The South Asian American issue receives a stunning review in News International

Stepping outside the ‘brown’ box

An anthology of an emerging wave of South Asian writing that unashamedly explores issues of otherness and marginalisation

Stepping outside the ‘brown’ boxThe rich hues that paint the cover of independent literary journal Chicago Quarterly Review’s South Asian American Issue are colours typically associated with South Asian cultures: reds, oranges, blues, and greens; falling raindrops symbolising narratives of loss and displacement that are expected of South Asian writers. The real surprise lies inside, within the collection of short stories, poems, and essays edited and curated by Moazzam Sheikh.

The stories stretch across continents: the South Asian homelands represented as much as the migrant’s experience in the Northern Hemisphere. This is an anthology of an emerging wave of South Asian writing, with every author and poet appearing to be intent on pushing back the parameters of literary space conceded to ‘brown’ writers.

In his introduction to the volume, Chicago Quarterly Review’s (CQR) guest editor Sheikh notes that South Asian American writers are generally a ‘fractured bunch’, their ‘competing master narratives’ a stumbling block in achieving a cohesive identity. Differences exist within and outside, with stereotyping placing the South Asian American writer and their art in a convenient little box labelled ‘brown’.

The CQR’s special edition picks up that perception and shakes it to display the overlapping fluid identities of a South Asian American as an artist, an immigrant, an American, and a South Asian. For far too long, South Asian writers have been grudged entry into the sphere of English language writing due to their lineage. But the 40-plus artists featured in this anthology are having none of that. While the tropes of alienation and displacement do make their appearance, the invocation of pity has disappeared. Writings that explore issues of otherness and marginalisation are unashamed, irreverent even, in owning English as their medium of expression.

Befittingly, CQR’s South Asian American Issue is a compilation of intense thought. Each entry touches upon a different vulnerability of humankind. This is the strength of the collection: universal in emotion, South Asian in character.

Language and the appropriation of expression continue to be at the heart of the South Asian experience abroad. However, the writings in this collection attempt to step beyond the post-colonial identity and locate their bearings in a global context. Neelanjana Banerjee’s story about a reluctant Indian’s part in Operation Desert Storm, “The Songs in Sam’s Head” finds space alongside Madhushree Ghosh’s poignant essay, “#Aylan, Or How to Treat Refugees”. Violence rears its ugly head too, retold in Pireeni Sundaralingam’s poems, “Lynch Mob” and “The Gecko Remembers, as laments to war-torn Sri Lanka, and against the individual as the molestation of a little girl in Sayantani DasGupta’s non-fiction “The Butcher Shop of New Delhi”. Tanu Mehrotra Wakefield uses the familiar South Asian attachment to traditional music in her poem “Threading the Ghazal” to capture what Neelanjana Banerjee describes as being “giddy with America”.

Dipika Mukherjee’s “Descent from the Winter Garden” holds as true for the Black Lives Matter movement as for socio-political turmoil elsewhere in the world. Sikha Malaviya spins strange odes to India’s underbelly and Vikas Menon ponders upon cultural practices in sharp-edged words. Sophia Naz’s poetry takes this play on words a bit further; juxtaposing Urdu meanings onto English words and vice versa to create poetical paragraphs that mock the reader. The list of writers is long and varied, all attempting to define their multifaceted identities in a world of shifting reality.

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Nadia Chaney captures this literary awakening in “There’s Really No Such Thing as the “Voiceless””, taking her cue from Arundhati Roy’s famous quote “There are only the deliberately silenced, or the preferably unheard.” The ‘erasure of self’ that Chaney terms ‘shape-shifting’ is a preoccupation of every migrant group. But the difference is in manner of looking inwards. It is, perhaps, best summed up by Amit Majmudar’s lines:

“The brown, who once studied how to be white,

now study the brownness of brown.”

(From Brown Study; Or Poem Ending with a Line by Goering)

The emotionally charged writings are punctuated by the inclusion of sketches and photographs, the visual art acting as a reprieve from the heaviness of ‘cultural reconstruction and self-knowledge’. That is not to say that one art form is disconnected from the other. Rather, the fragmented pieces of Sadia Uqaili’s collages overlay each other; transgressing lines much like the identities of the writers showcased in the issue. Faisal Mohyuddin’s ink on paper “Caliban”, borrows its title and subject from Shakespeare’s The Tempest, once again hinting at the universality of this edition of South Asian American writings.

The modern South Asian writer is caught at the crossroads of what Nayomi Munaweera calls “the story of what it means to be both a child of a mother and a child of history” (What Lies Between Us: A Novel). Befittingly, CQR’s South Asian American Issue is a compilation of intense thought. Each entry touches upon a different vulnerability of humankind. This is the strength of the collection: universal in emotion, South Asian in character. It is not an anthology for the reader looking for saffron-scented sweet words. It is an unapologetic scrutiny of modern life. Highly recommended.

CQR at the International House, University of Chicago, Global Voices Performing Arts and Lecture Series

Thanks to the Global Voices Performing Arts and Lecture Series at the International House at the University of Chicago for hosting this April 4, 2017 reading to celebrate the South Asian American issue of the Chicago Quarterly Review! Featuring Syed Afzal HaiderFaisal MohyuddinDipika Mukherjee, Toni Nealie, Ravibala Shenoy, and Sachin Waikar, moderated by CQR editor Elizabeth McKenzie.

Happy pub date to the Chicago Quarterly Review’s South Asian American Issue!

