By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson
Gita Mehta: ‘Giving Writers Freedom and Time and Support’As Publishing Perspectives readers know, the industry’s loss of Sonny Mehta at age 77 in December 2019 was felt by some as a pivotal moment in the international industry’s evolution. At a memorial service in March 2020 at London’s Holy Trinity, Penguin Random House worldwide CEO Markus Dohle referred to Mehta, the longtime Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group chief, as “the central figure of my professional life.”
Today (August 1), Paul Bogaards, the former executive vice-president and deputy publisher at Knopf and Pantheon, has announced that four international students have been awarded the initial seats in two programs named in Mehta’s honor.
- The Sonny Mehta Scholarship Program is based at Norwich’s University of East Anglia, familiar to our readers for some of its translation programs operated in partnership with the National Centre for Writing. At East Anglia, Zui Kumar-Reddy has been awarded a scholarship in prose fiction, and Perla Kantarjian has been given a scholarship in poetry.
- The Sonny Mehta Fellowships in Creative Writing are at the United States’ highly regarded Iowa Writers’ Workshop at the University of Iowa. In that program, Bader Al-Awadi has been named poetry fellow and Waseem Rashid has been named fiction fellow.
Mehta’s widow, the novelist and documentary filmmaker Gita Mehta, has created an endowment to support the programs, which give preference to applicants from countries underrepresented in parts of the international publishing conversation and industry. The East Anglia program says that the gift from Gita Mehta is valued at US$2 million.
In a prepared statement, Gita Mehta is quoted, saying, “These endowments align with Sonny’s conviction as a publisher, giving writers the freedom and time and support they need to carry forward with their work.”
Penguin Random House author Donna Tartt is a donor to the new programs, and is quoted, saying, “I’m excited about the young writers who will emerge from these programs. I can’t think of any better way to celebrate Sonny’s memory.”
Comments From the East Anglia Program
The Sonny Mehta Scholarship Program at East Anglia is devised to provide fully-funded scholarships in the university’s Creative Writing MA courses for writers from India, the Indian sub-continent, North Africa, the Middle East, and those who self-identify as Roma. The program refers to Gita Mehta’s initial gift as being “exceptionally generous.”
Perla Kantarjian, with a site here, is a Lebanese-Armenian writer, journalist, and editor with writings appearing in more than 30 publications. Her cross-cultural work is currently exploring multilingualism and transgenerational emotional legacies.
In commenting on her success in getting a scholarship, Kantarjian is quoted, saying, “In crisis-ridden Beirut, no one cared for poetry, never mind poets. With the political and economic turmoil exacerbated by the pandemic, there seemed to be no dream to enter into, until my Gmail refreshed to summon a ‘Congratulations’ e-mail from the University of East Anglia scholarships office.
“At first, I thought it was a scam, despite spending hours perfecting my application months ago.
“Perhaps they had sent it to the wrong person, I thought. Such perfection cannot be mine. But it was.”
Zui Kumar-Reddy is from Bangalore. She says that her primary interest is “accessing the silent subaltern through the (slightly altered) Kantian lens of the Sublime, while recognizing spiritual transcendence as a mode of exercising agency.”
The program says that Kumar-Reddy is “keen on using her writing to reframe questions of life, love, and death in an increasingly radicalized India.
“She initially pursued science, but her experience of having two artist parents revealed to her the lack of opportunities afforded to the arts in India, so she shifted her focus.”
Comments From the Iowa Program
At the Iowa Writers’ Workshop MFA program’s site, we read, “One poet and one fiction writer will be selected to receive the fellowships, which will provide support for travel and visa costs, tuition, a living stipend, and other associated expenses for a year of study at the workshop. The graduate fellowships are funded by a US$2 million endowment from Gita Mehta.”
Lan Samantha Chang, director of the workshop, is quoted, saying, “We are so grateful to Gita Mehta for making it possible for us to offer the extraordinary support of the Sonny Mehta Fellowships to international writers. The presence of these writers will greatly enrich the creative community at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, both in and out of the classroom.”
Newly named fellow Waseem Rashid from Kashmir has a BS from studies in chemistry, zoology, and botany at Kashmir/Amar Singh College. He’s a teacher of math, and speaks English and Urdu, as well as Kashmiri.
His work is on the disputed Kashmiri region and the region’s political controversies’ impact on citizens, the focus of a story collection he’s to carry out while at the Iowa program.
He’s previously been the recipient of a fellowship in the South Asia Speaks mentoring program, where he worked with the novelist Karan Mahajan.
Bader Al-Awadhi is an Arabic speaker, born and raised in Kuwait. He majored in English and studied British and African-American literature as well as poetry at Loyola Marymount College in Los Angeles.
Although he began by studying engineering, he’s quoted, saying, “From the moment I sat in that first algorithms and applications class, I found myself distracted by a longing, not for a physical home; but for the sense of place I felt in the creative world.”
At Iowa, he’s expected to work on a poetry collection, The Fertile Crescent, exploring, “the complexities of navigating and understanding one’s queerness as an Arab, both in the Middle East and in the United States, and all that comes with this unique intersection of identity.”
More from Publishing Perspectives on the late Sonny Mehta is here, more from us on the United Kingdom’s market is here, more on the United States’ market is here, and more on fellowship programs in the international publishing industry is here.
More on the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on international book publishing is here.
We urge publishing professionals to spend 10 minutes responding to the current survey of book awards’ dynamics and values. The survey can be accessed here, and it’s open through August 15. More on this is here.