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Imagine Otherwise: Minal Hajratwala on Queer South Asian Poetry & How to “Write Like a Unicorn”
How can publishers promote voices from the margins, and how can writers do their part in insisting that their voices are heard? For authors who write in multiple genres, what’s the best way to choose the style that best matches your content?
In episode of the Imagine Otherwise podcast, host Cathy Hannabach interviews guest Minal Hajratwala about her genre-bending writing style, the joy of coaching other writers, and how publishing can be a form of activism.
We invite you to check out the episode, as well as our highlights and show notes below.
Guest: Minal Hajratwala
- Minal Hajratwala is a unicorn of many colors, and a poet at heart. Her latest book of poetry, Bountiful Instructions for Enlightenment, includes poems and the script for her theatrical poetry extravaganza, “Avatars: Gods for a New Millennium,” which was commissioned by the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco for World AIDS Day. It is published by The (Great) Indian Poetry Collective, which publishes contemporary poetry books from India under a collective mentorship model. In 2009, her epic memoir Leaving India: My Family’s Journey From Five Villages to Five Continents came out from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. It was called “incomparable” by Alice Walker and “searingly honest” by the Washington Post. The book won a ton of awards, and she spent seven years researching and writing the book, traveling the world to interview more than seventy-five members of her extended family. Minal is also the editor of Out! Stories From the New Queer India, which was published by a Mumbai independent press, Queer Ink, in 2013. She is a writing coach and teacher helping other authors find their voice, particular queer writers and writers of color.
We chatted about:
- How Minal’s journalism background shaped her personal memoir (02:40)
- Navigating multiple genres for different types of work (05:30)
- Cyclical, natural writer’s block (08:30)
- Working in publishing as an active way of bring marginalized voices into the world (12:30)
- Minal’s work coaching other writers (16:10)
- Imagining otherwise (26:50)
- On Minal’s personal writing motto: “I work under the motto ‘write like a unicorn’ and for me that gets to the idea that we each have a unique, magical voice and that there is no need for us to all sound like each other or think like each other.”
- On cyclical writer’s block: “There’s a cycle between having a creative block about a topic and really letting it ripen, ripen, ripen until the right form comes out.”
- On promoting the stories of writers from the margins: “How do we as writers who are considered sometimes to be from the margins —but who actually make up the majority—how can we put our stories front and center?”
- On imagining otherwise: “I imagine a world of infinite possibility.”
More from Minal:
- Minal’s website
- Minal’s book of poems, Bountiful Instructions for Enlightenment
- Minal’s theatrical poem, “Avatars: Gods for a New Millennium”
- Minal’s memoir, Leaving India: My Family’s Journey From Five Villages to Five Continents
- Minal’s poem “Unicorns for Dummies”
- Minal’s A Brief Guide to Gender in India
- Out! Stories From the New Queer India
- Great Indian Poetry Collective. Cofounders: Ellen Kombiyil and Shikha Malaviya
- Minal on Twitter
Projects and people discussed:
- Does Your House Have Lions? by Sonya Sanchez
- Kate Bornstein’s book My Gender Workbook
- Kate Bornstein’s book Gender Outlaw:On Men, Women, and the Rest of Us, which includes the play “Hidden: A Gender”
- The Mahabharata (Hindu epic)
- Rohan Chhetri’s poetry collection “Slow Startle”
- Susan Griffin, Minal’s writing coach
- Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s “The Danger of a Single Story”
- The Unicorn of the Indus Valley
About Imagine Otherwise:
Imagine Otherwise is a podcast about the people and projects bridging art, activism, and academia to build better worlds. Episodes offer in-depth interviews with creators who use culture for social justice, and explore the nitty-gritty work of imagining and creating more just worlds. Check out full podcast episodes and show notes at ideasonfire.net/episodes. Imagine Otherwise is produced by Ideas on Fire, an academic editing and consulting agency helping progressive, interdisciplinary scholars write and publish awesome texts, enliven public conversations, and create more just worlds.