Skip to content

Archive for

Drunk On Ink Q and A with Aruni Kashyap and ‘There Is No Good Time For Bad News’, poetry collection

Drunk on Ink is a blast interview series by Soniah Kamal author of  the novel Unmarriageable, a parallel retelling of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and set in contemporary Pakistan

Aruni Kashyap writes fiction, poetry, essays, tweets, Facebook posts, screeds, in Assamese and English. He is an Assistant Professor of Creative Writing and English at the University of Georgia and lives in Athens, Georgia.

About There Is No Good Time For Bad News 

There Is No Good Time For Bad News is a collection of poems that depict, through oral histories, narratives of survivors, on what it means to live under the duress of an authoritarian state. Poems that attempt to show the possibilities of storytelling when it intersects with the discourse of human rights and justice. Poems that draw heavily from oral history, folktales to critique the modern state’s abuses of power.

SONIAH KAMAL: First author/book you read/fell in love with? Why?

ARUNI KASHYAP: Jun Beli, Tora Aru Onyanyo by Dipti Dutta Das: a feminist auto fictional work set in a small town called Golaghat in the state of Assam in India. It is a town I love and know very well. Also, it depicted a world before my state Assam burst into an insurgency against Indian rule, seeking independence. My childhood was all about gun battles and bomb blasts because I grew up during an armed insurgency. This novel portrayed my homeland before the insurgency, providing a clear picture of what it meant to live peacefully in the sixties and seventies. It is also the first novel I ever read in my life.

To unwind: chai, coffee, water, wine?

Always, chai. With milk, cardamom, and a hint of ginger.

A novel, short story, poem, essay, anything you believe should be mandatory reading? Why?

The Book of Night Women by Marlon James. First, it is a riveting work of fiction. It is so damn well written, and I wish I could write like that. Reading the book makes me wonder what the hell I am doing because I can never write at that superior level. But the book is also radical in terms of language. Can we write in an English that defies conventions? Can we write in an English that is derived from the spoken? It questions what kind of language the modern Anglophone publishing industry privileges repeatedly and I find that especially empowering and inspiring. It is also radical for many other reasons, and if I elaborate, it will become a 5000 words essay. So, I will stop. But everyone should read it!

Any classic you wished you’d pushed through in your teens?

I wish I had read The Old Man and the Sea more diligently. I read it in my teens but didn’t enjoy it. And I didn’t read it for many years but reading it in my twenties was a wonderful experience.

Favorite quote from your book 

Oh, dear!

“Definitions have always belonged to the definers.”

Favorite book to film? And why?

The Namesake. Mira Nair managed to transform the novel and make it much more invigorating. Amazing music. Incredible acting by Tabu and Irfan Khan. I have watched the movie many times, but I have read the novel only a couple of times. It is one of those rare instances when you like the movie more than the book.

Favorite Indie Book Store/s?

I love Avid Book Store in Athens, Georgia. They are close to where I live, have a great staff, and hosted one of my readings! How can I not love them?

The one think you wish you’d known about the writing life?

Many things! I wish I had a mentor. I never had one to tell me, “Aruni, you should do this.” But above all, I wish I had known that success means what it means to me now in the post-2020 world. I think that I am successful as an author, and I feel very fortunate about that. I know I worked and but also lucked out. I do want the big book deal, and I do want to be a bestselling author, and of course, I want to speak to massive crowds in large auditoriums, but I used to think that is the only kind of success, but after 2020, I have realized that success is all about the ability to practice my art with the least hindrance. I am immensely grateful I can do that.

Does writing/publishing/marketing get any easier with each story/novel published?

I think the writing gets easier as we write more: it is like Hindustani or Carnatic classical music; the more you write, the easier it becomes. But publishing and marketing are things that are not in our control. If I had an influential literary family, I would open my own press and publish myself. But I have chosen this, so I complain a lot to my friends and still submit and still get upset occasionally with rejections. I don’t get affected by negative reviews because I am an academic and know literary history well and have seen how artistically audacious books are reevaluated after a few years. I hope to continue writing such books.

Dog, Cat, Or?

I have had dogs and cats.

Boruani 🙂

Ideal vacation?

Anywhere with loved ones, but with a thriller and lots of good food.

