Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Publisher Spotlight: Introducing Weavers Press & Publisher Moazzam Sheikh

Today I have the distinct pleasure of presenting an interview with writer Moazzam Sheikh, short story author, librarian and now publisher of Weavers Press, a new small press based in San Francisco and specializing in South Asian literature. 

I've known Moazzam for a couple of years now and it's a real privilege to have a front-row seat to this new venture of his. Tomorrow, I'll have a review of the first book Weavers Press has published, To Be With Her, by Chicago-based writer Syed Haider. I think Weavers Press is a name you'll want to look for!

What’s the story behind Weavers Press? Why did you decide to start it? What is the press’s mission?

Well, I have always been attracted to a streak of independence in art and literature. South Asian writers have had tremendous success in getting published by mainstream presses. But if you look at how many translations of works of fiction from South Asian languages have been published in the US in the last five years, for example, the result is very depressing, verging on insult. Many have felt there needs to be an alternative window. We chose the word 'weavers' to honor a specific poetic tradition in medieval India where poets wrote in the register of people living on the margins and used weaving as their central metaphor and identified with the female sex as the most oppressed by the system. This is very prominent in the Punjabi language. The poets distanced themselves from status quo and court power. I see modern black, Jewish, gay and lesbian, labor, Latino, feminist presses akin to those Punjabi poets who see mainstream, commercially compromised output not fully representative of important issues and not encompassing the complex, multi-layered experience of a people. The press is primarily dedicated to allow space for serious quality writing by South Asian writers; and will consider works by others if they their work engages with South Asia in a complex way. We'll certainly consider translations of literary works written in South Asian languages.

Can you tell me a little bit about your background in literature and in life?

I grew up in Lahore and have lived in San Francisco for the last 25 years. I began writing on the late side, since early nineties. I have translated fiction across Urdu, Hindi, Punjabi and EngIish. I am a librarian by profession. My first book of short stories The Idol Lover was published by an independent press in San Francisco. I have published short stories in Urdu as well. I am currently working on translating a few poems from the Punjabi by the noted poet/critic Najm Hosain Syed, which will be published in one of the coming issues of Chicago Quarterly Review.

The Small Press Distribution link to my book with a blurb:

Who have been your influences in literature and publishing?

This is a difficult question to answer. With regards to publishing, I have already mentioned a tradition of independent publishing in the US. No one can deny the important role the black press in the antebellum America had played in addressing a terrible inequality between blacks and white in this country. The same goes for Jewish presses for combating anti-Semitism and for other marginal/minority groups in this country. Alternatives presses/publishers play an important role in shaping popular consciousness. But if I have to mention one person whose dedication has inspired me is none other than my friend in Karachi, Ajmal Kamal, who has managed to produce one
of the finest Urdu literary journal introducing so many international writers to the Urdu readership. He has also published many wonderful writers under the banner of City Press. If it weren't for him, readers in Pakistan wouldn't know who Naiyer Masud or Uday Prakash is. Down the road, Andre' Schiffrin's New Press (NY) would publish translations of Masud's short stories in 1999.
And to answer your question about literary influences, well, there are too many to list, but in the context of South Asians writing in English [Salman] Rushdie's name cannot be discounted. Perhaps I should also mention Juan Rulfo, the Mexican writer, for the only two books he wrote hold a special
place in my heart. And Dostoyevsky is the ultimate kind of fiction, though I extremely detest monarchy. One of my recent favorite novels is Vyasa and Vigneshwara, a brilliant post colonial work originally written in Malayalam by Anand (which is a nom de plume). Recently I have also come to admire very much a living legend of Punjabi literature, Najm Hosain Syed. His poetry, his plays and literary critique should be read by every Pakistani at least. Among American poets I have always admired Adrienne Rich's work. Currently I have been savoring the superb Zone by Mathias Enard.

What kinds of books are you interested in publishing?

We are primarily interested in publishing literary fiction, though we did recently publish a book of poems written in Punjabi in English translation.

What have you published so far? What’s forthcoming?

Well, we have published two books so far; one novel, To Be With Her, and one book of poems, The Circle of Illusion. The third book is about to come out, The Aim of Art (which takes its title from Oscar Wilde). It is a very well written, literary novel, not a South Asia specific book. This is a long
story, but the only exception we'll probably make. I was so impressed by the language and the theme! It's a WWII novel and part of it takes place in Iceland and a chunk of it in different parts of USA. It's a tale of a friendship between an educated, gay Jewish man and straight Christian man from a poor and broken down family background. Their friendship is centered around their attraction to art and literature as one educates the other.

My own manuscript (my second collection of stories) is also ready but I am not sure if Weavers Press would be the home. Then we have Roshni Rustomji-Kerns stories we have been working on. After that we would like to do some kind of anthology but no final decision has been taken yet. We also
have a few young writers in mind.

What niche do your books fill? Who is your target reader? Would you say your books fall to the more literary or popular end of the spectrum?

We at Weavers Press aims to stick to what we think has a literary merit, which is of course always very subjective. Mainstream publishers have a very different agenda. We believe there's always a sizable readership that craves for original, serious, non-exotic literature and we would like to reach them.

What plans do you have for the company?

It's a very modest and humble effort. We would like to gauge our effort and journey by the quality and not the number of books we will publish. We would love to strike a good balance between translations and works originally written in English.

Where can readers find your books?

Small Press Distribution is representing us. The books can purchased either on their website: or Weavers Press' website: directly.

Bookstores can get the books from the distributor also. To Be With Her is also available at some independent bookstores in San Francisco such Modern Times, Alexander Books, Book Shop, and Birds and Becket, and in Chicago for sure. It can also be purchased on Amazon.


bookspersonally said...

Sounds like a wonderful endeavor- can't wait to hear more about the books and authors. Thank you for a great introduction

Kristi said...

A wonderful interview! Independent presses fill the spaces that large publishers do not touch, and it is great to hear the story of one. Thank you.

Audra said...

Really excited to learn about this press -- loved this interview. I've been doing the South Asian Reading Challenge which has been awesome -- I'm looking forward to more authors and books coming out.

Zibilee said...

What an interesting post! I am now very intrigued by what Weavers Press is doing, and I will be especially interested in seeing your review of To Be With Her tomorrow. I think some of the books they are working on sound fantastic! Thanks for sharing this with us today!

Sandy Nawrot said...

There is nothing run-of-the-mill about you Marie! This was totally cool. And I would imagine you are EXACTLY the target reader in this case!

Kathleen said...

I will look out for this publishing house and find it sad that I live in the SF Bay Area and have heard nothing about it!