A research project funded by Teesside University has brought together women editors in Pakistan to develop sustainable solutions for the country’s literary publishing industry.
The workshop, which took place in Lahore earlier this month, has made significant advances in connecting women editors with wider stakeholders to think through shared goals and challenges and pinpoint current priorities.
Led by Dr Madeline Clements, a Senior Lecturer in English Studies in Teesside University’s School of Social Sciences, Humanities & Law, Editing Women was aimed at supporting women editors in investigating their position in the contemporary Pakistani publishing landscape.
It was inspired by initial, interview-based research with women editors conducted by Maham Khan and Sadia Akhtar of International Islamic University Islamabad in 2021; a project which was itself funded through Dr Clements’ and Dr Rachel Carroll’s Women Writing Pakistan project (2020-2021).
Khan and Akhtar’s research identified sustainability as a major challenge for these women whose “labours of love” offer vital alternative channels for creativity and self-expression in a landscape where – as in so many other locations globally – the value of engagement with the arts needs passionate advocation.
Many of the independent literary magazines and journals they edit struggle to survive, given a lack of funding and support. A Teesside University grant available to Early Career Researchers for co-produced research enabled Dr Clements to support the work of young researchers in investigating viable solutions to such issues in Pakistan.
Clements, Khan, Akhtar, and three women editors – Mehvash Amin (The Aleph Review), Maryam Piracha (The Missing Slate), and Afshan Shafi (Pandemonium Review) – worked tirelessly over the course of four months from April to July 2022 to co-develop the workshop and bring it to the point of realisation.
The resulting Editing Women workshop took place virtually and in person over the course of a weekend at The Last Word bookshop in Lahore.
Attendees included established and upcoming editors of literary and art magazines such as Niilofur Farrukh (Nukta Art), Ilona Yusuf (Alhamra Literary Review, The Aleph Review) and Mina Malik (Risala), and book publishers such as Mehr Husain (Zuka Books) and Taiba Abbas (Ála Books).
This group was joined by authors, critics, literary journalists, booksellers, marketing professionals, literary festival organisers, and founders of media platforms and initiatives dedicated to gender equality, diversity, and empowerment. These included Muneeza Shamsie (Hybrid Tapestries, And the World Changed), Raheela Baqai (Karachi Literature Festival and Oxford University Press Pakistan), and Sabin Muzaffar (Anankemag.com and Ananke’s Women in Literature Foundation).
Maniza Naqvi, founder of The Little Book Company, an innovative e-book platform, also gave a pre-recorded talk to the workshop about her pioneering approach to tackling problems of logistics and access for authors and publishers. Participants travelled to Lahore from cities including Karachi and Islamabad, as well as Middlesbrough in the UK, to attend the workshop in person. There were also virtual attendees from locations including Germany and Dubai. Each made a distinctive, impactful contribution to areas of debate, advocating passionately for areas of development.
Topics for discussion included the future sustainability of the dream of the “beautiful book” and of print publication, including the current prohibitive costs of paper and pre-production services; navigating and harnessing the power of digital publishing and platforms; engaging current and future generations of readers; and providing a platform for emerging talent by means of partnerships with libraries, literary festivals and spoken-word events.
Additionally, the workshop identified a pressing need for the creation of archives that demonstrate and document the critical mass of work completed by women and other literary editors and writers who, in this field, are by no means marginal. The development of non-exclusive networks of support for writers and editors was also always at the forefront of the agenda.
Dr Clements said: “This was an incredibly useful and informative workshop and all the participants made a unanimous commitment to realising their ambitions via the establishment of a collectively run association of literary editors along with wider stakeholders whose inaugural meeting is to take place in September 2022.
“It is hoped that this association will provide a further, lasting means of empowering women and others to aid one another in forging new careers in this industry, tackling challenges of sustainability, and making visible their immense contribution to the essential, dynamic field of contemporary independent Pakistani literary publishing.”