The Right to Write: With Anne-Solange Noble, Rights Director, Editions Gallimard

Day one

Books are like bicycles or scissors; they will never die—Anne-Solange Noble

To understand people’s aspirations has always been among the biggest challenges faced by every society due to the lack of genuine communication channels. It is one thing to be completely oblivious to a culture of people which is separated by geographical distances and another to ignore such cultures due the absence of medium. This is where the word ‘Translation’ is not only a tool for greater engagement but it provides the bridge which connects societies which are thousands of miles away from each other.

The week before and this week have been a very important period for me personally as it made me realize how important it is to make narratives of different countries more and more accessible. The session with Anne-Solange was one of those sessions which make you sit back and see in retrospect the very foundations of communications, storytelling and language. The session no doubt was about publishing and translation rights, but Anne made us all realize the importance of the decision to translate a work. To talk about the session in detail will be a little difficult as a lot things were touched upon but three topics which were central—the agent scenario, translation rights and dying native languages.

Of Rights—Anne-Solange Noble hardly needs an introduction, being a prominent personality in the fraternity of publishing; she is unbelievably energetic and successfully ignites the interest to go out there and to deal solidly with those who make all the important decision. Her grasp of rights is very strong as she introduced us to a whole new concept of licensing or in her words buying and selling. Her knowledge of contracts and deals with publishing houses came very handy for us to relate to the overall scenario. With the Indian subcontinent being a mine of languages and dialects, her personal experiences gave us a picture and an insight which will always help when we proceed to work.

Of Agents—Anne definitely did not talk about agents like James Bond and other apologists of capitalistic systems but she spoke about agents who are far more detrimental to the culture of writing i.e. according to her. For people in the publishing industry, it is very important to have the passion for producing a book, they should absolutely share the same feeling that an author feels. The relation between authors and their publishers has been like a holy pact which now seems to be undermined by the introduction of the agents who speak on behalf of the authors and act as liaisons. The very fact that an author has to go out of his way and find an agent before his manuscript gets a green signal by a publisher is obviously a sad state of affairs. We did not fully know about this kind of culture which not only poses a threat to the creative minority but also will make it impossible for ‘foreign’ writers to get published as English is the undisputed dominating force in the publishing world. The scenario which is quite common in the United States can easily overtake the global markets.

Of Resistance—This was the most interesting part of the session, at least for me. I have always felt wrong about the hegemony which prevails in the writing business and when Anne focused on the importance of writing in one’s native language I couldn’t help myself wanting to blurt out ‘Long live Cultural Resistance!’ Of course that would have been crazy. Jokes apart, she laid a lot of emphasis on how important it is to resist the domination of any one language. As she said, ‘No language is superior.’ As more and more authors turn to English as their mode of writing, the native languages are far from resurging. The purity of language has been violated not only by greater usage of only English but the process of bastardization of one’s native language.

Overall it was a very unique experience to sit and talk with a person who is kind of leading a literature renaissance by bringing forth narratives and works from different corners of the world.

The following lines by Jonathan Lethem are sufficient to sum up everything said and heard during the sessions: ‘Fantastic writing in English is kind of disreputable, but fantastic writing in translation is the summit.’

Azaan Javaid

Day Two

In the second day of our classes with her, Anne-Solange went through the details of the contract very thoroughly. She discussed every point mentioned and also showed us a contract which had subsidiary rights clearly drawn out. As she went from point to point she talked about her experiences and how she was able to get contracts signed in the process. She also narrated her experiences in the different markets that she faced and the related areas of rights. She brought to our notice how detailed the contract was and its importance and why each clause was included in it. She also showed us a computer-generated list that her office maintained to track the manuscripts and their status. It helped to keep a note of all the details of each book. It was however amazing to learn that actually she kept a mental map of each book that was on its way to the publishers and she knew the status of each of them. She also spoke about translation rights in details and how this was worked out in the contract. We learnt from her experience that each book was special and they needed to be taken up as a special work and accordingly a contract needed to be signed. She narrated instances about how she would go to book festivals and meet publishers and understand what was required and get a feel of the needs for certain books. It was a personalized study she made and with every detail worked out an individual case-specific strategy long before the signing of the final contract. There was a lot of effort and methodical study with sensitivity before a contract was actually signed. In the lighter moments during the coffee breaks she listened to us as we spoke about our areas of work and we also debated about how there was no creativity in the Internet age of writing and reading. Over coffee we also agreed on how unstable content was on the Internet. It was a wonderful session, very interactive and we learnt and discovered new facts like we do each day at the school. Anne-Solange was able to bring clarity to our questioning minds and took us a step forward to understand the journey of the book before it reaches the hands of the reader.

Piu Sur


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