Favorite book cover?

After it was adapted as a movie, the new paperback edition of Beloved was published I think – the woman with that black gown, the black hat. It is a stunning cover, but I think you can appreciate that cover more if you had already read the novel and have not watched the movie.

Favorite song?

“Bimurto Mur Nixati” by Bhupen Hazarika is a song about lovemaking, but it is so suggestive and euphemistic that it can be a song about anything else. I know it by heart.

Favorite painting/ work of art?

Las Meninas, by Diego Velázquez

Any Lit Festival anecdote you want a share? A great meeting with a fan? An epiphany?

Writing in Assamese regularly has given me a huge set of readers who have also become friends and part of my life. Some of them have been with me through thick and thin. Sometimes we write serialized novels in Assamese, and my first Assamese novel was serialized in a magazine called Satsori. Once, a reader fell in love with Rajeev, who is also the protagonist of the novel. He comes to Minnesota, studies English, falls in love, and often wonders about his home in Assam. He is critical of US foreign policy (as one should be!), racism (of course!), etc., and airs those views usually in between conversations. This reader fell in love with Rajeev and would share her responses with me often but often thought I am Rajeev: “When you do this in the novel in that episode, I thought.” I would correct her, “No, that’s not me, that’s the character.” But one day, she stopped calling and left a comment on my social media that she doesn’t like Rajeev anymore because he “sleeps around”. “This novel reveals what kind of a character-less person you are,” she said. I have laughed about it for all these years.

Do you have a favorite film, or two, or three?

My god, the list is so long, but I like Hazaroan Khahishein Aisi. I also love watching commercial Indian movies that don’t make much sense. My favorite movie is Mr. India: about a man who finds a device that makes him invisible when he wears it. He uses this newfound superpower to fight corruption in India.

What is your favorite Austen novel and film adaptation? Why?

I am not an Austen fan, but I enjoyed reading Pride and Prejudice and Emma. I read them because they were was in my English literature course. It was compulsory reading. I have not watched any of the adaptations.

Recommend a Small Press and/or Literary Journal?

A small press I admire is Hub City Press in South Carolina. I admire many small presses.

Last impulse book buy and why?

An hour ago! My house is full of books that are waiting to be read. When will I have the time to read them all!

Soniah Kamal is an award winning novelist, essayist and public speaker.  Soniah’s novel Unmarriageable is a Financial Times Readers’ Best Book of 2019, a People’s Magazine Pick, a Library Reads Pick, an NPR Code Switch Summer Read Pick, a 2019 Book All Georgians Should Read, a 2020 Georgia Author of the Year for Literary Fiction nominee and more. Her novel An Isolated Incident was shortlisted for the Townsend Prize for Fiction and the KLF French Fiction Prize. Soniah’s TEDx talk is about second chances and she has delivered numerous keynotes addreses. ‘We are the Ink’, her address at a U.S. Citizenship Oath Ceremony, talks about immigrants and the real American Dreams, her keynote at the Jane Austen Festival is about universality across time and cultures and she’s given keynotes at Writers Conferences. Soniah’s work has appeared in critically acclaimed anthologies and publications including The New York Times, The Guardian, The Georgia Review, The Bitter Southerner, Catapult, The Normal School, Apartment Therapy and more.  www.soniahkamal.com
She’s on twitter and instagram @soniahkamal

More Drunk on Ink Interviews:

Gayatri Sethi, Unbelonging, a memoir

Jenny Bhatt, Each of Us Killers, short story collection

Nancy Johnson, The Kindest Lie, a novel

Yousra Imran, Hijab and Red Lipstick, a novel

Sejal Shah, This Is One Way To Dance, memoir

Madi Sinha: The White Coat Diaries, a novel

Chika Unigwe, Better Late Than Never, short story collection

Anju Gattani: Duty and Desire, a novel

Christopher Swann: Never Turn Back, a novel

Zetta Elliott: A Place Inside of Me, middle grade fiction

Veena Rao: Purple Lotus, a novel

Tara Coyt: Real Talk About LGBTQIAP, non fiction

Maureen Joyce Connelly: Little Lovely Things, a novel

Molly Greeley: The Heiress, historical fiction novel

Donna Miscolta: Living Color, short stories

Mike Chen: Here and Now and Then, a novel

Ruth Franklin: Shirley Jackson A Rather Haunted Life, biography

Colleen Oakley: Before I Go, a novel

Emily Midorikawa: A Secret Sisterhood: The literary friendships of Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, George Eliot, and Virginia Woolf, biography

