the book and put it on amazon.in and amazon.com and have begun sending out the copies to all the contributors, This last is a really bothersome and cumbersome and lengthy drawn out process and makes both us and the contributors frustrated, waiting, but we are able to move on quietly towards our goal of ensuring that all get a copy.
In the first two weeks we got a lot of interest, spontaneous social media reviews and sales and our success is that consistently we have been in the top ten in anthologies and poetry sections on amazon.in in these two weeks. The goal is that people read and recognize who the writers are and their worth and that we make money for autism which is the cause the book is linked to. But on the way other goals are making the anthology successful in terms of having it as PoD, across the world, in different formats, on kindle, as hard copy, as e-books etc. We will achieve them one by one. Our publisher Morph books will help us in this.
We had a very small launch in a homely setting in a restaurant as the book is not about glitz and glamour but about the quality of writing and the value of writing. We want to be the best and promote the best and we want to bring in or inject a healthy dose of idealism in the mix. Some people have called us counter establishment but we are soberly avant garde, and just setting new trends and carving out a space and niche for ourselves that is not based on ideas of competition but on ones of freedom of expression and appreciating one another’s writing and helping each other make it and improve to hit the sky and the stars in terms of quality. We cannot please everyone but we try to make writing a worthwhile experience for many we come across in our own ways, not as an organized effort but as an organic one.
Lopa Banerjee: How daunting or exciting was the task of forming a literary group on Facebook, albeit one with such a non-traditional name? How exciting was it to come up with the idea of this anthology to sustain the creative/literary fervour of this group? What has the role of your co-editor, poet Reena Prasad been in the formation of the group and the ideation of this anthology?
Dr. Koshy A.V: Actually I formed the group with a reason which was to counter or stem the rot that seemed to me to have come into writing since the advent of writers who are into marketing and also social media and traditional publishers, all of whom put certain demands on the writer which stops him or her from reaching his audience and offering what exactly he or she wants. This is in terms of content, or selling or censorship. For instance, some pro Dalit poems of mine were rejected everywhere, many of my posts were reported on Facebook for seemingly containing nudity, anonymous reports that failed as Facebook turned them down. Getting published does not ensure success as the middlemen who sell your books are not interested unless you are some publisher’s blue-eyed boy or play Chetan Bhagat-like stunts. I wanted to create a space where the pressures of censorship or selling were not there or that of censureship. Amazingly, I succeeded. I was made to succeed, rather. Both starting the group and our anthology and awards and many collaborations we have done have been exciting and not a waste.
The main person who is responsible for this is Reena Prasad. She understands the ideology and philosophy we were aiming at, which is not actually new, but new in the Indian setting and internet setting and we have to keep tweaking it to make it fit to the changing times – the central idea being that writers could rejoice in each other’s’ achievements and grieve in each other’s’ failures and yet go on to better things later. In this, Reena is best as I have never seen anyone with as much sense and empathy as her, a typical example of which is that when she gets awards she hardly posts it on her wall, but when any of her friends or writers she likes reading for purely aesthetic purposes gets it, she always posts it. Her amazing skills as a poet (she is one of the best on the Indian English scene at present), coupled with this quality drew me to her and together we made a deadly duo to pull off this literary coup d’état as we are similar in many respects in our world view, especially regarding writing. We know others won’t return our empathy, mainly.
We ideated the anthology together and pulled it off simply because we had no idea how huge the task was. Some other time we may both look back and feel astounded at what we did.
Lopa Banerjee: What made you choose Morph Books as the publisher of The Significant Anthology? How has your collaboration with the publisher been so far in reaching out successfully to a worldwide audience for the anthology?
Dr. Koshy A.V: I wanted someone young and idealistic like me and Morph Books is new on the scene and already a success. Its founder Geroge Korah finds publishing a passion the same way we do writing and his first book is already a success, called Zorami. This one too is doing very well so far. It would not have been possible without them, either such a huge anthology being brought out with such quality regarding design and paper and weight and also regarding help with the printing, distributorship and supply to contributors etc. All keeping in mind our strained economy.
Lopa Banerjee: The Facebook page of The Significant Anthology had already reached more than 1,000 likes, even prior to the official launch of the anthology. Do you think this exceptional popularity is mostly word-of-mouth, boosted by the large number of the contributors of this anthology and their circle of friends? How instrumental has the social media been in fulfilling your objectives behind this anthology?
