The ridiculously multi-talented Vivek Shraya has made a name for herself with projects that include writing (fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and a children’s book), filmmaking, music, and performance art.
Shraya’s dates speaking at the Ottawa International Writers Festival are wedged between concerts with Too Attached, opening for Tegan and Sara. She works in so many different media, but this time, it’s her written work that brings Shraya to town: she is taking part in two Writers Fest events.
Apt613 interviewed Vivek Shraya by email. This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Apt613: In an interview about She of the Mountains you said, “In writing a love story, I realized I first had to write about hate. How my experience of hate and discrimination has embedded itself within my body and psyche, and often prevented me from experiencing love.”
So much of queer and trans lit has had to do with overcoming hatred, rejection, abuse, and violence. Do you think that this is changing for younger queer and trans writers growing up in a different cultural climate?
Vivek Shraya: This is a tricky question for me because I am not a youth. I do worry about the ways privilege can invisibilize difference. But I am also cautious about presuming surface privileges and changes like gay marriage and the increase of GSAs in high schools have eradicated hatred, rejection, abuse and violence (if anything, my work with queer and trans youth suggests the opposite). My hope is that the young queer and trans writers are finding ways to address their difference in more nuanced and intersectional ways.
In January of this year, you launched a mentorship program for artists of colour under 25. Can you talk about what that’s been like? What advice would you have for writers of colour, and especially for QTPOC writers, who are trying to get started or to establish themselves?
I have been so lucky to connect with so many talented artists of colour working in a variety of mediums. It’s been inspiring to watch their ideas and work develop and grow, even in the short time we work together.
I think my biggest advice is to focus on the writing, the art. I think being ambitious is powerful and beautiful to see in QTPOC writers, because I often felt guilty for having dreams. But I think it’s equally important to have a strong work ethic, to be dedicated to the craft.
I am in love with Michael DeForge’s book Big Kids.
I really liked your piece “How to Give Good Read,” which gives writers tips on reading aloud. Could you talk about some writers who you’ve seen read who do especially well at the performing aspect, or who you’ve learned from?
My mom took a Toastmasters course in the 90s and honestly, so much of what I have learned about public speaking were tips she taught me from her experience. I also learn a lot by paying attention to what I don’t like in readings and trying to think of how I would approach the text or stage differently.
Do you have any favourite spots in Ottawa or things about this city from time you’ve spent here?
Ottawa is so beautiful! It reminds me a lot of Edmonton, my hometown. My favourite spot in Ottawa is Venus Envy. The staff there have been so supportive of me over the years, going back to when I was still a self-published writer and I am so grateful to them.
See Vivek Shraya at the Ottawa International Writers Festival. On Sunday, October 23rd, she’ll be a part of “Own Self Be True” with Gwen Benaway and Ivan Coyote. On Monday the 24th, Shraya and Coyote will be joined by novelist Zoe Whittall for “Respect,” a conversation about safety, dignity, and inclusion. For more on Shraya’s many projects, visit her website or find her on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.