“Although we might provide an escape from reality through our writing, we are still part of this world . . . I wanted to dig into the question of what role we play as writers as things are happening around us. “
In the interview series Borderless: Conversations on Art, Action, and Justice, emerging and established writers talk with host Chaitali Sen about the power of words and the role of art in reflecting and changing our world. Chaitali is a novelist, WLT class instructor, and fantastic friend to the Texas writing community and WLT. We couldn’t be more excited or inspired by this new project from Chaitali.
We talked with Chaitali to learn more about this series and the upcoming event.
Scribe: Tell us about the mission of your “Borderless” interview series and what inspired you to start the series.
I started Borderless: Conversations on Art, Action, and Justice, so that I could talk to other writers about “the power of words and the role of art in reflecting and changing our world.” From talking to friends in the writing world over the last year, this seemed to be a topic that kept coming up. I have been to a lot of great discussions on writing, especially on craft and process, but I felt a real lack of discussions on writing that connected writers to the world at large. Although we might provide an escape from reality through our writing, we are still part of this world, and though there are vague pronouncements on the importance of literature for developing empathy, I wanted to dig into the question of what role we play as writers as things are happening around us.
Scribe: Your first interview was with Nikki Luellen. What’s one surprising or illuminating takeaway that resulted from your interview with her?
CS: Nikki is mainly a spoken word poet, and I had seen her captivate people out on the streets at protests. It gave me a whole new appreciation to hear her poetry in the intimate space of Malvern, because I really got to appreciate how she inhabits characters and modulates the pitch and tempo of her voice, how it really is a whole performance (she’s also a playwright). Her poems have a lot of movement and a lot of substance, because they take on very big social and political topics, yet they are also very personal, about how she is struggling with these questions and overcoming her own fear. I wanted to start this series with someone who is not a part of the literary establishment, because her work illustrates to me how confining that world can be. There are so many parameters that are set within that world, either implicitly or explicitly, about what makes someone a writer, what we should be writing about, how to challenge an audience within acceptable limits, how to get published and recognized as a writer, what purpose our art should serve, and so on. Nikki doesn’t care about any of that. There is an absence of ego in her work that is so refreshing.
Scribe: Your next interview will be with Juli Berwald on March 9. Can you give us a preview of some of the topics you might discuss?
CS: Juli Berwald is the author of a great science memoir called Spineless: The Science of Jellyfish and the Art of Growing a Backbone. I’m looking forward to seeing what surprises come out in this interview, but we will touch on the science of climate change, the changes in the ocean ecosystems, being a woman in science, and of course, jellyfish.
Scribe: Malvern Books is such a special space with truly unique titles available. Can you recommend one book by an indie author that you’ve picked up from Malvern recently?
CS: I just picked up Danez Smith‘s poetry collection at Malvern, Don’t Call Us Dead. Because Malvern is dedicated to independent publishers, you can find titles and discover writers there that will not be featured or available in other bookstores. Last year, I bought a novel translated from Indonesian called Home. This novel was published by Deep Vellum, a Dallas-based independent publisher that highlights world literature in translation. For any Writers’ League members in Austin who have not been to Malvern, I urge you to change that immediately. It’s a warm, beautiful space that will open your eyes to all kinds of literature.