Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Meet Geetha.V of Tara Books

I have today the happy opportunity of inviting V.Geetha, the Editorial Director of Tara Books, over on Saffron Tree. She graciously shares with us her thoughts about her work, the varied set of books the Tara team has created and what has kept them going over the last twenty years.

Thank you so much, Geetha, for your answers! It's a joy to read them.

1) How has your publishing values/philosophy evolved over the last twenty years?

We, Gita Wolf and I are feminists, interested in books, children, and our own contexts. When Gita announced that she wanted to do books for children, back in 1994, she had a sense of what she wished to do: create books that would speak to children in their contexts, featuring faces and voices they could relate to; basically books that would stimulate their imagination, while encouraging them to look around and take note - At the same time, we wanted to bring into our context, books from elsewhere, opening up the world of the child is as important as anchoring it. Apart from this, we were guided by our politics: we wanted to show a world with as many resourceful and intelligent girls as boys, where children's sense of a just and happy universe finds a place, and where relationships of power are shown for what they are, but there are also stories and images of resistance, relationships, and affection.

These values still define what we do, and how we work, with authors, artists and designers from a variety of social and economic contexts. But we have also developed a publishing outlook that is concerned with celebrating the book as a cultural object, through pushing its boundaries - with our experiments in printing, production, design, and pushing the boundaries of illustration. Today we value what we are a part of - the global culture of the picture book, to which we have contributed in a fundamental way, with our books that feature art by indigenous - folk and tribal - artists, the handmade book and the book that recalls older forms of the written word, such as a scroll...

2) Tara is known for its gorgeously illustrated children's books featuring unique yet diverse themes. People love your unique production values and the fabulous array of folkart-oriented books. In terms of art, everyone agrees that there's been a tremendous diversity. iIn terms of writing, how open has Tara been to new voices?

We have a range of texts: an AFrican-American tells the story of Martin Luther King Jr along with a patua artist (I See the Promised Land); a Gond tribal artist presents his view of the great city of London, speaking back to Kipling (The London Jungle Book); a domestic worker turned artist tells the story of how she became one (Following My Paintbrush, featuring Mithila art); a film hoardings artist and his art are the centre of a project that is uniquely Tamil (The Nine Emotions of Tamil Cinema); and in press are other such projects - including a Sri Lankan writer, who's done an illustrated novella on living and surviving war (The Boy Who Speaks in Numbers)... For us, openness means, openness to dialogue and conversation - it is not so much a question of providing space to diverse voices, but ensuring that diverse voices can actually converse and work together - otherwise, openness remains merely politically correct and in practice, just a mark of difference.

3) Your toddler books section has some lovely folktales and trickster tales - how are they selected? Are you open to creative and updated retellings to be paired with folk art work for the future? [Kanchil series, The Great Race, Gobble You Up etc.])

Some story-tellers come to us - Nathan Scott grew up in Indonesia, listening to the Kanchil stories. He came up with three such tales - we wanted to tease out the visual possibilities of these animal fables, using art forms that spoke to the content and context of these tales. For the Kanchil tales, you'll notice that we worked with artists, whose art relates to Indonesia in one way or another: kalamkari (Mangoes and Bananas) is a form of block printing that emerged out of the South-east Asian textile trade; the Odisha coast, as much as ours has been involved in this trade, which is why we chose patachitra from Odisha to illustrate The Sacred Banana Leaf. Jagdish Chitara is a textile artist from Guarat, and it seemed appropriate that we draw on his work as well. (The Great Race).

With Gobble you Up, it was the art that set the direction for the tale - Meena art from Rajasthan, done on walls of homes, and by women, and passed on from mother to daughter, typically features animals with their young, and often pregnant animals at that. An animal within an animal we discovered is also the subject of many traditional tales from the region - and so this is how this book came about.

4) You have been in the field of children's publishing for over twenty years. What do you think about the current trends in publishing? Any thoughts on the power of stories and story-telling as a medium to reach children?

We see our work as mainly to do with encouraging reading - we would like children to pick up books and read, leaf through, observe, since many of our books have art, as much as or more than text. It seems to us that a book makes a child pause, slow down, take in things at a different pace, and this activity is rewarding in itself. Listening to stories is a different experience, and while we are happy for children to have that experience, we think it is not our task to do this. Story telling as part of narrative in a book is a different matter, and we think, that adults as much as children enjoy that: and we would like to think that images as much as words tell stories, in fact different kinds of stories, allow for a range of voices to be heard, without the mediation of language, which means that non-literate voices too could be heard, and understood.

5) What do you like best/least about being an editor? Any funny anecdotes?

The immense satisfaction of doing best by the work - the author is too close to it, the reader is yet to read it, but the editor is trained to stand apart, assess it for its own sake, and chisel and shape it, minimally or in other ways.. In our case, we work as much with illustrators, artists and designers, so editing in that sense also involves coordination, tying things up together... very fulfilling and truly collaborative.

Funny anecdotes: maybe not funny, but there are fun moments. When we worked with Samhita Arni and Moyna Chitrakar and designer Jonathan Yamakami on Sita's Ramayana, it was as if we were replaying the old monkey and aappam story. Any editing or addition on Samhita's part meant Moyna had to draw another panel. Suggestions from Jonathan meant that Samhita had to rethink text, and when Moyna chose to draw a deeply sad Sita, Jonathan would decide that he would give her a full page, and then as an editor, I'd feel compelled to rethink the length of the book - it seemed unending and well, fun.

6) I understand this might be a hard one. Which one is your favorite Tara title?

Excuse Me, Is this India - for the text
Signature - for the concept
Creation - for its visual poetry

Toys and Tales - for all of the above

7) Anything you want to share with us about reading picture books to children, why art and design matter to Tara? Why do you do the books you do?

I think I have answered this in different ways above - but in a nutshell, to us, the book works only when text, art, design and its making intersect in equal measure to create and communicate meaning. In that sense, publishing and book-making are essentially collaborative enterprises. Creativity, to us, is always a shared experience.

8) Any particular upcoming releases you are particularly excited about?

Yes, Between Memory and Museum: A Dialogue with Folk and Tribal Artists, which features visual responses by over 30 indigenous artists to the idea of the museum (forthcoming April 2015); The Boy Who Speaks in Numbers (forthcoming, April 2015, on surviving the war in Sri Lanka), and a children's book, Knock! Knock! (October 2015) that opens up like an apartment block by a young Japanese artist Karoi Takahashi - a sheer delight of a book.

9) What do you envision for Tara Books in terms of the kind of projects you want to undertake down the road?

More hard work, exploration, and books that convince children - and adults - that there are worlds that open out, outside the pane of a smartphone, a tablet and a computer screen.

10) Anything you want to tell readers and creators of children's books?

Read more, look at different kinds of art, learn another language... 

No comments:

Related Posts with Thumbnails