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Literary pondering: Is a writer conscious of the audience?

Posted on Jan 18 2014 | IANS

By Shilpa Raina, Jaipur, Jan 18 : Should a writer think of his or her audience while at work? Or should the focus be the narrative? Questions like these were discussed by Pulitzer Prize winner Jhumpa Lahiri and a bevy of international authors at the Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF) here Saturday.

"The Global Novel" session at the JLF, the seventh edition of arguably South Asia's most popular literary fest, saw American author Jonathan Frazen, British writer Jim Crace, Chinese author Xiaolu Guo and Ethiopian-American Maaza Mengiste engage with Lahiri in a discussion moderated by journalist-novelist Chandrahas Choudhury.

Lahiri, author of "The Lowland", said reaching out to a global audience had a "commercial" ring, while speaking of a universal audience was more aesthetically appealing.

"We have to transcend barriers of ourselves that make us very limited in our approach, hence we should reach out to the audience and for that we have to have universal appeal, which means we have to read a lot," Lahiri told the discerning audience here.

"A writer has to be true to himself and write what he feels about rather than worrying about what will happen," said Lahiri.

"So the power to choose should be in the hands of the readers and not authors, only then good literature will come into the market," she said.

Xiaolu, author of "A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers" seconded her.

"The Harvest" author Crace said he lived in a cocoon and did not keep his readers in mind. "As a writer, I don't think of my readers. For me, it is like a private act that has embarrassingly become public," he said, making the audience twitter.

"But I think as a reader I would definitely want to read more and learn about other cultures, struggles. It helps all of us to grow and understand," he said.

While all the authors stressed the power a reader holds over writers, all of them collectively felt "translations" were a window into the other world, and more publishers should engage in publishing them.

"Translations are like bridges, and they continue to be the force that gets global readership. English language is like a currency now that connects all of us and helps in smooth transaction," Lahiri said.

And storytelling will continue, no matter how the stories spread, the authors felt. "Narratives will never die, whatever form of publication or dissemination method is used to spread it. If there is a great book, it will always find its audience," Crace said.

(Shilpa Raina can be contacted at

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