Mehr Husain, ZUKA Books Shortlisted For 2023 IPA Prix Voltaire Award

Mehr Husain, ZUKA Books Shortlisted For 2023 IPA Prix Voltaire Award
LAHORE: ZUKA BOOKS, Pakistan’s first independent publishing platform is honoured to share that it has been shortlisted for the prestigious International Publishers Association (IPA) Prix Voltaire Award for exemplary courage in upholding the Freedom to Publish and enabling others to exercise their freedom of expression. ZUKA BOOKS publisher Mehr Husain has been recognised for her work across the fields of journalism, writing and publishing.

The five-strong shortlist of the IPA Prix Voltaire Award was announced featuring Egypt, Iraq, Ireland, Pakistan and Turkey. This is the first time a Pakistani female publisher has been nominated and shortlisted for the award. The announcement was made at the London Book Fair on Thursday (April 20). The winning laureate will be announced at the World Expression Forum (WEXFO) in Lillehammer, Norway on May 21.

Founded by journalist Mehr Husain, ZUKA BOOKS was set up in the wake of Pakistan banning Indian books following a breakdown due to Pulwama incident. Mehr is “a sole voice that lobbied the government to help local authors… aiming to create a cultural disruption by speaking up for the freedom of creative expression, gender equality and inclusive publishing”, the IPA said.

ZUKA BOOKS has since fought for authors' rights, sustainable printing practices and advocated for creative freedom and freedom of expression. Mehr was responsible for raising awareness of the lack of creative expression and publishing new literature, speaking out about the appalling treatment of authors, and revealing the impractical publishing and production processes, all of which have stunted the Pakistani publishing industry and reduced it to a wasteland.

Since then, Mehr has written and published Pakistan’s first cultural history through the lens of fashion titled ‘Pakistan: A Fashionable History’ (2020) designed by Minhaj Ahmed Rafi and co-authored with Saad Sarfaraz; the first Pakistani non fiction book of poetry on mental illness ‘The Burning Champa’ (2021) by Zahra Hameed, edited by Zeb Burki and Nadia Jamil; the first Pakistani graphic novel ‘Grey Matter’ (2021) by Sabdezar Irfan exploring emotional breakdown in women; and Sonya Rehman’s ‘Wolfie’ (2022) setting a new standard in children’s literature and advocating for children and animal rights. It also co-published ‘Letters To My Inner Child’ (2021) in collaboration with The Desi Collective.

Its most recent publication, commemorating 75 years of Partition, is the Urdu translation of the award winning publisher Naveen Kishore’s book of poetry titled ‘Uljha Gham’ (2022), translated by Hammad Rind and designed by Minhaj Ahmed Rafi. This project was in partnership with Sabin Muzaffar, founder of Ananke Mag.

According to the IPA, Mehr has published books which have "generated a national dialogue focusing on female inclusivity and empowerment". In 2021, ZUKA BOOKS co-organised the Ananke Women In Literature Festival, the first-of-its-kind digital litfest with participants from all over the globe, highlighting female voices associated with the written word in South Asia and MENA.

“Deeply honoured to be shortlisted and that too alongside such incredible heroes. The written word has immense potential to change Pakistan and it is an ongoing fight. Those who fear it, need it most. I encourage more females to tell their stories, I hope more writers and publishers in Pakistan feel hopeful and I look forward to when we will have a healthy industry where people will no longer be crippled by fear when it comes to telling their stories,” said Mehr.

ZUKA BOOKS was previously a shortlisted nominee for the UN Women Asia Pacific Award in 2021. Art director Minhaj Ahmed Rafi was the recipient of an Honourable Mention at the ADA Awards in 2021. Zahra Hameed and her book of poetry was part of a campaign by Generation supporting literature and advocating for the need to normalise conversations around mental illness in women.

ZUKA BOOKS is a member of the UN Publishers Compact and part of ZUKA Accessories, a social enterprise connecting communities and advocating for sustainability. It also set up ZUKAST, Pakistan’s first podcast on sustainability, and a books-related podcast too.