Vivek Shraya on the necessary risks of queer writing
Ineven this page is white, Vivek Shraya shows how all the facets of her identity — writer, poet, queer person, family member — are suffused with the experience of living life as someone who is not white. The poetry collection was on the Canada Reads 2017 longlist.
Below, Vivek Shraya answers eight questions submitted by eight of her fellow writers in the CBC Books Magic 8 Q&A.
1. Lawrence Hill asks, "What is the worst job you ever had, and what kind of good material did it give you?"
The worst job I had was as a supervisor — which sounds fancy — but unbeknownst to me, I was expected to fire half of the staff (which I refused to do). It was a very stressful time that did not yield any creative output. Sometimes there is no inspiration to be found in a bad experience.
2. Rajiv Surendra asks, "Is there a book that you wish you had never read? Explain. Please. Thanks."
I resent that the majority of the books I have read — as a result of requirement, conditioning or exposure — have been by white authors. I read my first book by a non-white author (Toni Morrison) when I was 20. I mourn the loss of not being exposed to a wider range of authors and perspectives during these 20 formative years.
3. Jowita Bydlowska asks, "What does it mean to take a risk as a writer, and how do you feel about it?"
As a queer writer, writing queer sex is unfortunately still a risk, but a necessary one. This is because while certain progress has been made in relation to LGBTQ rights, queer sex remains abhorrent. I feel a responsibility to write queer sex and sexualities in my books to challenge and discomfort homophobia.
4. Eden Robinson asks, "What is your first childhood memory?"
I remember hiding behind the curtains in my childhood home, singing "Six Little Ducks," and then (accidentally?) pulling the curtains down. What a brat!
5. George Elliott Clarke asks, "If it were possible, what other writer would you like to marry and/or have children with? Why?"
I would marry Vancouver poet Amber Dawn because I am in love with her even though she is married to someone else and I wasn't invited to the wedding!
6. Jo Walton asks, "What time of year is best for your creative productivity — summer or winter?"
Working a nine-to-five in a post-secondary institution throughout my artistic career has meant that I tend to be most productive over holiday seasons — particularly August and December.
7. Mariko Tamaki asks, "How much of your writing process involves actual physical writing these days? Do you go write to the computer or do you work things out with pen and ink first?"
Generally, I write on the computer. But I turn to pen and ink only when I am struggling with articulating an idea or having writer's block as I find the process of handwriting has an ability to unlock. I will ask myself, "What are you trying to say?" and then jot down notes.
That said, with my book of poetry, even this page is white, I wrote on paper regularly, as I found the writing had less of a flow on a screen.
8. Jordan Tannahill asks, "What is the worst sentence you've written that made its way into print?"
It is not the worst sentence I have written, but a new friend, on our first hangout, pointed out that a sentence in the first edition of my book God Loves Hair was missing a comma. That new friend is now my boyfriend, so I suppose this makes me a masochist?