V.V. Ganeshananthan

 

The South Asian Women’s Creative Collective (SAWCC) presents its Fifth Annual Asian Literary Festival. Titled “Electric Ladyland,” the two-day event featured a series of readings, panels, and workshops at the Asian American Writers’ Workshop and the New School for Social Research.

Interviewed by Seema Amin

“We must go on struggling to be human

though monsters of abstraction

police and threaten us.     

~   Robert Hayden

V.V. Ganeshananthan is a novelist, short story and non-fiction writer, as well as a journalist and poet. Her debut novel, Love Marriage (Random House, 2008), received widespread acclaim; it was named one of Washington Post World’s Best of 2008 and a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers selection, and was also longlisted for the Orange Prize. Spanning the fraught margins of war, diaspora, ethnicity, identity, nation and geopolitics, her work has been distinguished as passionate, and continues to be unrelenting, lucid, and fierce. Tracing the political and personal genealogy of a Sri Lankan Tamil American girl called Yalini, whose immigrant family’s move from the US to Toronto acts as a catalyst for the unravelling of secrets, both familial and national, personal and transpersonal as Yalini grapples with an ex-militant uncle, a link to the 25 year war still raging (at the time) in Sri Lanka, Love Marriage is the seemingly innocuous title of a courageous debut novel that had its origins as a series of vignettes composed while Ganeshananthan was still a student finishing her Bachelor thesis at Harvard in 2002.  In the years between, Ganeshananthan had established herself as a journalist and non-fiction writer.

Since then, she has continued writing across genres, though themes and areas of interest, whether intellectual, personal, aesthetic or regional, certainly overlap and reinforce each other.  Formerly Vice President of SAJA (South Asian Journalists’ Association), her articles, reviews and essays have regularly appeared in The New York TimesThe Atlantic MonthlyThe Washington PostColumbia Journalism ReviewThe San Francisco ChronicleHimal Southasian, and The American Prospect, among others. Her short stories have appeared in Granta, Ploughshares and Best American Nonrequired Reading 2014.  She has served on the board of the Asian American Writers’ Workshop and is presently part of the graduate board of The Harvard Crimsonas well as a contributing editor for Copper Nickel. A graduate of Harvard College, the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and a Bollinger Fellow at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, she was Delbanco Visiting Professor of Creative Writing at Helen Zell Writers Program at University of Michigan from 2009 to 2014 and has been teaching at University of Minnesota since 2015, with a stint as visiting assistant professor at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop in fall of 2016 as well. Earlier, she was awarded fellowships by the National Endowment for the Arts, the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard, Philips Exeter Academy, Yaddo and the MacDowell Colony. She is a founding member of Lanka Solidarity and serves on the board of the American Institute for Sri Lankan Studies.

How has your sense of place and childhood (where you grew up) and school experiences influenced your decision to pursue journalism, write novels? I know you later worked with Jamaica Kincaid in Harvard, who supervised your thesis, what was that like?


I grew up outside Washington, D.C., in Bethesda, Maryland, and my friends and I talked about politics all the time. We read the newspaper voraciously and liked to dissect things going in the White House and on Capitol Hill. It makes some sense to me now that this might have contributed to my political interests in storytelling. I always thought and was taught that life and politics were intertwined. And I saw people tell stories to gain political power, or to take it from others. 

Jamaica Kincaid was a generous editor and teacher; she used to have me read my work aloud to myself, and then she would help me edit as I was reading. Being her student was a transformative experience.

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Linda Bailey

Interviewed by Elizabeth Leung

Linda Bailey is a reader, traveller, daydreamer, and the award-winning author of more than two dozen books for children.  Born in Winnipeg, she has travelled around the world by ship, working in England and Australia.  She earned a B.A. and M.Ed. at the University of British Columbia and later worked as a travel agent, college teacher, instructional designer and editor.  Linda didn’t begin to write in earnest until she had two daughters, Lia and Tess, and published her first book in 1992.  She has since written more than twenty others, including novels, picture books, graphic novels, and non-fiction.  Her books have travelled as widely as she has and have been published in places such as Greece, Latvia, Korea, China, Australia, Denmark, U.K., France, and Poland. 

Linda now lives in Vancouver within strolling distance of the sea.  She is a full-time writer and still loves to read, travel, and daydream.  I had the pleasure of speaking to Linda over email. 

On your website you describe how life as a writer snuck up on you.  Can you tell us what steps you took once you finally decided to publish your first book, How Come the Best Clues Are Always in the Garage?

Actually, it wasn’t my first book. At the time I finished that first novel, I had already been writing and submitting for five or six years — all picture books. I had gotten encouraging nibbles from publishers, but no bites. I had also learned a few things, including the fact that it’s extremely hard to break in with a picture book manuscript. Why? Because the slush pile is ceiling-high! Publishers receive a deluge of picture book manuscripts from people (including movie stars) who have never, and will never, do any serious writing but who read a picture book one day and think, “Is that all? Jeez! Short, easy. Even I could do that!” Two days later, they fire off a manuscript. When I figured that out, I decided to try a different genre. 

At that time, there was a popular adult genre that was a lot of fun — female/feminist, slightly hardboiled detective novels, usually with a strong hit of humour. I wondered if I could do that kind of novel for kids. I wrote a couple of pages about a smart-mouthed girl named Steve Diamond — and was hooked. Several hundred pages and multiple drafts later, I submitted How Come the Best Clues Are Always in the Garbage? to Kids Can Press. It got an offer within two months. They liked the book, yes. But it was also, I imagine, the only female funny 12-year-old Canadian detective story they had received that day/week/month or maybe year. So it got my toe in the publishing door. (P.S. It also got my picture books in the door. To date, I have 15 published picture books.)

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