- Chen Chen
from the horse's mouth: with swati khurana
Introduction to the Series
This series of mini-interviews invites participants—all emerging writers of color—to reflect on the Best American Poetry 2015/Michael Derrick Hudson debacle (or other literary debacles) as a way into perhaps rethinking their own work and their visions for a different literary world. The interviews are quick in order to accommodate everyone’s busy schedules and to give more casual readers of this blog a chance to refresh their memory about important events and subjects in the contemporary literary landscape. I am creating this series because I do not want so-called literary “scandals” or “controversies” to fade so quickly from public consciousness. I do not want to see, just a few months later, the events remembered in vague, sanitized terms with the implied or explicit injunction to “move on” and “come together.” As one of the actual Asian American poets featured in BAP 2015, I want to ask, what would it mean to move ethically, to come into consciousness, with the terrible memories intact, the wounds and the critiques of the event still marking our conversations, exposing our social-historical positions?
More accounts of and responses to BAP/Hudson are available via NPR, Buzzfeed, The Margins, Slate, Poetry Foundation, and other places; most of these appeared right after the anthology, guest edited by Sherman Alexie and series edited by David Lehman, was released in September. Special thanks to Kundiman and the Asian American Writers' Workshop for all the excellent and important literary activism you do, work that has certainly inspired and informed this interview project.
Interview with Fiction Writer and Visual Artist Swati Khurana
Swati Khurana was born in India, and lives and works in New York City. Her art has been featured at the Brooklyn, Bronx, and Queens Museums, Chatterjee & Lal (Mumbai); Museo de Arte y Diseño Contemporáneo (Costa Rica); Scala Mata Gallery (53rd Venice Biennial); and the Smithsonian Institution (DC), among other spaces. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, Narrative.ly, Asian American Literary Review, and Duende. She has received grants from the Jerome Foundation and the Bronx Arts Council, and was a founding member of SAWCC (South Asian Women's Creative Collective).
IHLR: How would you characterize the whole BAP/Michael Derrick Hudson/Yi-Fen Chou debacle—in two sentences?
Khurana: Honestly, it feels like a literary hate crime; it feels that violent. But in the human tragedy of any violence, communities reaffirm their connections, and I have been grateful for all the writers who have spoken up about their racialized experiences with the literary world.
IHLR: Who is one actual Asian American (or Asian Canadian, Asian Australian, Asian... ) writer everyone should be reading right now?
Khurana: Chaitali Sen. A masterful fiction writer and her debut novel is The Pathless Sky (Europa Editions, 2015).
IHLR: What is one literary and/or activist organization that everyone should be supporting?
Khurana: SAWCC—the South Asian Women's Creative Collective, an organization I still adore after being a founding member in 1997. It has given me love, criticism, feedback, and life.
IHLR: What projects are you working on now?
Khurana: Between personal essays and the occasional poem, I chip away at a novel, The No.1 Printshop of Lahore, set in the last years before and after Independence and Partition.
IHLR: What keeps you writing?
Khurana: Knowing that there are a few readers who mean the world to me, whose own words give me life, waiting to read my book, no matter how long it takes. But mostly my four-year-old daughter. I sacrificed a lot of her younger days to embark on this writing life, and to go back to school to get my MFA, and it feels urgent enough to still have a go at it, for her.