Shabnam Samuel: A Fractured Life, memoir

Elise Hooper: The Other Alcott, a novel

Anne Boyd Rioux: Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy: The Story of Little Women and Why It Still Matters, non fiction

Devoney Looser: The Making of Jane Austen, non fiction

Kristen Miller ZohnThe Currency of Taste- Gibbons Georgian Silver, coffee table book

Vanessa HuaA River of Stars, novel

Chaitli SenThe Pathless Sky, novel

Sonya HuberPain Woman Take Your Keys, memoir

Kathy Wilson FlorenceThree of Cups, a novel

Sara Luce LookCharis Books and More, independent book store

S J SinduMarriage of a Thousand Lies, a novel

Rosalie Morales KearnsKingdom of Men, a novel

Saadia FaruqiMeet Yasmin, children’s literature

Rene DenfeldThe Child Finder, a novel

Jamie BrennerThe Husband Hour, a novel

Sara MarchantThe Driveway has Two Sides, memoir

Kirsten Imani KasaiThe House of Erzulie, a novel

Thrity UmrigarThe Secrets Between Us, novel

John Kessel, Pride and Prometheus, novel

Lisa Romeo, Starting with Goodbye: A Daughter’s Memoir of Love After Loss

Rachel May, An American Quilt: Unfolding a Story of Family and Slavery

Rebecca Entel, Fingerprints of Previous Owners, novel

Jamie Sumner, Unbound: Finding from Unrealistic Expectations of Motherhood

Falguni Kothari, My Last Love Story, novel

Tanaz BathenaA Girl Like That, YA novel

 

Drunk on Ink Q & A with Gayatri Sethi and ‘Unbelonging’, a memoir

Drunk on Ink is a blast interview series by Soniah Kamal author of  the novel Unmarriageable, a parallel retelling of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and set in contemporary Pakistan

Born in Tanzania and raised in Botswana, Gayatri Sethi is of South Asian Punjabi descent, multilingual, and polycultural. She reflects on these lifelong experiences of identity, immigration, and belonging in her debut book titled Unbelonging. When she is not homeschooling or recommending readings as Desi Book Aunty, she travels the globe with her students and family. She is also a co-founder of the Desi KidLit Community and Summit. 

About Unbelonging  

Unbelonging (Mango and Marigold Press) explores the migrant narratives of Desi coming of age in multiracial Africa and America. It is a compilation of verse-like reflections about identity, inter-cultural anti-Blackness, social justice, and the South Asian diaspora for young adult readers.  

SONIAH KAMAL: First author/book you read/fell in love with? Why?

GAYATRI SETHI: Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe. I read it as a teen undergoing a very colonial education in Botswana in the 1980’s. This book revealed aspects of Sub-Saharan history and life that I was desperate to understand.

To unwind: chai, coffee, water, wine?

Sparking water with a hint of lime at the end of long days refreshes me. I begin the day with a bottomless cup of strong coffee with no sugar. As the day wears on, I stay with my mantra: hydration is happiness. I have a complicated relationship to chai, and although I adore tisane and herbal teas, I prefer to enjoy them in company.

A novel, short story, poem, essay, anything you believe should be mandatory reading? Why?

Audre Lorde’s (1981) “The Uses of Anger: Women Responding to Racism” is vital reading for me. I revisit it especially on difficult days. I journal about segments of the insights often. It is the kind of bibliotherapy or medicine that I most need. I used to assign it on syllabi when I taught women’s studies courses. The light bulb moments in each rereading are priceless.

Any classic you wished you’d pushed through in your teens?

None. I read too many so-called classics both in secondary school O’levels/ A’levels and at a college that still prides itself on a “Great Books” core curriculum. Frankly, I wish I had not pushed through so much western philosophy and classics. They stole the joy of reading from me.

Favorite quote from your book 

Mantra for karma reckoning  

Internalized oppression is real.