Dr. Koshy A.V: The popularity is partly due to word of mouth, and social media and the large number of contributors plus their circle of friends, yes. But it also partly due to the fact that Reena and I have made a name for ourselves as quality writers, and due to the great writers we have in the anthology, tomorrow’s greats like Santosh Bakaya and Pramila Khadun and Lopa Banerjee, award winners like D Russell Micnheimer, great writers like Iulia Gherghei, Daniela Voicu, Aprilia Zank, Volodymyr Bilyk, Anca Mihaela Bruma, Jawaid Danish, Sunil Sharma, Louis Kasatkin, Malkeet Kaur, Nalini Priyadarshini, Sheikha A and a hundred and fifty or more other powerful writers, all going to become big names or who already are big in their own ways in the quality of writing or art they offer.
Social media has been instrumental in the anthology throughout as it is the child, in a sense, of social media but whether we meet our objectives or not will depend not only on it but larger factors like our continued drive and enthusiasm as well as the distributorship and marketing etc.
Lopa Banerjee: The Autism for Help Village Project Trust has also been one of the partners of this initiative. Can you explain your association with the organization and how this association makes this anthology special for the contributors and for the readers?
Dr. Koshy A.V: Like Rejected Stuff is founded by me, this NPO is also founded by me. The difference is that it is a legal entity and works for autism primarily, though it can work for any charitable or philanthropic purpose. The connection with autism makes the anthology special as it stands now not only for peace but also for autism and Jawaid Danish has written a special and powerful play on it which brings in this aspect.
However, the primary aim is good writing and the idea of profits going for autism is an equal one but did not hamper us from wanting literature to be glorified. All said and done, this connection does make it very special for contributors and readers.
Lopa Banerjee: Dr. Santosh Bakaya’s poem ‘Oh Hark’ comprises a significant portion of The Significant Anthology’. Can you tell us a few words about the inclusion of this series, the theme and craft/style and how instrumental the poem is to the anthology? And also, how similar or different are some of the other literary pieces published in the anthology?
Dr. Koshy A.V: Oh Hark! is one poem that she wrote on Rejected Stuff in serialized form and has fifty sections. She is a wizard at writing narrative in verse as proved by her Ballad of Bapu which was not out at the time she wrote this. I had just instituted along with Reena the Reuel International Prize for Writing and Literature and was looking for a suitable candidate. Santosh Bakaya won it in a voting contest deservedly for this poem in 2014.
She had worthy competition in many poets who also grace the anthology now like Ananya Chatterjee and Shruti Goswami but her poem towered over the others. The anthology is too vast to be limited to just her poem but it is the jewel in its crown. Definitely. Its theme is life which is also a kind of madness and in craft it is written in quatrains and her style is unmistakable in her diction and vocabulary and intertextuality where she refers to most of the literature in the West. Her writing it in serial form reminds us of Dickensian Victorianism as his novels appeared likewise and to be honest her poem created a big stir with its suspense with demands from readers in the group Rejected Stuff for the next episode and even changes in the story! I am happy we have immortalized it in the anthology.
The other pieces can be divided best geographically maybe. We have representatives from Africa like Mang’eni Wycliffe Obwoya, excellent writers from America like Joyce Yarrow and Lisa Falk Ellis and Elizabeth Marino, world citizens like Pamposh Dhar, Stephanians like Soumya Mukherjee who are a breed in themselves and writers from every nook and corner of India like Bengal, Kerala, Orissa and Maharashtra, not to mention ALL the other states.
The common thread is the dazzling quality. I won’t say the quality is even but I have never seen such sparkling pieces which form the majority of the anthology before! Names, well, too many, all famous mostly but even the ones not famous, such writing! Tapti Pal, Lagna Pany, Gorakhnath Gangane, Sarala Ram Kamal, Kuchibhotla Sarada, David Thane Cornell, Maya Dev, Tapeshwar Prasad, Rekha Moothedeth, Panjami Anand, Sarojkanta Dash, Rukhaya MK, Payal Pasha, Zeenath Ibrahim, Namrata, Kalyani Dixit, Sangeeta Talwar Suneja, Udita Garg, Tribhawan Kaul, Jayachandran Ramachandran, Mou Sircar, Ramakanta Das…. The list goes on and on…. And it seems unjust at how many I left out. I have to mention Bhaskaranand Jha Bhaskar, Rajendra Padhi, Hardaman Singh, Raj Babu Gandham, Everyone! I hope no one takes offence I left someone out as the names not here too matter hell of a lot! The young writers especially. This is a galaxy of never say die writers, most of whom are bright stars or going to be in the firmament of writing in English!
Lopa Banerjee: We would now like to know about the Reuel International Prize for Writing and Literature, which you have initiated since 2014 and which has become quite a rage among the members of your Rejected Stuff group and also beyond. Can you tell us what principally was your inspiration behind this prize and how has the journey with it been like? Also, this year, you have issued as many as twelve e-certificates of merit as additional recognition for some of the poets/writers of the group. Do tell us a few words about that as well.
