The Path from Literacy to Freedom

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September 8 is UNESCO’s International Literacy Day intended to ‘remind the public of the importance of literacy as a matter of dignity and human rights, and to advance the literacy agenda towards a more literate and sustainable society.’

After the sunny days of summer, we should probably begin the fall publishing season by thinking about the positive outcomes that literacy promises us; thinking about those hopes that a literate society will hold onto; thinking about those books that are vitally important to readers in these challenging times of pandemic and war; thinking about those books that readers expect from us—the publishers. The world is moving faster than ever. Can we keep up? Can we still satisfy and surprise our readers?

In my region – the so-called post-Soviet space, currently in focus due to the ongoing brutal war in Ukraine – representatives of the cultural sector are often asked: "Should culture interfere with politics?!"

Answers vary but we cannot escape our recent experience of the nature, price, and consequences of the dictatorship we have lived through, fought, broken its strong walls, and emerged, scarred, from the ruins. This region knows that such regimes target the ability to think freely in order to achieve their objectives. People living here clearly understand that under dictatorships, politics will never ignore culture; they will never let it grow into an island of freedom. Dictatorship strives for "order". Freedom causes diversity, a kind of "disorder", which is vitally important for art but potentially disastrous for dictatorship. Therefore, a logical question arises: how can culture ignore such a dangerous opponent as politics?!

In reality, culture does not ignore politics. For centuries human minds have fought against slavish obedience and for the main purpose of human existence—continuous creation, continuous development, and continuous innovations. Bringing our learnings to the written page through books is a historic part of forming healthy societies but also the fight against the book and literacy. It is why two important focus areas of the International Publishers Association are so relevant: the freedom to publish and literacy. In the post-Soviet space (and other similar regions), independent thought and literacy are expected of people to resist relapse. Dictators in waiting imagine: "Once conquered, easily conquered again." But is this possible with people who have seen slavery, then tasted freedom, and have personally experienced the good and the bad of two completely different lifestyles?!

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'What happened with my books underscores the importance of books that reflect the world in all its diversity'

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Michiel Kolman, Chair of the IPA's Inclusive Publishing and Literacy Committee talks to author, translator and publisher Lawrence Schimel about his children's books, their reception in different markets and the shared borders of freedom to publish and inclusivity.

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Learning maths through discrimination: Five minus two is three

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Persian Twitter is filled with an image showing two different covers of the third-grade math textbook in Iran these days. One is from 2019 depicting two girls and three boys playing outdoors. The second one, that caused the storm of fury, is the 2020 version in which the two girls are deducted!

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IPA Regional Seminar, Amman (day 2): More united than divided

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The second and final day of the IPA Regional Seminar in the Middle East was opened by Sharjah publisher Bodour Al Qasimi (Kalimat Group), who is (among other things) also the IPA Vice-President.

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Notes from the road: to the Andes and back

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Between end of July and early September I had the chance of participating in several important events throughout Latin America. A region full of contrasts, where a wealthy, vigorous parts of society still coexists with undeserving levels of poverty. An assignment still to solve. Every country with a different, rich culture and traditions and enchanting people.

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In Praise of Iran’s Independent Literary Awards

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Every year I read dozens of manuscripts submitted to our publishing house. Unfortunately not all of them are as enjoyable or educating as I expect and only a handful end up published. Beside these books, that I don’t have any control in choosing, I have another ‘to read list’ that I cherry pick from prize shortlists, reviews in magazines and newspapers, friends’ and colleagues’ recommendations, or just authors I love!

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Notes from the road: from Nairobi to Seoul, via Berlin

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What do Kenya, Germany and Korea have in common? There are all members of IPA, and during June I had the unique opportunity to make a two-week trip to all three of them.

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Pride in Diversity: Stonewall at 50

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Diversity and Inclusion comes in many different shapes and colors and this month, Pride month in many countries, the focus will be on LGBTI+, or Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex, where the plus denotes all other groups in an overall inclusive approach to sexual orientation and gender identity.

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Self-publishing in Iran; a tale of dare and dilemma

The first time I encountered a self-published book in Iran was about 10 years ago. My blogger friend tried to publish his first collection of short stories and faced a dead end with the book office censors. The whole book had a dark comedy theme and, as I remember, one of the protagonists was a rather stupid army commander. The authorities had told him that it is an insult to our “sacred military forces”. 

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Bologna Children’s Book Fair 2018

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Sometimes it happens that when you hear a lot of positive comments about an event. Your expectations rise, and you get disappointed once you see the reality.

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Russia: Publish and be damned or sanitize and survive?

By Jessica Saenger*, edited by Ben Steward. The ‘homocleansing’ of the Russian edition of Victoria Schwab’s Shades of Magic series offers a topical hook on which to hang the publishers’ dilemma about duty to authors and their duty to stay in business.

This month the hit American author tweeted her outrage at learning that her Russian publisher had ‘redacted the entire queer plot w/out permission’. She added: ‘I was absolutely horrified. Wouldn’t have known if not for a Russian reader who read both editions. Publisher in total breach of contract.’

There are two strands to Schwab’s indignation: the redaction – or censorship – and the manner of that redaction. Quite apart from normal contractual requirements, simple courtesy would dictate that any author deserves fair warning of significant plot changes, whatever the reason. If this didn’t happen here, then the publisher may well have infringed the author's moral rights and be in breach of contract. That is for Rosman and Schwab to work out, although unquestionably the writer is entitled to be upset at discovering by chance that her work had been mangled.

That said, Schwab would do well to take a breath and consider where best to direct her wrath.

Explaining itself in the Vedomosti business daily, Rosman admitted it had censored a romantic scene between two characters in the second book of the Shades of Magic trilogy ‘so as not to violate the law banning the propaganda of homosexuality among minors’. In other words, to avoid criminal liability and having the book wrapped in plastic and given an 18 rating in Russia – thereby losing a large chunk of Schwab’s target readership – the publisher did what the law wants and altered the offending scene. It is Russia’s oppressive gay propaganda law that lies at the root of the problem, not the publishers who obey it.

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Bangladeshi Culture Minister says his government stands firm on freedom to publish

I recently had a chance to visit Dhaka to meet the IPA’s member there, the Academic and Creative Publishers Association of Bangladesh (ACPAB).

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International Publishers Association

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