A Book without Barriers: A First Time Editor Muses
Books get written when it is time for them to be.
My sister posted a picture of the first and only book I have co-edited, published just a month back, on WhatsApp. There was a host of congratulatory messages and a cousin said that he was buying a copy. All was well till this point but the next notification popping up was from another relative who wanted me to gift all the members of the family WhatsApp group with signed copies of the book and naturally I have not looked at my mobile since then.
The book is called The Significant Anthology and true to its name, a lot of significant as well as crazy stuff went into its making. It all began one usual morning while clicking ‘like’ after ‘like’ on posts popping up in a secret Facebook Group. The reason it is a secret group was another (accidental?) click by its founder when the group membership was 5000+ strong and FB refuses adamantly to let him change it back to an open group. Everyone and everything has their little eccentricities and there is no grudging them those quirks. So in this (reluctantly) secret group, thousands of short story writers, clothing sellers, spam addicts, serious contenders to the Nobel, pokers, jokers, poets from the Shakespearean era, from Mars and Timbuktu, post a variety of stuff relentlessly while a few, over-worked administrators drink coffee and munch their way through it all looking for good stuff.
And stuff was there in plenty like gold lying in the street, pushed to the sidewalks, groaning under aimless posts sometimes covered with a thin film of prejudice, ignored, unread and generally ‘unliked’ yet its gleam was strong enough to dazzle us.
To cut a long story short, the material being posted was worth several exciting books and there not being any such book around, we decided to try and make one. A call for submission was necessary because we wanted the writing that people considered their best to be in the book. One of the first e-mails we got was profound but had only two lines and the next was a five page poem. Short stories, anecdotal writing, more poems, a play and all things literary poured into the mail box as people of RS caught the writing fever inspired by our blue-blooded promise to bring out a world class book with no efforts from their side except diligent submission.
The Significant Anthology contains prose pieces, autobiographical vignettes, essays, short stories and poetry. The book combines a plethora of themes, ideas, styles, forms and voices with writers from India, UAE, USA, UK, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Australia, Phillipines, Canada, Nigeria, Malawi, Germany, Romania, Zimbabwe, Brazil, Pakistan, Belgium, South Korea, Israel, Greece, Uganda, Hungary, Spain, Kenya, Mauritius,Ireland, Thailand, Bangladesh and Ukraine.
A book as a dream is a beautiful vision and to keep that beauty intact till the end requires hours of back breaking work, we discovered soon enough. Koshy worked from Saudi and I worked from Sharjah on our respective computers preparing a rough manuscript but the number of submissions far exceeded our expectations of the size of the book. Our group though called Rejected Stuff works on the principle of complete acceptance and there wasn’t any real reason to say ‘No” to any of the prodigiously talented writers. At the end of a month, we were faced with the prospect of a 300 plus page mammoth anthology. To say it was daunting would be an understatement. Now there were a 170 plus eager writers wanting, waiting (impatiently is an understatement too) to know the progress the book had made and we were juggling families, jobs, house-work, teaching, not to say writing too in the midst of typing acceptance emails, copy-pasting poems and stuff, getting translation permissions and keeping things going in the group too. During this period, we had to coax and cajole several brilliant writers who wouldn’t believe that they were writers to write for us and also to dissuade others from sending us beautiful pictures to put in the book as we were close to being broke.
It was when George Korah of Morph Books agreed to take on this wildly idealistic venture of ours, and turn it into a landmark anthology, that we breathed a little easy. The manuscript looked weird and our idea of giving the contributors a free copy each probably was sheer madness but that is what Dr. Koshy wanted to and managed to pull off. A few kind hearted souls, perhaps even crazier than us in their love for literature and good writing donated whatever they could towards the project, and Dr. Santosh Bakaya who wrote the epic poem Oh Hark! and won the Reuel Prize instituted by Dr Koshy in the name of his son (a bright-eyed, dear boy) magnanimously refused to accept the prize money and that too went into the making of this book.
This wasn’t a routine book for we were limited financially and had a very small staff- just the two of us initially, though Michele Baron came to our rescue at a stage in the editing process when one of us (me) nearly ran away and the book hung precariously over a deadline precipice. The editing too was edgy- the rawness of the writing had to be preserved as many of the contributors were getting their work into print for the first time and we did not want to edit away the freshness of their voices, yet the standard had to be upheld. The book has turned out to be world class with regard to the sheer volume of talent, its appearance, the feel of it and its sheer weightlessness due to the paper chosen, given the size of it. The labour of love that has gone into it has borne rich fruit.
There are still copies being delivered to some parts of the world by post as I write this , the book having reached Africa, Romania, Jerusalem, UK, USA, India, Pakistan and many other countries and the first verified Amazon review that came in two weeks ago gave us a 5 star rating.As Dr. Koshy said, we may look back on this miracle someday and marvel at the sheer audacity of this gamble and the way it was pulled off.
No poets were injured in the making of The Significant Anthology, only a few backbones were bent a little out of shape (sorry, George!). No kinds of pockets or purses are any longer necessary to accompany our choice of attire but on the positive side, a hundred and seventy six writers and their families are a bit happier than they were before TSA and The Autism for Help Village Project will benefit from the proceeds if any, we hope. Meanwhile the editors are still drinking (unbranded) coffee and musing about risking a Part 2.
(The Significant Anthology edited by Koshy A.V and Reena Prasad and sub-edited by Michele Baron is dedicated to people with autism, their parents, siblings and caregivers as well as to all artists and writers all over the world)
Amazon link – The Significant Anthology