Out of Print turns 10: Indira Chandrasekhar on the acclaimed online journal, and the short story as a literary form

It’s a flash of extraordinary brilliance on a single moment, episode, character, or transition, says Chandrasekhar about the short story as a literary form.

Aarushi Agrawal February 24, 2021 10:15:24 IST
Out of Print turns 10: Indira Chandrasekhar on the acclaimed online journal, and the short story as a literary form

Between being founder-editor of the literary magazine Out of Print, which is focused on publishing short fiction connected to the Indian subcontinent, and putting together her 2017 anthology Polymorphism: Stories, Indira Chandrasekhar understands the short story as a deeply impactful literary form. “It’s a flash of extraordinary brilliance on a single moment, episode, character, or transition. Like a flash of lightning that leaves that impression on your brain for years to come,” she tells Firstpost. She has also been able to highlight a key function of storytelling. “It builds the voice and story of a community. It sustains communities.” As collective culture develops, stories record existing belief systems and highlight which points of view are considered popular culture and what is suppressed. The stories one is handed down and the sources through which they reach a reader, the ideas that are considered popular culture and those which are vehemently suppressed, all express the inherent thinking of a society at a particular moment.

In as much as the magazine’s recent book Out of Print — Ten Years: An Anthology of Stories is also a curated archive of short fiction connected to the Indian subcontinent over the past decade, it shapes the narrative by way of presenting 30 stories across five sections covering the themes mythologies and retellings, introspection and self-image, love, family and community, and a representation of certain realities in current society. While representing a fairly broad range, most stories in the selection are disturbing or tragic in many ways. “It’s not to say people don’t write funny or light-hearted short stories. It’s what interests us, what we wanted to explore as editors,” she says. “I think writers often wish to explore something that has had an effect on them, on society, either in the personal or the political sense, or both. And that’s why sometimes literary writing tends to appear to explore things that are tough.”

As a sample range of writing connected to the subcontinent, the stories, while not confined by geography, also represent the cultural threads running through society, from the treatment of women and minorities to socio-cultural practices, politics, and more. “There’s a resonance, an understanding of our multiplicity. There’s obvious commonalities in food, clothing, familial structures, and so on, and yet there’s a tremendous individuality,” she says. “Each of these stories is very strong, powerful, individual. And therefore, putting the anthology together felt very empowering for me.”

As a magazine, more broadly, the writing trends that Chandrasekhar has noticed at Out of Print over the past decade are, she believes, influenced by the fact that since it’s an online publication, it eliminates much of the “usual intimidation that you have with long-existing printed journals,” allowing younger writers to come forward and make themselves heard. The writing is generally representative of a socially conscious voice, encouraged by social media, news, the country’s politics, and so on. There’s also a strong strand of queer writing, especially around the felt experience of pre- and post-Section 377. A large part of the women’s writing comprises strong voices focusing on domestic and sexual violence. And a newer development is the emergence of writing from the tech world, focused on young protagonists, and often “set in transitory spaces” like malls, cafes, airport lounges, essentially settings that “you wouldn’t think of as literary spaces.”

Over the past decade, while the stylistic and thematic range of storytelling has developed brilliantly, the general standing of short stories has also improved. When Chandrasekhar had first set out to submit writing to literary magazines, she couldn’t find many print publications or online spaces that published short fiction. “There were a couple of spaces starting off online, but nothing focused on the short story,” she recalls. “But at the same time there was a burgeoning literary scene with many mainstream publishing houses from outside starting to thrive in India and providing platforms and the birth of literary festivals. So there was a kind of energy which was motivating writing,” she adds about the literary scene at the time. It was in this milieu that she founded Out of Print, to offer a dedicated space for the short story online.

This growth has run parallel to the recognition the short story receives as a literary form. On the one hand has been the growing recognition that the short story has earned in the eyes of literary editors who may have been concerned that “from a marketing point of view I think they were a little concerned that it wouldn’t sell.” And the other has been the slow correction of the fallacy that because it’s short, it’s an easy read, forgetting the simple fact that as a form, its range is as broad as any other. “They can go from light reading and amusing to commercial, [and occupy] different genre forms like sci-fi and romance, but they can also be very emotionally intense and demanding. So I think it’s not necessarily true that a short story is a light literary form, it’s just a shorter form.”

Out of Print — Ten Years: An Anthology of Stories has been published by Context

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