Lynn Gaspard, publisher
The pioneering publisher Saqi Books is entering a new phase with the launch of a new, non-fiction trade imprint, The Westbourne Press. The announcement of the launch came from publisher Lynn Gaspard, whose father André Gaspard cofounded Saqi - initially as a bookshop - in Westbourne Grove, West London, at the end of the 1970s.
Saqi established its publishing business in 1983, and in 1990 founded the sister Dar al-Saqi publishing house in Beirut. The Telegram imprint was set up in 2005 to publish new international fiction. Lynn Gaspard has been publisher of Saqi Books and Telegram since André moved to Beirut in 2009; she is now also publisher of The Westbourne Press.
Lynn says she is “absolutely thrilled” by the launch of the imprint. “The Westbourne Press is a list I wanted to establish as a by-word for topical and engaging writing. Our titles will challenge our worldview and spark debate, whether it is about gender politics, women in the Arab world, or race and class relations in the UK.”
Lynn notes that when André Gaspard and the late Mai Ghoussoub, émigrés from Lebanon, first set up Saqi Books “there weren’t many others publishing Arab fiction and non-fiction. I want to replicate their success now by launching a non-fiction list that is equally daring and exciting.”
The Westbourne Press will publish four to eight quality general trade books a year, ranging from current affairs and sexual politics to memoir and history. Its debut title, due to be published in June, is Sex and Punishment: Four Thousand Years of Judging Desire by American writer, lawyer and journalist Eric Berkowitz.
The book examines the attempts of the authorities, from the time of the Sumerians, through the Victorians and onwards, to control and regulate what Plato referred to as the “raging frenzy” of the sex drive. “At any given point in time, some forms of sex were condoned while others were punished mercilessly,” notes the preview of the book. “Jump forward or backward a century or two – and often far less than that – and the harmless fun of one time period becomes the gravest crime in another.”
The book has a cast of characters “as varied as the forms taken by human desire itself: royal mistresses, gay charioteers, medieval transvestites, lonely goat-lovers, prostitutes of all stripes, London rent boys. Each of them had forbidden sex, and each was judged – and justice, as Berkowitz shows, rarely had much to do with it.” Christopher Ryan, author of Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality, says: "Sex and Punishment is built on solid scholarship and spiced with plenty of sordid detail that will make you the hit of any cocktail party."
The Westbourne Press’s second 2012 title will be Superman is an Arab: On God, Marriage, Macho Men and Other Disastrous Inventions by the Lebanese poet, journalist and translator. Joumana Haddad. Haddad’s earlier book I Killed Scheherazade: Confessions of an Angry Arab Woman was published by Saqi in 2010 and aroused much interest and comment.
The new imprint’s 2013 titles will include The Public Woman by prominent British feminist, journalist, novelist and human rights activist Joan Smith.
Lynn says Westbourne is open to submissions by authors, and that “we accept unsolicited manuscripts.” Following the signing of its first three titles, The Westbourne Press is talking other prospective authors. While the initial three titles are topical, political books, “we are open to all subjects, from the serious and urgent, to the lighthearted, entertaining and quirky, as long as the book is well-written for a general audience, and is engaging.”
The new imprint is open to signing up books from any language. “Our sister company in Beirut might be interested in translating and publishing a few of our titles. Joumana Haddad is also one of their authors for instance.”