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WHY DO MANY EASTERN WRITERS AND ARTISTS NEVER BECOME SUCCESSFUL IN WESTERN WORLD?

 

 

Dear Friends!

Over the years I have met many Eastern writers and artists who have struggled in the Western world all their lives. Many of them were quite accomplished and successful in the East. They were well respected by their own countrymen. They were hoping that after the initial struggling phase, they would become part of the main stream but they never did. Many of them wonder what went wrong.

One such artist is Younga Verma. When I interviewed him, he shared with me that in India he was artistically and financially quite successful, but even after living in Canada for more than twenty years, he is still struggling economically and creatively. He feels sad and melancholic. He believes his physical and emotional health has deteriorated over the years. When he reminisces about his past, he sighs deeply and says, “Canadians never accepted me as an artist”. Over the years I have met many other writers and artists like Youngo Verma who feel disillusioned, disappointed and disheartened.

When I think of the hurdles these Eastern writers and artists face in the Western world, the following factors come to mind.

1.   MEDIUM

Many Eastern writers create their poems, stories, essays and plays in their mother tongue. Such creations are published in the East or in ethnic newspapers and magazines of the West, but never find any place in the mainstream magazines because they are not written in English.

2.   PERSONALITY

Most of the Eastern writers and artists that I have met are very quiet, shy and introverted. They are very dedicated in their creative work but they do not know the art of “selling themselves”. They are proud of their Eastern modesty and such modesty becomes a barrier to getting their creations introduced to a wider audience.

3.   SYSTEMIC DISCRIMINATION

In some Western communities the people in power are prejudiced against non-Western writers and artists and do not welcome them to their organizations. When Eastern writers and artists apply for grants or make submissions, they usually receive letters of regret. Such letters are ambiguous and do not offer any concrete suggestions to Eastern writers and artists about how they can change their presentations so as to be included next time. There seems to be a communication gap between Eastern artists and Western organizations that never gets bridged.

When Eastern writers and artists living in Canada ask my opinion as to how they can become successful in the Western world, I share with them the following suggestions.

1.   LANGUAGE

I suggest to my Pakistani and Indian writer friends that they need to become fluent in English. They need to interact with Canadians on a regular basis so that they become confident in expressing themselves. If they do not feel comfortable with the English language, then how can they expect to be interviewed by the mainstream media?

2.   TRANSLATIONS

I suggest to Eastern writers that they need to get their creations translated into English, so that mainstream people can appreciate them. When I published my English translations of short stories I was pleasantly surprised to receive a call that my story “Island” was selected for a Canadian anthology of world fiction for high school students.

When I wrote poems in English, they were included in an American Anthology of Poetry. I would have never had that opportunity if my stories and poems had not been available in English. Language builds the bridge between writers and readers

3.   TAKING COURSES

I suggest to writers and artists that they take some courses at Canadian universities so that they become familiar with the system in the Western world. In many cases what is perceived as discrimination by immigrant writers and artists is actually their own lack of knowledge. Western organizations are quite methodical and follow certain traditions. Once Eastern artists know the inner workings of the system, they can become successful. I relate to them the experiences of professionals who went to school in Canada and had no difficulties getting jobs after they graduated. I share with them my own example. After I studied psychiatry at Memorial University in Newfoundland and received my Fellowship from the Royal College of Physicians of Canada, I had no problems finding employment in hospitals in different provinces. Artists who graduate from Canadian schools have easier time entering the mainstream than those who are graduates of Eastern universities. Many Eastern artists are reluctant to spend another three years back at school studying what they already know, but I feel it might be worth it if they seriously want to establish themselves in the Western world. In those university courses they learn not only the art and the craft but also the politics of the system, which is very important in becoming successful. They also meet other students and professors who connect them with key people in the system.

4.   NETWORKING

I share with Eastern writers and artists that either they have to become more outgoing and extroverted and do their own networking, or if they are too shy or do not feel comfortable from an ethical point of view, they have to hire an agent who can connect them with the right organizations and institutions. It is quite informative and rewarding for Eastern writers and artists to stay in touch with mainstream organizations where they can feel the pulse of the social and political climate.

5.   ACCEPTING SOCIAL, POLITICAL AND ECONOMIC REALITIES OF THE WESTERN WORLD

It has been my observation that in the East, artistic success is quite independent of financial success. I have met many accomplished writers in Pakistan who were well respected by other writers and quite popular in public but still struggled financially all their lives. My uncle Arif Abdul Mateen was one such example. In spite of receiving the best poet’s award in Pakistan and his collection of poems being taught in university courses, he had to work as a teacher to earn his livelihood. His creative success had no relationship to his financial success. He enjoyed his popularity by reciting his poems in radio and television programs.

Many Eastern writers and artists do not realize that in the Western world, artistic success is intimately connected with commercial success. Many dedicated and committed Eastern writers and artists have a difficult time accepting the social reality that in the Western capitalistic world, art has become a business. This reality is hard to accept for idealistic Eastern writers and artists who believe in socialistic ideology.

After publishing more than a dozen books in Pakistan and India, when I entered the publishing world of the West I realized that my publisher was willing to invest money only when he thought that my books would sell. After the sales of my book From Islam To Secular Humanism...A Philosophical Journey he felt encouraged. Now he has offered me a contract for three books of the Green Zone Series focusing on mental health. My publisher is particularly excited about these books because they can be included in the ever-expanding Self-Help and Relationship sections of Canadian bookstores.

Over the years I have also realized that Canadian readers prefer to read novels rather than poems and short stories, while most Eastern writers love to create poetry and short stories. So there is a gulf between Eastern and Western literary tastes. The only Eastern writers who have become successful in the Western world are those who write novels in English.

I believe that for Eastern writers and artists to become successful, they need to understand Western social, political and economic realities.

I have also come to the sad realization that all over the world, creative people do not get the respect, acknowledgement and appreciation they deserve. We all know that teachers, nurses, doctors and lawyers earn far more than writers and artists. I was shocked to find out that a writer is paid only 10 of the sales; the other 90 goes to the publisher, distributor and bookseller. That highlights the realities of the business world in the West. Even most Canadian writers and artists have a difficult time earning their livelihood through their art.

Dear Friends !

I am sharing these ideas for those Eastern writers and artists who want to be creatively and financially successful in the Western world. This discussion does not involve Eastern writers and artists who have adopted other professions to earn their livelihood and who receive their emotional and artistic satisfaction just by the act of creating, nor those who are happy being accomplished in their own culture in the East and their ethnic community in the West.

I am sending you Youngo Verma’s interview as an attachment. I look forward to your comments.

Sincerely,

Sohail                                                         January 28, 2003

 

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