Part 1: Anchoring Public Texts at IIHS

I recently began working at the Indian Institute for Human Settlements, Bangalore. As a part of my role there, I organise Public Texts events every month. This is the first part of a series of blogposts on my experience running these events.

When I first heard of Public Texts, Rekha, my team lead, was informing us that our next session would be with Prof. AR Venkatachalapathy. Public Texts is a series of conversations with authors, using their works as a starting point for discussion.

Could I think of a moderator? Sure. Could I write up content for a newsletter? Sure. Could I do outreach? Sure. That’s how it began.

Chalapathy’s session titled All Characters are Tamil was a conversation about his book, Tamil Characters (Pan Macmillan, 2018). The moderator, Ranjani Krishnakumar (full disclosure: is my friend) discussed Tamil people, politics and culture with Chalapathy.

Prof. AR Venkatachalapathy in conversation with Ranjani Krishnakumar

These sessions are run by two teams within IIHS. The Library team and my team, the editorial function called the Word Lab. For the Chalapathy one, my role was doing everything that needed doing. I coordinated with the Library team to make sure things were on track. I wrote content for the poster, newsletter and social media. I made a social media plan, got an event page made and got the author and moderator to send us videos inviting folks to the event. I made sure the newsletter went out to specific groups of people instead of everyone IIHS knows. You get the idea.

Leading up to the event I had butterflies in my stomach. During the event, I was constantly making notes for the debrief. Though not regular, Public Texts had been around for at least five years from what I could see online. It had hosted big names like Harsh Mander and Shashi Deshpande. But these things were of no consequence to me then because I was so in the weeds with organising it.  

Honestly, the event was a bigger success than I had imagined. The room was full, that’s 60 people on a Thursday evening. The book stall Pan Macmillan setup sold 25 copies. That’s 25 copies of an academic book in one sitting. I think that’s when I got bitten by the Public Texts bug. Or maybe later, when I had to think on my feet about the author’s botched up dinner plan. I was mighty proud of myself that day. I even had that rare sense of ‘I got this’!

That’s why when the Annual Work Plan for FY19-20 was being made, I took on organising Public Texts events monthly. Planning these events and improving them month-on-month really gives me a high! Right after stint one, I made a process document with a checklist on all the things to do for these events. I started populating a pipeline of authors and moderators to consider for upcoming sessions. I began writing to publishers for connects. Rekha and I met one of them over breakfast. I think this is as exciting as it is because Rekha gives me a free rein of things. I guess I have also put in the interest, commitment and hardwork needed to be given the reins.

I plan to write a post every month about my experience programming these events. If you have been to a Public Texts event let me know what you thought of it and how it can be improved.

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