Internalized oppression is really real.

Internalized oppression is really oppressive.

Favorite book to film? And why?

I strongly prefer books to film. I have yet to meet a film version that does justice to the book version.

Favorite Indie Book Store/s?

Firestorm Cooperative in Asheville is a feminist bookstore where one of my former students is a co-owner. They are deeply committed to abolition and justice, and have been very supportive of my book curating work as desi book aunty. Many of my recommendations are offered by them at a discount. 

The one thing you wish you’d known about the writing life?

I wish I had known with conviction how similar publishing is to academia. I suspected as much, but I am now learning how the publishing industrial complex is plagued by the kinds of enduring injustices that caused me to exit academia.

Does writing/publishing/marketing get any easier with each story/novel published?

I am a debut author at age 49. I am not sure any part of this is easy or gets easier. Perhaps, by nurturing supportive and reciprocal connections with like minded writers, we might brave this writing life together? 

Dog, Cat, Or? 

I am allergic to most pets. We do not have a pet yet, much to the chagrin of beti who was on a daily plea to adopt a ferret when the lockdown began last spring. She is currently trying to convince me that puppy adoption is a good idea. I get puppy pictures texted to me almost daily as part of this campaign.

 Ideal vacation?

I dream of a month in Zanzibar, sipping coffee in a beach hammock.  I would relish extended sunset strolls along the Indian ocean, close to the lands of my birth and childhood. I have not returned to Tanzania since our family left when I was ten for Botswana. When travel is possible, I long for the means to make this dream trip.

Favorite book cover?

Aside from yours and mine? I met you for the first time through your book’s cover. I was so enthralled by it that I purchased your book right away, and read it cover to cover. This fascination came about before I met you online or in person. I adore shades of blue, peacocks and paisley. I am surprised that these vital elements of desi art are not on my book’s cover. Divya Seshadri, the artist, went with fiery elements and tones to match the contents of the book. 

Favorite song?

My current favorite songs are protest music connected with the kisaan protests. The Kisaan anthems are giving me so much hope and inspiration. I also play Enjoy Enjaami on repeat these days and relish the sheer beauty and power of the decolonial imagery in the video. I don’t speak Tamil, and yet, everything about this music sings to my soul.

 Favorite painting/ work of art? 

I am new to appreciating Punjabi art.  I grew up without access to museums and galleries, and when I gained this access in the U.S. and France, they were painful reminders of colonial theft of our lands. I have a few favorite artists I visit daily on instagram. I want to buy all the art prints created by Ravina Taroor for my imaginary ideal office/ library.  Baljinder Kaur, the illustrator of the picture book Fauja Singh Keeps Going has a keen eye for capturing childhood. Their art brings me so much joy and delight. The kinds of connection their art offers to Punjabi heritage for a diasporic person like me is priceless.

Any Lit Festival anecdote you want a share? A great meeting with a fan? An epiphany?

I adore our local book festival, Decatur Book Fest, and meeting you there in life before virtual festivals was truly a highlight. I hope we can meet up there again one of these days soon.

Do you have a favorite film, or two, or three?

I love Biography documentaries. The standout is James Baldwin’s – “I am Not your Negro.” I had read his words and thought they were fire.  They came to life in a very empowering way and the documentary completely captures my heart every time I revisit it.

What is your favorite Austen novel, and film adaptation? Why?

I read Sense and Sensibility repeatedly in secondary school. For inexplicable reasons, it is my favorite Austen novel. In A levels, I read most of them to the point of being able to recall direct quotes for the final exam. I stopped reading European authors and so-called classics about a decade or so ago. I even avoided retellings until I discovered your book (mostly because the blue cover was completely breathtaking). The postcolonial retelling you do of Pride and Prejudice is truly brilliant. I recommend Unmarriageable as exemplary retelling. I am not just saying this because you are interviewing me.

(blush– thank you)

Recommend a Small Press and/or Literary Journal?

Mango and Marigold Press took a chance on my unconventional writing. I am unagented and went with a south asian owned press for deliberate reasons. Every member of my book team from illustrator to typeset artist to line editor, is a South Asian woman. This is possible because Mango and Marigold supported me in countless ways to realize my vision for this debut book. Until recently, they only published books for younger readers. Their vision for South Asian storytelling is distinctive.

