The Tasveer South Asian Litfest, for which I worked as a curator and consultant the last few months, has just started, and you can watch it from anywhere in the world with a free registration. please please come register (and attend) if you can!
Tasveer is physically located in Seattle, so the time on the event posters is all for the West Coast. Dalitness in diaspora is at 9 pm in New York for me tomorrow, so in India it would be 6:30 am on Friday morning. And then, on Saturday afternoon Plural Worlds, Plural Futures will be at 3 p.m. in New York, and in India it will be at 12:30 am, right after midnight into Sunday, when many of you are possibly awake?
As a guest author or panelist I don’t often worry about how many people end up attending an event besides sharing it on my social media, but as a curator for the first time I feel like I should be putting more heart into it. My main curation for this festival was the Dalitness in Diaspora panel, which features Yashica Dutt, Suraj Yengde, Toral Gajarawala and John Boopalan, authors whose works I’ve admired and whom I am really excited to bring together in conversation. It is also an especially momentous panel because conversations on Dalit writing don’t usually happen in the South Asian diaspora. Tasveer may just be the first literary festival doing it, and it’s really super high time that it starts, and not only among the Dalits ourselves. I’ll be really glad if you can come to listen, meet these wonderfully erudite and thoughtful authors, and participate in the conversation tomorrow.
Looking forward to an amazing week of South Asian diasporic literature, intellectualism, identities, and imaginations!
On a different timeline I’d have woken up today at the Marriott Lakeside in Orlando, FL, gone out for a relaxed, sunny swim at the beautiful outdoor pool at the hotel, followed by lunch with some SFF friends and a reading at 2:30 pm at the International Conference for the Fantastic in the Arts. I bought my new swimsuit way back in winter in anticipation for this trip. There would be sunshine and cocktails and many friends to meet and interesting stories and research to learn about and even an alleged alligator or two in the lake… except that, of course, ICFA is not even happening this year.
Today’s post is almost a reversal of the second last post from here. ICFA is cancelled for the year; the Other Futures festival in Amsterdam is postponed to sometime later in the year; my Octavia E. Butler reading group isn’t meeting this month and we have no idea going forward; no official decision has been made about the Nebula Conference in May but there’s a high likeliness that it won’t take place. I was talking to other event organizers in DC and Seattle, and all of that is stalled for now. I’m increasingly dreading that Readercon in July may go the same way.
The last event I did manage to attend before everything went to a standstill was the one-day Caste and Intersectionality conference at Columbia University, which went really well, and was possibly a landmark accomplishment for our community, organized superbly by Benson Neethipudi, Anupama Rao and Priya Pai. My friend the editor Kay T. Holt—also the last person to visit me before disaster timeline took over—accompanied me to the conference, in one of those rare confluences of my SFF world and my Dalit academia/activism world. I was very pleased at how much they enjoyed the conference! If you know me and my work for a while, you probably know that I’m not a big fan of echo chambers. I really want more of my SFF friends to engage with more of my Dalit friends. I want more Dalit writers to try out reading and writing SFF. These are some of the things I said during my turn at the panel, and Holt captured some of them on video. I don’t always upload documentation of my events but at some point I’ll be more regulated about it (or make enough money to hire an assistant, which is The Dream).
That was also the last day I went outdoors, so it’s been almost two weeks. I’m not a terribly outdoorsy person even on regular days but spring is when I start venturing outdoors after spending most of winter at home, so it has started making me a little frazzled. My immune system isn’t strong so I imagine I’m one of the more at-risk people for COVID–19, and I really don’t want to contract an incurable disease alone in a foreign country with no health insurance, especially with my freelance editing income taking a hit as well. I’ve ended up cooking more in these two weeks than I have in any other two weeks of my life. My cooking is not inedible but also not superlative. For the first time I’m wishing I did make more effort in the past. To be honest, once this pandemic passes, I’ll again be perfectly content following my other priorities.
The silver lining of this whole global pandemic social-distancing wave though? It has brought more people into the kind of lifestyle and social space I have inhabited for years. In these two weeks I’ve also had more Skype/Zoom/Google Meet/Facebook Live conversations with people, one-on-one and in groups, than ever before in my life, including friends who have never been into these things before. I did a really fun interview on Skype with Dhanya Addanki from DC, who’s collecting Dalit oral histories for a project by South Asian American Digital Archive. I attended a couple of sessions of a Google Meet book club being organized M-W-F by Arunava Sinha from Delhi. Next Monday I’m going to read at the book club, for a change not from my own work but from a book I love. (Which one? You’ll have to find out by attending.)
