Tag Archives: Gwen Benaway

Interview with Gwen Benaway

passage

Context:

I reviewed Gwen Benaway’s poetry collection, Passage, which was published recently in Arc Poetry Magazine’s Canada 150 Reconciliation issue. The review started with a reference to Neal McLeod’s book, Indigenous Poetics in Canada. After the publication of the issue, I posted a photo of the review on Twitter. The photo led to a Twitter conversation with Gwen where she informed me of the problem that lay in invoking McLeod in a review of her work, given his history of domestic abuse of Indigenous women. The news of his abuse had broken publicly a few days before I posted the photo on Twitter, while it had been common knowledge within the Indigenous community. While I acknowledged the news as something recent and something that I had been unaware of, I also began to defend the review itself. Instead of being a productive conversation, the conversation became a disagreement. Doyali Islam, the reviews editor for that particular issue, stepped into the conversation, but the conversation ended without any resolution.

The next day, after I had a chance to reflect on the Twitter interaction and the actual issues raised by Benaway, I reached out to her via email with an apology. Over email, we were able to unpack the problems raised by the presence of McLeod’s name in the review. The following interview rose out of that initial email conversation. Benaway and I met in downtown St. Catharines during Queer Canada, and over lunch, unpacked some vital issues plaguing CanLit in relation to Indigeneity, today.

The interview is now on The Rusty Toque. You can read it here.

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Synchronicity, this.

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South Asian Writers Panel- L to R: Kama La Mackerel (moderator), Tara Atluri, me, Kamala Gopalakrishnan, Sabah Haque, Anil Kamal, ASL interpreter. Courtesy: Jade Colbert (Twitter: @cocolbert)

Synchronicity looks like this.

I participated in two queer events – one academic, one literary – in the month of November, my birth month.

It’s no secret that my stories often have queer characters as protagonists, negotiating their way through life in Canada. And, it is also true that a chunk of my doctoral dissertation deals with trans theory and queerness in Canadian novels. But when both of these worlds come together in the most powerful time in my life, my birth month (!), I see it as a message from the universe.

Because believe it or not, I applied to both Queer Canada conference and the Naked Heart Fest on the same day in July. No coincidence, this.

The conference was organized by Natalee Caple of Brock University. My memories: Hugged by Dionne Brand. Meeting up with an old friend. Having my paper heard by Rinaldo Walcott, and then catching up with him after.

queer canada

I presented a paper on Shani Mootoo’s work at the Queer Canada conference (a paper on gender fluidity in Valmiki’s Daughter). The conference also ended up being iconic because of the much needed interview I had with Gwen Benaway on the precarious relationship between the Indigenous writing community and the POC writing community in Canada (forthcoming in The Rusty Toque).

 

The Naked Heart Festival – the largest LGBTQ  literary festival in the world – which came exactly a week after, became crucial for the connections I made. I was on the South Asian Writers panel on Day 2, and then, “Racialized is a Verb” reading on Day 3.

I met other queer South Asian and QTPOC  writers. I read to a packed room. The emcee whose name I forget, quite overcome, gave me a sudden hug right after my reading.

These are things that will stay with me.

The experience not only opened me up to another community of literary artists, but I wondered why I had not been brave enough to apply in the past. Maybe, it wasn’t meant to be, then. Maybe, now it was right.

 

I am grateful. Immensely grateful. If this is an indication of where my life is going, I am happy. This is what happiness looks like, for me; a balance of my two worlds.

Perhaps, synchronicity looks like this.

nakedheart

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