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Naveen Kishore, Publisher

Naveen Kishore, Commissioning Editor of the groundbreaking Indian publisher Seagull Books, tells NBG the story of Seagull and his plans for its future.

The Back Story
Seagull has had two births or incarnations. The ‘first’ Seagull started life in 1982 as a theatre, cinema and fine arts publisher, largely because I came from a background in theatre lighting design. At the time (and in fact even now, years later) there was no single publisher in our country devoted specifically to the arts. It did not then and still doesn’t make enough ‘commercial’ sense!
Then, in 2005, we set up Seagull Books London Limited as an independent publisher incorporated in the UK and USA. This was partly in response to the larger publishing corporations from London and New York making their way to India as the new large English-speaking market. We said to ourselves: What if we were to practise a ‘reversal’? Be ‘there’ and ‘here’. In other words our logic was that, if one interprets ‘globalisation’ in our way, we should be allowed to buy and sell world rights, and produce and publish a world list – provided we crafted the books exquisitely and afforded our authors the courtesy of committed distribution.
This experiment is now in its fifth year. It is over 140 titles old. We are distributed worldwide by the University of Chicago Press, except in India where we are represented by Atlantic Publishers and Distributors. We are exclusively buying world rights and, yes, it is tough but it is also greatly enjoyable. So this is Seagull’s second birth.
What is also wonderful is that most publishers and authors in Europe, and in particular Germany and France, are going out of their way to be hospitable to this notion of what makes a ‘global’ independent publisher. We are getting amazing support.
The Programme
We started life as an arts publisher and have now expanded our list into politics, philosophy, human rights and free expression. Since last season we have begun to translate and publish fiction, as a part of our World Literature series, but keeping the arts as an important part of what we do. But a simple answer to what we are doing is to publish books that deal with the ‘human condition’... very broad and very intuitive, and of course very personal in many ways.
The Selection Process
I do not have a pre-plan, I simply make myself available ... like the blotting paper of old, I soak in conversations, listen to authors already on my list, converse with translators, listen some more to academic friends around the world, travel, talk to publishers and sometimes blindly agree to be led into a world of literature that they are familiar with. The Frankfurt Book Fair is very good that way. Each of our books has its own story of discovery.
The Artwork
All of Seagull’s books are now designed by our Senior Editor and Graphic Designer Sunandini Banerjee. She is completely self-trained.
The Translators
My role is one of a commissioning editor. It is an old-fashioned one! I look for books that Seagull wants to do and I do them. Our translators are often already known to us for the authors they translate... for example, we work with and rely greatly on Martin Chalmers for a lot of our books including those that he doesn’t translate. We welcome his suggestions and advice on authors we are unfamiliar with. This is also true of someone like Chris Turner or Donald Nicholson-Smith. We first meet our translators through the need to get the best person for a particular author, then we ask for their wish list of what they would like to do; and that’s how the list grows ... through instinct, through allowing other people’s ideas, through discovering the fresh and the new and sometimes the older unpublished material and letting it all happen. There is no fixed formula or structure, just a combination of one’s own reading, and, like good detectives of literature, following up the ‘footnotes’ and the ‘clues’ offered by every book we do.
The Future
Hard to say! I cannot simply single out one title that I still wish to publish. We are very excited with our German and French lists, and I’ve just been to Cape Town to announce our Africa list starting next spring. In Frankfurt we shall proudly announce our Swiss list and our Norwegian list ... I simply aspire to publish. Period.
The finished Product
Linda Quilt is Hans Magnus Enzensberger’s female persona and a very sharp and witty one at that! She was a gift. Literally. A present from Enzensberger in a blue folder. We met for lunch last year, in London. My treat! And over lunch he very courteously took out this manuscript and said ‘here is a non-serious something for your ever-so-serious list if you wish to have it!’. I did! It was written originally in English and later published in German by Hanser.