There’s also an amazingly generous array of free or discounted materials being offered by all of the arts community for this time of crisis. As for my own work, Serial Box is still offering the audio edition of His Footsteps, Through Darkness and Light, narrated by Vikas Adam, for free download. And if you enjoyed that story and want to read some of the older stories in that universe, Juggernaut Books in India has just made many of their titles free, which includes the very first story Other People (not available anywhere else!) and the second story This Sullied Earth, Our Home. Both of these offers also include excellent works by multiple other authors, so go fill up your libraries! (For instance, if you’re into South Asian SFF, do pick up the works of Sami Ahmad Khan, Tashan Mehta, Shweta Taneja, Andaleeb Wajid and Salik Shah from Juggernaut Books, besides mine. If you’re into Dalit literature, don’t miss Meena Kandasamy.)
Finally, though I don’t feel particularly driven to this right now, the Nebula Award nominations end on March 31, and if you’re a SFWA member you can cast a vote for His Footsteps, Through Darkness and Light in the Novelette category. The Locus Award ballotis also currently open for all SFF fans, and once again you can vote for His Footsteps and also your other favourite works from 2019. This is possibly a semblance of normalcy in a world gone oddly astray. As always, don’t forget to wash your hands for 20 seconds after you’re done, and see you and yours safely on the other side. <3
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).
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. :)
So I have let the venerable Jim Freund of the SFF radio show Hour of the Wolf—99.5 WBAI FM if you’re in New York; Facebook Live from this group if you’re anywhere else—rope me in for yet another episode, and we go live tomorrow night from 1 am to 3 am EST. Calculate it in your local time zone and tune in on Facebook, if you want. Comments on the Facebook Live are often answered on the show, so do drop by to say hello!
I love Hour of the Wolf and had written about it last year, so it’s always fun to be back. It’s mostly a freeform chat, but this time I’ll try to talk about international SFF cultures, with a large focus on India (of course!) but also from my recent travel experiences in China, Germany and France, and upcoming in Amsterdam. Expect an announcement if you’re listening as well! :D
And now some other places you can find me in the next couple of months:
25 February to 23 June at the Center for Fiction, New York!
All That You Touch, which is a once-a-month Octavia E. Butler Reading Group at the Center for Fiction. There are still a few spots open, and we may do birthday cake for Octavia at the final session, because why not.
7 March at Columbia University, New York!
Rethinking Caste Intersectionality Conference, at which I will be part of a panel called New Dalit Writing. Fellow panelists and exact time TBA, but come for the entire conference, if you can.
Other Futures Festival, where I have a presentation on 11 April, exact time TBA. Come for the entire festival if you can, it’s free to attend and will feature a fun group of international futurists, artists and storytellers. I’ve never been to Amsterdam before, so travel tips are also welcome!
The hoary winds of winter are here, as are the reminders for all the wonderful and numerous works great science fiction and fantasy that were published round the year. As always, I would love for you to read my two most recent stories, always mainlyfor your entertainment and also if you’re voting for the awards.
As always, especially if you’re a new and/or international SFF reader (hi, my friends from India!), I would love for you to consider voting for the awards if you’re able. You don’t need to have an expert’s opinion on all the award categories; not all voters do, and the awards benefit from the opinions of a wider range of readers. The Locus Awards which open for voting in February are a free online vote, and the Hugo Awards can be voted for online with the purchase of a Supporting Membership to the award year’s WorldCon (which is different every year, but for 2020 it’s ConZealand). I’ll be really glad if you take some time to familiarize yourself with these processes and participate in them, because your presence in the fandom makes me feel more visible. Voting for my works is absolutely optional to this. If you’d like a handy and frankly awesome list of the books by other authors that I enjoyed this year, don’t forget to scroll down to the bottom of this post.
Eligible for: Novelette at the Hugo, Nebula, Locus Awards; Short story (no separate novelette category) for the World Fantasy Awards
If you’ve only ever read one story by me, you’ve probably read “His Footsteps, Through Darkness and Light.” I received my first ever royalty statement for this novelette! A professor in Pakistan is teaching it in her graduate class! Someone very kindly put it on the Nebula suggested reading list months before I even wrote an award eligibility post! More cool news that’s currently TBA but soon, very soon!
And, uh, look, we all know that drawing isn’t my strongest suit but I love these boys, ok? Both Binu and Shehzad were characters in my other stories before. They’ve come a long way, grown up in ways I didn’t expect and taken me by surprise.