Books·How I Wrote It

Vivek Shraya on the power of unpacking pain and writing with urgency

The award-winning author discusses how he wrote I'm Afraid of Men.
I'm Afraid of Men is a book by Vivek Shraya. (Zachary Ayotte, Penguin Canada)

 Vivek Shraya is an Alberta-raised poet, musician and author with a variety of multidisciplinary projects on the go at any one time. Regardless of medium, Shraya views art through the lens of race, sexuality and gender. 

Her latest work is book I'm Afraid of Men, a thoughtful examination of the cumulative damage and personal trauma caused by misogyny, homophobia and transphobia over her life and career. The book is on the CBC Books' list of best Canadian nonfiction of 2018.

Below, Shraya explains how she wrote I'm Afraid of Men.

Wide spectrum

"In writing this book, I wanted to challenge gay men, trans men and women. I wanted to write a project that wouldn't let anyone off the hook, including myself. From there, I was able to develop my list of vignettes or stories that I was going to write. It was really thinking about a wide spectrum of things that tied to masculinity."

West coast inspiration

"In terms of structure and project, novelist and colleague Amber Dawn is a huge writing inspiration for me. I was originally nervous about how to tackle the scope of this project. It felt daunting but she reminded me that I should break things down into smaller nuggets and you can then put together in the end.

"I focused on my life and the periods with men that had been harmful or that were haunting. I also wanted to think about masculinity from a larger perspective than the one that is happening in the media."

Multitasking

"Being busy and with so many projects on the go, what gave me the drive to write this is the very theme of the book, which was being afraid of men and violence from men over the years. The way that manifested was me, over the years, not being able to imagine a future because I often thought about killing myself when I was a teenager.

"That robbed me of a sense of future. So in this strange way, that's also been the gift because it means that I never really lived in my life believing there was going to be tomorrow."

Living in the now

"I've always lived life with a kind of urgency. Clearly it's not from the healthiest place but it has allowed me to make art. Because when I believe that when I have an idea to write or create, that idea is a gift that you can't ignore. Sometimes the weight of an unfulfilled idea feels insurmountable. And that motivates me to write."

Vivek Shraya's comments have been edited and condensed.

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