Congratulations to Hyphen's own Neelanjana Banerjee, who, with Summi Kaipa and Pireeni Sundaralingam, has co-edited an extensive and gorgeous collection of South Asian American poetry, the first ever in this country. Given the popularity of multicultural literature in the U.S.A. in the last decade or so, I was a little surprised to hear that there have been no previous specifically poetry anthologies coming out of the community.
These were my questions for Neela:
Is Indivisible (University of Arkansas Press) the first anthology of South Asian American writing post-9/11? How is it there have been no specifically poetry focused South Asian Americam anthologies prior to this?
When Summi, Pireeni and I initially came together in 2002 -- we thought we would put together a few South Asian American poets for an anthology that would feature our community after the post-9/11 anti-immigrant, anti-brown people backlash. Then, after doing some research, we discovered that though there had been some seminal mixed-genre anthologies about "being South Asian in America" -- Our Feet Walk the Sky and Contours of the Heart -- there had never been an anthology dedicated to South Asian poets in America, and especially, none since the major changes of the new millennium. So, this led us to doing both an open call for poets -- where we found many emerging poets -- and a careful curation to find any South Asian American poet who is really engaging with American literature and poetics. We were pleased to find an amazing number of poets who were doing this work all over the country and in many different incarnations: performance poetry, experimental poetry, lyric poetry, etc. The book includes 49!
One of the reasons that South Asian American poetry has been overlooked, is because of the huge popularity of South Asian American fiction. Writers like Jhumpa Lahiri and Kiran Desai are household names in America with best-selling novels about the South Asian American experience. Indivisible, and poetry in general, has the freedom to break away from the immigrant narrative -- partially because there isn't a lot of pressure to make money with poetry -- and explore political issues, language and the nuances of being South Asian American in different ways. Poet Monica Ferrell writes about the Italian Renaissance Princess Beatrice D'Este. Amarnath Ravva writes about French Surrealist writer Apollinaire. These poets can explore these historical figures, and it is still about being South Asian. I think this is harder to do when it comes to the novel. I think there is a clearer connection in film or performance. For example, Mira Nair's film Vanity Fair was fascinating, because it was a South Asian woman's take on Colonial British times, which reminds me of Monica Ferrell's poem. I haven't yet seen this kind of experimentation by South Asian American novelists or fiction writers. At the same time, Indivisible has poems about Bollywood films, Indian mythology and immigration. Indivisible gives a poetic portrait of South Asian America -- something that has never been seen before.
Please join Neela, Summi, and Pireeni in celebration of their very important accomplishment!
SATURDAY, MAY 1, 2010; 7:30PM $5-$10 sliding scale
Reading, Reception, and Book Signing for Indivisible at the United States of Asian America Festival sponsored by APICC
Featured editors: Neelanjana Banerjee, Summi Kaipa, and Pireeni Sundaralingam
Featured contributors: Ravi Chandra, Maya Khosla, Shailja Patel
Reception with live music by: DJ Tablapusher
Mission Cultural Center, 2868 Mission Street, San Francisco