Last impulse book buy and why?

My last impulse buy was to subscribe to the Haymarket Books monthly book box. I look forward to this delivery with much anticipation each month. The abolitionist work they publish is exactly the kind of content I am striving to learn these days. It is the best investment in book aunty life that I have yet to make.

Soniah Kamal is an award winning novelist, essayist and public speaker.  Soniah’s novel Unmarriageable is a Financial Times Readers’ Best Book of 2019, a People’s Magazine Pick, a Library Reads Pick, an NPR Code Switch Summer Read Pick, a 2019 Book All Georgians Should Read, a 2020 Georgia Author of the Year for Literary Fiction nominee and more. Her novel An Isolated Incident was shortlisted for the Townsend Prize for Fiction and the KLF French Fiction Prize. Soniah’s TEDx talk is about second chances and she has delivered numerous keynotes addreses. ‘We are the Ink’, her address at a U.S. Citizenship Oath Ceremony, talks about immigrants and the real American Dreams, her keynote at the Jane Austen Festival is about universality across time and cultures and she’s given keynotes at Writers Conferences. Soniah’s work has appeared in critically acclaimed anthologies and publications including The New York Times, The Guardian, The Georgia Review, The Bitter Southerner, Catapult, The Normal School, Apartment Therapy and more.  www.soniahkamal.com
She’s on twitter and instagram @soniahkamal

More Drunk on Ink Interviews:

Jenny Bhatt, Each of Us Killers, short story collection

Nancy Johnson, The Kindest Lie, a novel

Yousra Imran, Hijab and Red Lipstick, a novel

Sejal Shah, This Is One Way To Dance, memoir

Madi Sinha: The White Coat Diaries, a novel

Chika Unigwe, Better Late Than Never, short story collection

Anju Gattani: Duty and Desire, a novel

Christopher Swann: Never Turn Back, a novel

Zetta Elliott: A Place Inside of Me, middle grade fiction

Veena Rao: Purple Lotus, a novel

Tara Coyt: Real Talk About LGBTQIAP, non fiction

Maureen Joyce Connelly: Little Lovely Things, a novel

Molly Greeley: The Heiress, historical fiction novel

Donna Miscolta: Living Color, short stories

Mike Chen: Here and Now and Then, a novel

Ruth Franklin: Shirley Jackson A Rather Haunted Life, biography

Colleen Oakley: Before I Go, a novel

Emily Midorikawa: A Secret Sisterhood: The literary friendships of Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, George Eliot, and Virginia Woolf, biography

Shabnam Samuel: A Fractured Life, memoir

Elise Hooper: The Other Alcott, a novel

Anne Boyd Rioux: Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy: The Story of Little Women and Why It Still Matters, non fiction

Devoney Looser: The Making of Jane Austen, non fiction

Kristen Miller ZohnThe Currency of Taste- Gibbons Georgian Silver, coffee table book

Vanessa HuaA River of Stars, novel

Chaitli SenThe Pathless Sky, novel

Sonya HuberPain Woman Take Your Keys, memoir

Kathy Wilson FlorenceThree of Cups, a novel

Sara Luce LookCharis Books and More, independent book store

S J SinduMarriage of a Thousand Lies, a novel

Rosalie Morales KearnsKingdom of Men, a novel

Saadia FaruqiMeet Yasmin, children’s literature

Rene DenfeldThe Child Finder, a novel

Jamie BrennerThe Husband Hour, a novel

Sara MarchantThe Driveway has Two Sides, memoir

Kirsten Imani KasaiThe House of Erzulie, a novel

Thrity UmrigarThe Secrets Between Us, novel

John Kessel, Pride and Prometheus, novel

Lisa Romeo, Starting with Goodbye: A Daughter’s Memoir of Love After Loss

Rachel May, An American Quilt: Unfolding a Story of Family and Slavery

Rebecca Entel, Fingerprints of Previous Owners, novel

Jamie Sumner, Unbound: Finding from Unrealistic Expectations of Motherhood

Falguni Kothari, My Last Love Story, novel

Tanaz BathenaA Girl Like That, YA novel