Tag Archives: Twitter

Interview with Gwen Benaway



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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Breakfast with Teju* (Cole)

Teju Cole, author of Open City (2011)

*Because we are on a first name basis now. 

Yes, it’s true. I had breakfast with Teju Cole.

But of course, like every life changing event (because yes, it is indeed a life changing event for an aspiring writer to have a meal with a world famous writer), this one had a series of causalities that led up to it.

For one, I happened to be in Kingston this year because I am a student at Queen’s University.

Two, I am at Queen’s because I decided to do a second Master’s. I mean, how many people do you know who willingly signs up for a second Master’s? Exactly.

Three, I am friends with Bilan Hashi, whom I had met with as a consequence of her being a student in my program at Queen’s.

Four, Teju Cole happened to be in Kingston this particular year for the Kingston Writers Fest.

And five, both Teju Cole and Bilan happen to follow each other on Twitter.

Of course, Bilan may have never actually messaged Mr. Cole to meet with aspiring writers like herself and her friends (like me) if one of her acquaintances hadn’t done the same with Junot Diaz. Which had worked. Because not all famous writers were stuck up people and actually cared about meeting other writers-in-progress. Hmmm. Who knew?

So, this was the morning of 27th September. Bilan and I are in the lobby of Holiday Inn on the waterfront. We have a breakfast appointment. With Teju Cole.

It’s 9:30. We are on time. I haven’t had more than an hour’s sleep the night before on account of Foucault but had dragged myself out of bed at 8:00 because you didn’t miss these once-in-a-lifetime opportunities unless you were stupid.

We are contemplating whether to approach the lady at the reception, who is eyeing us suspiciously anyway, when the elevator doors open and Bilan goes, “There he is!”

Teju is all smiles.

There is a round of hellos and handshaking and introductions.

We are about to head into the hotel restaurant when we are stopped by none other than Michael Ondaatje.

Was that a sharp intake of breath? Hold on. There’s more to come.

“Teju. We are leaving at ten,” he says. He is talking of their drive to Toronto that morning. Teju leaves on a plane to New York later that day.

“Ten? Can we leave at 10:10? Or, 10:15? I was going to have breakfast with my friends,” and here, Teju introduces us, “Sanchari and Bilan”.

We shake hands with Mr. Ondaatje (while slightly in awe, if I may add).

“You can have 10:20,” Mr. Ondaatje smiles.

We walk into the restaurant, take our seats, and order coffee and breakfast. While Bilan goes for pancakes and I for a garden omelette with fries, Teju settles for a croissant.

The conversation is organic. We discuss our research interests. Bilan talks of her experience of living the underground life in Jeddah, to which Teju makes up a first line of a possible short story where the narrator finds herself snorting coke with a mother of three in Jeddah. We laugh. He shows us Variations on the Body by Michel Serres, a book he is reading at the moment. He tells us about how he quit his doctoral degree halfway through just to finish his novel. We talk of (Jhumpa) Lahiri, who he’s friends with, and whom I admire.

Then he follows me on Twitter right in front of me. And soon, the half an hour is up and I have forgotten the questions I had planned to ask him. He had not at all been what I had expected. Friendly but not superficial. Intellectual without being pretentious.

Before we can protest, he has paid for our breakfast and scampered away with an impish smile.

For a few seconds, Bilan and I are in a daze.

We solemnly agree that yes, we can now successfully cross ‘having breakfast with Teju Cole’ off of our bucket lists. Like it’s no big deal. Yup, none at all.


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Twitter, twitter, little bird/ How I wonder what thou art…

twitter bird

I really had no idea what was so special about Twitter when it had just started to catch on. I would overhear snippets of conversation at work, where my co-workers would compare notes on their tweets. And, invariably, I always felt left out.

So, I joined the bandwagon. Then, left it. Then, rejoined it. Sure, it’s a unique  idea. 140 characters of self-expression, because with regular blogs, we do tend to go on and on into too many personal details, don’t we?

I understand the need for fans worldwide to follow the daily lives of their favourite stars (or, in my case, authors). But doesn’t  it disappoint you fellows when their tweets reveal their shallowness (and their inability to spell)? Don’t they then crash from that imaginary pedestal in your heads? However, let us not forget those occasional gems that we stumble across due to pure serendipity, like Rahul Khanna’s witticisms and Arjun Basu’s flash fiction. 
But, tell me, what about those self-absorbed mortals whose self-importance makes them update their status every few seconds via their fancy blackberries? Is it necessary to update every single moment of one’s life on twitter? : “I am shitting. The consistency looks weak. Cheese sandwich at the deli looked suspect”. No shit. (Pun fully intended).
I think Twitter can be great if used properly. Keeps you up-to-date with the latest news (eg. sepiamutiny). Also, its perfect for self-promotion (for upcoming stars/writers/artists etc.). And as Shobhaa De tweeted on Jan 12th, 9:44 am: “To tweet or not to tweet, that is the question.Tweet equals trouble.Ask Shashi T.Ask me!Don’t believe everything on twitter,esp breakin news”.
Tweet responsibly, tweeple!


Filed under Writing about writing

To be or not to be… a writer.

I did not ever think of being a writer.  Writing began as a play with words where I rhymed to make little, silly poems (When Harsha died/Varsha cried…) that delighted my parents and teachers alike. They discussed my writing skills, and subsequently, my great future, at parent-teacher meetings while I watched on with a shy smile. As a precocious little girl, I began to believe that I was destined to become a writer. My belief in my abilities as a writer was as unshakeable as Arjun’s faith in the victory of the Pandavas.

Was. Now, I am not so sure anymore. I am not old enough to mourn my lost years, but young enough to realize that I have words in me that are screaming to be let out. And, there’s time.

In the summer of 2008, I attended a book reading by Salman Rushdie, right here in Toronto. He was here to promote his book, The Enchantress of Florence. The book was a complete disaster, and I still fail to understand how it managed to reach the Booker long list that year.  However, this is neither about the book, nor about Rushdie. It is, rather, about what he said. “Don’t write, if you have nothing to say” or, something along those lines. He believed that if a person (a writer) cannot be motivated enough to write, then he/she shouldn’t even bother. Because there is already so much to read out in this wide, wide world! Now, in retrospect, I agree. What is the point of my desire to be a writer, if I cannot sit still to pen my words down? That I am distracted by facebook and twitter every few minutes?! Blasphemy, according to real writers!

I want to be a real writer. I believe I have several books in me just waiting to be written. Waiting… for me to decide to be.


Filed under Writing about writing