If celebrated British novelist, Jane Austen was alive, she would probably think there is a spelling mistake in the word Austin. Better still, she might have started looking for the American entrepreneur and father of Texas, Stephen F. Austin, to thank him for taking her name as his last name. If she had met him (they lived in the same time period in the 19th century), they would probably reason about the ‘i’ instead of an ‘e’ in the spelling… maybe they would have liked each other… and then maybe she would record this conversation in a novel.
It was all the maybes about the style of Jane Austen and her novels that inspired Laleen Sukhera, a British Pakistani writer and media professional and the founder of the Jane Austen Society of Pakistan, to put together and edit Austenistan. Austenistan is a collection of short stories set in modern day Pakistan written by 7 writers from South Asia who were inspired by Jane Austen. It was published in late 2017 and is now available on Amazon and Kindle.
AADI (Austin Arts and Drama Initiative), a platform that promotes arts, drama and now literature from South Asia hosted an event called “Leather and Lace” to celebrate the book at Brentwood Social House on 1601 W Koenig Lane in Austin.
They invited Nida Elley, one of the Pakistani authors published in the book and an Austin resident, for a reading, discussion and book signing. They also reached out to Professor Janine Barchas, a renowned Jane Austen scholar at UT, and Professor Carol Mackay, who co-organized the 26th Annual Conference of British Women Writers of 18th and 19th Century to initiate the discussion about how modern day women all over the world, and not just Pakistan, are still inspired by Jane Austen.
Sitting on a long table with three tiered platters of scones and tea sandwiches, all dressed up in lace (a take from Jane Austen novels) and leather (a take from Austin), twenty-two intellectual women gathered together for discussion. Once the clatter of service and exchange of pleasantries was over, the women had matters to discuss.
Nida Elley read excerpts of her story, Begum Saira Returns. The story, inspired by a lesser-known novella, revolves around a young widow who returns to social life after mourning the loss of her beloved husband. She is well aware of her attractive personality and desires to once again be in the communion of marriage.
Amid girlish laughter and some acted out coquettishness, the ladies of Austin talked about how Jane Austen characters are not just for women but also for men. “This gathering was Jane Austen's idea of good company, namely "the company of clever, well-informed people, who have a great deal of conversation; that is what I call good company,” Professor Barchas summed it up well.
Nida Elley talked about her writing experience. She is a passionate writer and a teacher at St. Edwards University. She agreed that signing up on email lists of Book People, Barnes and Noble, Writers League of Texas or any other group that one likes is a good idea because it removes the isolation aspect of what you do and ties you up with people who have similar interests. It also gives you fresh ideas about what you are working on.
Others suggested being a member of the Blanton Museum or even email lists at UT. Professor Carol McKay shared the CWGS newsletter from UT Austin and suggested that the group join their email list by sending an email to CWGS@austin.utexas.edu. The professors emphasized that most talks at UT are public events and are open to the Austin community at large.
AADI is especially thankful to the South Asia Institute for supporting the Austenistan event and to the Austin Chronicle for listing the event online and in print.