Books·How I Wrote It

With book I'm Afraid of Men, Vivek Shraya unpacks the fearlessness of living your truth

The author discusses the creative process behind his latest book.
I'm Afraid of Men is a book by Vivek Shraya. (Zachary Ayotte, Penguin Canada)

I'm Afraid of Men is the title of Vivek Shraya's extended essay that outlines her experiences with men, first as a boy attacked for being too feminine, and later in her life for not being feminine enough as a woman. Shraya is a multidisciplinary artist who sings, makes films and visual art, and the author of even this page is white and She of the Mountains. In all of her work, she challenges ideas about race, gender and sexuality.

Below, Shraya discusses how she wrote her latest book. 

Death and dying

"It started with the death of a friend, and thinking about his family and the perpetual and continuous war in the Middle East. Looking at the images in Syria, I was reflecting on the amount of death and casualties in these wars.

"It led me to think about the whole burial process. I've had this black suit that I keep having to wear these past few years, again and again, for so many funerals. This is what triggered this book, this idea of death. You get to a certain age where you are confronted with it in a more quantitative way. A great deal of mourning was also involved in writing this book. Particularly I was remembering people who have passed. But the book isn't about any specific real-life person, rather it's more about the very idea of death."

Words and pictures

"I believe my background as a photographer informs my visual style of writing. I had a period in my life where I watched a lot of films. I was also forced to read and recite Arabic and French poetry growing up. I'm a polyglot — I read in many languages — so there isn't a lot of homogeneity in my writing. 

"Like all of my books, the act of writing is a spontaneous effort. I'm not a person who does a lot of research or planning. Rather, I contemplate on them, sometimes for years. Once I have the courage to start, I sit down and I write them quickly. 

"I write on the computer and think that's corrupted my handwriting. Now whenever I sign books at events, I feel embarrassed by how bad my handwriting is. I blame it on technology."

The absurdity of humanity

"I construct characters based on the experiential, on oral stories that I've heard. But I then transform them, as they are simply the narrative trigger for my stories. Sometimes I hear or experience something and I totally make it as untruthful as possible.

"It's almost like an exercise in the imaginative. It's an exercise in humour as well. I like to view humans and humanity as so absurd."

Vivek Shraya's comments have edited for length and clarity.

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