Saturday, May 20, 2006

Mixed Messages in New York

Thoughts during my two days in NYC, where I attended SAWCC's Mixed Messages conference and met with the Dutton folks:

It's FUN to have lunch at a trendy Tribeca Italian restaurant on a rainy Friday afternoon with two editors, dipping biscotti into espresso while you discuss your novels-in-progress and kid lit in general ...

Editor Monika Jain of Kahani is all about excellence, and this innovative magazine for South Asian kids deserves the Assocation of Educational Publishers' prestigious award ...

After a bit of internal turmoil featuring Katie Holmes and John McCain, I've come to like the title editor Margaret Woollatt suggested for Sparrow's story (First Daughter: My Extreme American Makeover) ...

I get steamed when Indian writers living in America, lauded by Americans, and funded by Americans pontificate about how India is so much more writer-friendly than the so-called literary "empty room" of America. Okay, so most Indians are bicultural and bilingual. That's true enough, but what followed made me wonder if I need to get my ears de-waxed: "You put an Indian anywhere new and he learns to adapt. You put an American in India, and he wouldn't last seven minutes." Gulp. I wonder if he-who-shall-not-be-named regretted the arrogance of that statement after making it ...

Compassionate, articulate Marina Budhos is a wonderful addition to the world of YA literature (Ask Me No Questions)...

And in ten years, Pooja Makhijani and Anna John of Sepia Mutiny will both be famous. Thanks, SAWCC, and thanks, Dutton!


  1. In re: "I've come to like the title editor Margaret Woollatt suggested for Sparrow's story (First Daughter: My Extreme American Makeover) ..."

    "Makeover," huh? It's not inappropriate for Sparrow's adventure, and sounds as intriguing as a title should. But it also reveals how broadly that theme has spread in this "chick lit" time.

  2. Anonymous10:04 PM

    I sort of cringed at a lot of what Ghosh said becuase I was there with a (white) American friend of mine-- not that he took it offensively or anything-- but it really opened my eyes to the serious, judgemental, and radical thinking some people can have--especially when they can AFFORD to have that kind of thought. I mean, come on! Amitav Ghosh can express all kinds of anti-American sentiments and no one can contest that. Because, as he said, to Indians, He Is God.

    -Janaki (ps- i don't know if you remember, but i think i emailed you many years ago, when i was in middle school! its a shame i didnt get to see you this weekend.. =( )

  3. Hi Janaki,

    I was fuming. We have to watch our communities on the margin and make sure don't fall into the trap of reverse racism. Besides, I don't like the assumption that Americans are WASPS. Jews know how to straddle cultures. And what about Americans who aren't white? Like Latinos? They are bilingual and bicultural, as are so many others in this land of immigrants.

    Sigh. I'm glad I wasn't alone in my reaction. I felt like I was going nuts when I heard other gushing responses to his talk.

    Next time find me and say hello.


  4. Anonymous11:00 PM

    Hi Mitali--

    Yeah, I'm sure the gushing comments were half in shock and half in the "inevitability" of the circumstance--- no one is going to contest Amitav Ghosh- because, after all, he's a literary icon and therefore superior, riiiight?

    I was interested in Vijay Seshadri's reaction to these brazen statements.

    And he wasnt only being reversely racist, but also staright up racist. He forgot, I think, that there was a room full of the "Americans" he was insulting. Correct me if I'm wrong, but wouldnt we, as people of the diaspora, start riots if anyone non-desi were to have made such statements? To say that INdians are of a superior culture/adaptation technique is just as ignorant as the white man stereotyping us into Bend It Like Bechham dopplegangers. You'd think that years in such an aesthetic profession wouldn't cloud one's heart and mind-- but i stand corrected.

    I was embarassed, and I was heartbroken that a man I'd grown up reading could be so blatent and blunt. But then again, I felt many of his comments wallowed in nostalgia for another time, another revolutionary cause, another place. The grass is always greener on the other side.

    - and i wasnt sure if you were going to be there of friday so i didnt look! i did attend the young writers thing with marina budhos though.

  5. It is heartbreaking. Oh, well. Peace be upon him, too. How was the writer's workshop with Marina?

  6. Anonymous12:28 AM

    Hmm. She was nice, but the workshop was unsatisfactory. I think part of it was that I was expecting it to be an actual "critical" workshop where we brought in pieces we've written-- but it was much less professional--and I sort of felt like I was in third grade. I think, though, that my rigorous creative writing education might cause me to expect more-- but I think it was my fault for expecting too much because of that.

    I was also secretly disappointed I chose the workshop over Ravi's panel!

  7. Thanks for the review! I hope to read some of your writing someday soon.