It was probably apt that I’d just come out of BAM Rose Theatre on after having watched Parasite with a group of friends. We were waiting outside a restaurant to be seated, around the corner from Center for Fiction where I start moderating an Octavia E. Butler reading group next week. (Luminescent Threads was two years ago. Everything comes a full circle.) The evening chill was beginning to seep into my bones which don’t seem to have acclimatized to the freezing winters even after five years of living in the US. Obviously, I ignored the first call from an unknown number in California because nobody ever calls me from California (or much anywhere else, to be honest).
Afterwards, after I’d finished mumbling incoherently and weeping a little and pretending I had a cold and only half-registering what I was being told, I persuaded my long-suffering editor Marco Palmieri to pose for this photo with me because it’s kind of super that His Footsteps, Through Darkness and Light has been nominated for the Nebula Award in the Novelette category.
The Nebula is the award at which I believed I would never have a chance. Unlike the Hugo, this award is voted exclusively by author peers from what is largely the North American SFF industry. The requirements for an SFWA membership are nearly impossible to meet for an author who doesn’t publish in one of the developed-nation economies. And I have always believed that most my readers were not located in the US and not themselves writers. Inside my head I do write first for readers in India, often specifically for the younger person I had been and the stories I’d have loved to read but didn’t find. I write often about unpopular topics like Dalit love and Dalit hope and Dalit anger, and always, always against the majoritarian drive of Hindutva. I didn’t think stories like that would get nominated for the Nebula Award, and I’d taught myself to be ok with that.
This is also the first of my stories to ever get shortlisted for anything! (I’d won a poetry award back in India in 2011; about three people remember that now, and sometimes that doesn’t include my mom.) I’ve been writing for a long time but I don’t actually have a lot of published fiction. I also “write” a lot of other things for a living, mainly nonfiction, editorial notes, and long imploring emails to freelance clients saying please my landlady wants rent. It took me almost two years and a lot of scolding from Marco to finish writing His Footsteps, Through Darkness and Light. The audio edition of the novelette came out from Serial Box on Valentine’s Day, narrated by Vikas Adam, who also narrates for the likes of Salman Rushdie and Aravind Adiga, and wins audiobook narrator awards. I’m nursing a slow-grinding heartbreak that I’m determined not to write about (but hey). And now we have a Nebula Award nomination. Life is… bittersweet and unpredictable, I guess?
Tonight I am also reading through the Nebula ballot and cheering for all these really quite unbelievable authors whose works I’ve had the honour and delight to read in 2019, stories that changed hearts and lives and deserve all the accolades they get. I am thinking of some of my favourite stories that did not get into this ballot, and that there are other award ballots still open to be voted (both the Hugo and the Locus awards are currently accepting votes), and of the heart and integrity of all the authors who will write the next story even when their last one didn’t make it to awards or shortlists. We are all that author in turn; and here’s to another year–and every single one–when I cannot be happier than to champion the works all my friends, teachers and heroes.
I come late to these words because I switched off my social media just before noon yesterday. I’d spent much of the night before at the WBAI radio station for Hour of the Wolf, a commitment I had made weeks ago, getting to bed only around 5 a.m., and was back in Brooklyn for another meeting around noon. I spent much of the freezing day outdoors, and bleary-eyed and jittery on coffee and spoonfuls of sugar. I did a few hours of no-Internet reading at the Center for Fiction, then grocery shopping in Murray Hill for cooking I must do tomorrow. I chatted with the Bangladeshi uncle at the store about things we miss from back home. By evening I was worn fairly thin, and took a little nap on a couch at the Erewhon Books office, which Liz, Sarah and Martin were kind enough to allow, before the beginning of the Erewhon Literary Salon.
If budgets permit (ah well) I would love to be present at the Nebula Awards ceremony in Los Angeles in May, if only to lose to Gemma, Siobhan, Sarah, Cat or Caroline, each of whom is an author I have in turn loved, enjoyed and learned from, and none I would hesitate for a second to recommend before me. It’s a momentous occasion to be represented on this ballot alongside so many women, queer and/or non-white SFF authors, so many fellow Clarion and Clarion West alumni, among them two other fellow Indians.
I should wind up this post before it gets too long. I miss rambling in the first person, and the time from a decade ago when this blog used to be a more social space, back in the days of a slower Internet. I miss many things and people from a decade ago, miss feeling safer in my country, miss being so naïvely certain about love and life and what the future may bring, but learning to be a better storyteller has been a largely rewarding journey. Thank you for all of your gentleness, companionship and patience with me. Thank you for every tweet, message, email and text in the past few hours, all of which I cherish more than I might be sufficiently able to express (though I’m going to try). As a reclusive stranger five years ago with a sore heart and social anxiety I had come to disappear in this country where so many immigrants stop being people, and have instead found myself shored up in your love. No words would quite be enough to express how I feel about that. :)