An SYP Scotland Chat with Shantanu Duttagupta of Scholastic India

Posted on June 22, 2020 in Scotland

When the world went into lockdown and it was clear that large gatherings weren’t a possibility in the near future, looking at a blank calendar of events felt like a final snip of the isolation scissors. It felt like SYP Scotland were cut off from the events that we are always so proud of, the speakers we learn from and the community that we love to be around. We scratched our heads at our meetings, wondering how ‘events’ might translate, how we could bring the same knowledge and creativity as always, before realising that transferring everything online now meant that we no longer needed to stay close to home. While we might previously have felt like our phones weren’t great company, the expertise and experience of the rest of the world was (literally) at our fingertips. And so, of course, we hopped straight over to India. 

On a bright Saturday morning at the end of May, Shantanu Duttagupta joined our Co-Chair Sonali Misra for an Instagram Live chat. Now a Publisher for Scholastic India, Shantanu has worked in publishing for thirteen years and describes himself first and foremost as ‘a reader’.

‘I found [book publishing] by accident,’ he told Sonali. He explained that he had been working at a tech magazine and felt ‘a little bored’. He applied for the job online, and bonded with the interviewer over his favourite book at the time, Northern Lights by Philip Pullman – one of Scholastic’s own.

Shantanu explained that he had no training in the specifics of the role, and that for him, his interest in books was at the core. For aspiring publishers now, though, he has thirteen years’ worth of experience and advice to give. ‘It’s going to be rough, you’ll be doing it for the love of it’, he warns. Publishing isn’t fancy lunches and entertaining over wine. ‘If you’re signing up for that sort of life, forget about it’. Do everything, he insists, listing the departments he bounced between before becoming a Publisher. Be as open as you can be to as many things as you can, don’t be fixed to your ideas. ‘I don’t have a degree in publishing, in marketing, in English literature… I just like to read’.

That much is clear, and when Sonali later asked Shantanu what he’d been reading in lockdown, a list followed. Asha and the Spirit Bird, a folktale by Jasbinder Bilan,

Japanese series The Honjin Murders by Seishi Yokomizo, re-reading Angela Carter. Moving from The Wartime Scrapbook: From Blitz to Victory to recommending The Virago Book of Witches, Shantanu explained that he ‘doesn’t discriminate by genre’. ‘I’ve been reading pretty eclectically, but there’s some trash as well,’ he laughed. Reminding us of his passion for Scholastic, he also highlighted The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins, mentioning that they’d published ‘two or three million copies of the English edition’.

When Sonali mentioned the organisation’s global presence, Shantanu explained that Scholastic is Scholastic, no matter where. ‘We are a reading company’, he said, explaining that reading for pleasure is at the core of their ethos, and they’ve been pursuing that around the world for 100 years. ‘Reading is inherently – somewhere down the line it’s been forgotten or mistaken – inherently a pleasurable activity’. When Sonali and Shantanu described the universal feeling of clutching a Scholastic Book Fair sheet covered in optimistic ticks, the bridge between Scotland and India felt very small. 

Over their forty minute conversation, Sonali and Shantanu covered everything from social media in children’s publishing, adapting to lockdown, audiobooks, publishing foreign books, to Shantanu’s Lego figurine collection. Shantanu touched on an idea for an anthology based on the idea of ‘BAE’, that person who’s more important to you than anyone else, and encouraged submissions. He teased an ‘exciting picture book’ before quickly changing the subject, and of course, he discussed The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, and preparations to publish such an anticipated book amid extreme circumstances around the world. 

While we’re looking forward to that irreplaceable buzz of a full room at a physical event, the conversation reminded us that having the ability to connect with those previously so inaccessible might be a slight silver lining. 

You can watch the whole conversation on our Instagram @SYPScotland, and follow us on Twitter to make sure you don’t miss our next events.

You can follow Scholastic India @scholasticindia on Instagram and @indiascholastic on Twitter. Submission details for Shantanu’s anthology to follow. 

Keira O’Sullivan