Durga Chew-Bose on finding voice, fighting for representation in media and coming home

"It felt like I was breathing a lot of shallow breaths leading up to it and then I was taking deep breaths," the author says of her return to Montreal.

Montreal-based writer depicts wonder in her 'collection of enthusiasms'

Durga Chew-Bose, author of "Too Much and Not the Mood," returned to Montreal after 13 years away. (Carrie Cheek)

Durga Chew-Bose has spent most of her life contemplating the meaning of home, being a first-generation Canadian, and fighting for equal representation in the media.

And in her new critically acclaimed book Too Much and Not the Mood, a self-characterized "collection of enthusiasms" released earlier this year, she expounds on those experiences growing up in a predominantly white neighbourhood, where her name was endlessly mispronounced. ​

She finally settled for having people call her "D." 

You don't want every moment that you experience to be like 'I will be a spokesperson for your wake-up call'- Durga   Chew-Bose

After Chew-Bose's 13 years away from Montreal, most of them spent in Brooklyn, the author has returned home to slow down and recharge.

"I've been meaning to for a long time," Chew-Bose told CBC Montreal's All in a Weekend host Sonali Karnick.

"It felt like I was breathing a lot of shallow breaths leading up to it and then I was taking deep breaths."

From identity struggle to fights for representation

"Too Much and Not the Mood" came out in Spring 2017 and received critical acclaim. (Penguin Random House Canada)

Chew-Bose grew up in a "house of stories" in Montreal's N.D.G. neighbourhood, with parents who emigrated from Calcutta, India. 

But in spite of her experiences, the author resists talking about what it feels like to be a first-generation Canadian.

"Every time I try to articulate it with any clarity, I would get lost, because it's something that's ongoing for me," Chew-Bose said.

"Spending more time with my parents is giving me a better language for it."

Often, articulating her experience has also meant fighting for representation of writers of colour in the mostly white media. In 2015, she says she had a baffling conversation with a friend about editors in New York City, who are often unsure how to find writers of colour.

"It would always catch me off guard especially if white editors are friends of mine, like 'Hello, I'm standing right in front of you,'" Chew-Bose added.

In January 2017, Durga Chew-Bose taught a writing course titled "On Not Writing" in Sarah Lawrence College, New York. (Durga Chew-Bose/Twitter)

Shortly after that conversation, Chew-Bose co-founded a website called Writers of Colour,  a database of names, work examples, and contact information for non-white writers.

Despite its success, the author expressed a sense of frustration over the fact that she and her peers had to create the website at all.

"You don't want every moment that you experience to be like 'I will be a spokesperson for your wake-up call,'" Chew-Bose added.

'Finding wonder in small things'

Chew-Bose's reflections in Too Much and Not the Mood resemble a daydream-like stream of consciousness and range from stories of up to 90 pages to one-page contemplations.

Similarly, the book's title, originally a phrase from Virginia Woolf's 1931 diary entry, was something of an incidental moment for the author. It appealed to Chew-Bose with its rhythmic quality, but also by offering a safe space for little moments to appear when the political climate gets too overwhelming.
Durga Chew-Bose writes for Hazlitt, GO, BuzzFeed and The Guardian, among other publications. (Hazlitt)

"I like the idea of knowing that you have the capacity to express yourself, your wants, desires, and what upsets you, but also feel like you're not in the mood to do it," Chew-Bose said.

"You have to afford yourself space outside of [politics], to not let it be always at the fore."

With files from All in a Weekend