Today #MeetThe2020s asks: How has your background affected your writing?
Wow. How hasn’t it?
In the tweet below you’ll find the character-limited short story.
Here on the blog I can indulge in the long story. Not too long, I promise. The truth is, I knew I wanted to be a writer since the age of nine. I remember the poem I scrawled on the back of my bedroom door under a poster, not realizing that Sharpie’s were permanent. (Whoops.) I felt so proud of that poem. It had lived for weeks in the pages of my journal and it took a lot of courage to put it out in the wild, albeit out of sight. It was enough that I knew it was there.
I always journaled and wrote poetry and short stories. Making books out of old cereal boxes and envelopes was my favourite thing to do on a lazy summer day. When I was younger, the characters in my stories were often animals. When I grew up and wanted to write about people, I was confronted with a problem. Who should I write as? I didn’t really occur to me to write as a first-generation East Indian person, a daughter of the diaspora, because in my world those stories didn’t exist, which made me think: a) that meant stories about people like me didn’t matter, and b) if I wrote about a girl like me no one would care to read it.
It wasn’t until CEGEP that I took a Women in Literature course and connected to other authors of colour (Toni Morrison, belle hooks, Audre Lorde). But it wasn’t until I was 20-years-old that I felt myself truly reflected in literature as a first-generation South Asian woman. “Interpreter of Maladies” by Jhumpa Lahiri changed everything for me. I still remember the nuances of South Asian life in those stories, some of which brought tears to my eye. That was when I started believing that I could write stories about people like me and there might be someone somewhere who would not only listen, but might also have a need for them, as I did back then and always will.
Representation matters, and this is why.
Back to the question of background. In research we call it positionality, how you’re situated in relation to your work. My background has had a massive influence on the themes I explore in my writing, growing up as an anglophone, person of colour in Quebec. Immigrant experiences, identity, belonging, discrimination, with a particular focus on the lives of women of South Asian descent, and the social and cultural pressures they face, as well as topics that might be considered taboo in South Asian communities, such as mental health.
It was through reading that I saw there could be a place for me in books. And it is through writing that I carve out a place for myself.
Harper Canada: http://bit.ly/2rGoHcm