Dr. Koshy A.V: Reuel International Prize is my challenge to the world. People speak of Nobel, Booker, Pulitzer, and Man Booker or Man Asian or Sahitya Akademi awards. All these prizes are biased to the west, or to geography or racially or colonially and the last one only has national reach. This prize we have instituted is going to be the mark of international quality and newness. Last year we gave it to Dr Santosh Bakaya of India who kindly accepted and this year to Pramila Khadun from Mauritius and both are great writers and human beings as they wanted only the certificate and not the prize money attached as we are a fledgling group.
We also gave certificates to 12 others this time, of merit, twelve great writers who also appear in the anthology except for one, I think; writers like Majrooh Rashid, Maurice Higgs, Don Yorty, Udita Garg and Michele Baron, writer and editor extraordinaire who is also our sub-editor, among others.
Lopa Banerjee: What are some of your next plans, post The Significant Anthology and how are they taking shape? Can you share with us some upcoming ventures and your goals/objectives behind those?
Dr. Koshy A.V: We are working on collaboration with Poetry Society of India and Madan Gandhi ji on an anthology that pays tribute to parents called Umbilical Chords, with Himali Narang and Vineetha Mekkoth as editors.
I am bringing out a collection of poetry with Pramila Khadun and my long time collaborator and friend Bina Biswas, as well as spreading the news about THE SIGNIFICANT ANTHOLOGY. Authorspress will publish it.
We are waiting for the contributors to get the copies of the TSA and help us rocket it to the top of all the charts!
I hope a short story duet with Santosh Bakaya sees print.
We hope to do a Nighmare Anthology and a collaboration with Jawed Akhtar of Coffee Table Romanticisms fame.
Next year we will return to TSA II and Reuel Prize, of course with the group.
We are hoping to change the format of the prize to prizes on short story, poetry, non fiction (essay), literary criticism/theory and young promising writer. Dealing with novel and long narratives is beyond us.
Proceeds if we make profit will go for autism. The team will be the same but we may add and are adding new members.
Lopa Banerjee: Finally, you are an extremely successful author, editor, teacher and a tremendously popular columnist at L&C in your own right. What do you think about the future of the online media in propagating good literature among the readers? Also, what according to you should be the benchmarks that we as literature and media platforms should follow? Share with us some of your insights.
Dr. Koshy A.V: Online media is the future, but literature will survive only in tandem with other media now. We need new benchmarks and to throw out the old classics to find new voices. I found great writers and artists like Michele Baron languishing due the crazy fad of human beings to ignore new great writing coupled with no skills in self-promotion leading to writers who have no quality becoming famous instead. We have tried to redress all this to some extent. There is scope to do much more.
Great writing always falls into the same patterns of formalism and structures or in breaking them but content changes and we need to let people address today’s world honestly to bring about new classics.
I have made my own choices and advocate new writers and would like to end with a list of great books I came across in recent times.
Some of the really superb books that came out in the past three years or will come out soon that are or will be absolutely worth reading, according to me.
1. Sherlock Holmes in Japan – Vasudev Murthy writing as Akira Yamashita. Published by Harper Collins
2. Ballad of BAPU by Santosh Bakaya. Published by Vitasta Publishing
3. A Man Outside History – Bina Biswas’s translations of Naseer Ahmed Nasir (Poet). Published by LiFi Publications
4. Bina Biswas’s and Sayantan Gupta’s translation of Michael Madhusudan Dutt ‘s epic poem The Slaying of Meghnad. (yet to come out through Lifi.)
5. The Significant Anthology by Reena, Koshy, Michele and 175 others including Santosh Bakaya. Published by Morph Books
6. A Strange Place other than Earlobes by Ra Sh etc. Published by Sampark
7. The book on Blake by Madhumita Ghosh published by Authorspress India
8. The collection that will come out soon with Bina Biswas, Pramila Khadun and me from Authorspress.
9. The Parents Anthology by The Poetry Society of India edited by Himali Narang, Vineetha Mekkoth and Santosh Bakaya with the guidance of Madan Gandhi.
10. Maunam Sthuthi by A. Jayakumar.
11. Rivers Run Back by Joyce Yarrow and Arindam Roy.
12. The Significant Anthology II which will include Reuel Prize winners of last year, Reena Prasad, Santosh Bakaya and me plus a star cast of writers including Michele Baron’s masterpiece of a story (but without pictures)
13. Zorami by Malsawmi Jacob.
I also want to end with a disclaimer to the writers who contributed to TSA, an avalanche, a flood, a movement, a revolution, that if your name is not mentioned here by me it does not mean that you do not matter to me or us or anyone else as a writer, it is simply due to lack of space. Listing out hundreds of names would take too much time and you are all fantastic writers.
Dr. Koshy A.V. speaks at the Book Launch:
Also, Morph Books publisher George Korah speaks at the launch of The Significant Anthology:
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