Volume 24, Winter 2017, The South Asian American Issue

Purchase here

 “There was a time when the South Asian writer treaded the linguistic register rather carefully. Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children shook things up and made many of us his children. Not anymore! The new South Asian American writer is a wild beast.”—from the Introduction by guest editor Moazzam Sheikh

Featuring Vidhu Aggarwal, Kazim Ali, Meher Ali, Neelanjana Banerjee, Nadia Chaney, Sayantani Dasgupta, Tara Dorabji, Ali Eteraz, Saadia Faruqi, Mala Gaonkar, Madhushree Ghosh, Ro Gunetilleke, S. Afzal Haider, Syed Ishaq Haider, Minal Hajratwala, Soniah Kamal, Kirun Kapur, Maya Khosla, Swati Khurana, Waqas Khwaja, Anu Kumar, Aditi Machado, Amit Majmudar, Shikha Malaviya, Zafar Malik, Vikas Menon, Faisal Mohyuddin, Dipika Mukherjee, Somnath Mukherji, Naomi Munaweera, Shabnam Nadiya, Shivani Narang, Ifti Nasim, Sophia Naz, Toni Nealie, Mahmud Rahman, Reema Rajbanshi, Roshni Rustomji-Kerns, Chaitali Sen, Moazzam Sheikh, Ravibala Shenoy, Ranbir Singh Sidhu, Pireeni Sundaralingam, Sadia Uqaili, Sachin Waikar, Tanu Mehrotra Wakefield.

“This rich issue of Chicago Quarterly Review is the perfect antidote for the cultural ignorance of those who demonize immigrants and fear the inevitable browning of America. In these memorable stories, essays, poems, and photos, we see past differences of culture, country, and religion straight into the heart of South Asian Americans, realizing that it is our own heart, one that powerfully reminds us of our shared humanity.” –Charles Johnson, author of Middle Passage and The Way of the Writer

“In a time of mounting distrust of foreign cultures and unprecedented attacks against immigrants, this sweeping collection of writing by a new wave of South Asian writers is an antidote that both transports and illuminates. The irrepressible voices within rage against widely diverse assumptions and stereotypes and yet unite to remind us of the universality of the human condition.” —Manil Suri, author of The Death of Vishnu

Cover illustration and design by Laura Williams

Available now on Amazon

Manil Suri on the upcoming South Asian American Issue

“In a time of mounting distrust of foreign cultures and unprecedented attacks against immigrants, this sweeping collection of writing by a new wave of South Asian writers is an antidote that both transports and illuminates. The irrepressible voices within rage against widely diverse assumptions and stereotypes and yet unite to remind us of the universality of the human condition.” –Manil Suri

CQR #23, Fall 2016

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Volume 23, Fall 2016

Purchase here

Contributors include: Robin Barber, Andrew W.M. Beierle, J. A. Bernstein, Lisa Bloomfield, J. Scott Brownlee, Claudia Buckholts, Lucas Carpenter, Dounia Choukri, Emily Culliton, Patricia Engel, Robin Estrin, Katharine Haake, Stanley Horowitz, Michael Hutchison, Greg Jenkins, Charles Johnson, Laura Jok, David Kear, Robert Kerwin, Jen Knox, Chuck Kramer, Shane Lake, Dorianne Laux, Thomas Lee, Joan Li, Margit Liesche, Joseph Millar, Rod Val Moore, Eireene Nealand, W.P. Osborn, Cassandra Passarelli, Harry Mark Petrakis, Sofi Stambo, Jim Swierzynski, Jake Tuck, and Ian Randall Wilson.

The Fall 2015 issue of Chicago Quarterly Review

We are thrilled to announce the release of our Fall 2015 issue (cover illustration by Rumi Hara) featuring work by Aliki Barnstone • Sharon Barrett • Heather Bowlan • Margaret Chula • Stephen Cloud • Douglas Cole • Diana Crane • David Downie • Peter Ferry • Mauricio Montiel Figueiras • Victor Florence • Edward Garner • Rumi Hara • Natalie S. Harnett • Charles Holdefer • Gary Houston • Suzanne Jill Levine • Erin Lillo • Julia Malye • Michael P. McManus • Devin Murphy • James Paradiso • Charles Parsons • Harry Mark Petrakis • Nicolette Polek • Trenton Pollard • Richard Rapaport • James Reiss • Timothy Richard • Jonathan Rose • Ryan Salazar • Jay Shearer • Peter Stine • Goro Takano • Barbara Tannenbaum • Alison Touster-Reed • John Twohey • Josh Wardrip • Joe Weil • Luke Whisnant • Jerry Whitus • David Winner • Gary Young • Eric Zurita

To purchase a copy, click here!

CQR_Vol 21 2015 copy

 

 

 

Guest editor of CQR #20, Michela Martini

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Meet the editor of our special Italian issue! Michela Martini, a native of Genoa, Italy, received her MA in Italian literature from the University of Genoa, where she studied with Edoardo Sanguineti. She has taught Italian language and culture at Suffolk University, Indiana University, Cabrillo College, and the University of California at Santa Cruz. Her translations of Italian poetry, also in collaboration with poet Robert Hahn, have appeared in the Chicago Quarterly Review, Catamaran Literary ReaderThe Literary ReviewPoetry InternationalGradiva, Journal of Italian Translation, Italian Poetry ReviewLiterary Imagination, International Poetry Review,Unsplendid, etc., and were anthologized by Geoff Brock in The FSG Book of 20th-Century Italian Poetry, published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux in 2014. She is currently working as a translator and editor specializing in information technology, literature, and photography.

CQR at Printers Row 2015!

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CQR editors Elizabeth McKenzie and Syed Haider with CQR friend and contributor Gary Houston in the Poetry Foundation tent, Printers Row.

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Syed Haider with CQR contributor Peter Ferry, celebrating the release of Ferry’s new novel Old Heart.

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CQR friend and contributor Liz Radford

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CQR editor Elizabeth McKenzie

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CQR contributing editor Umberto Tosi, signing copies of his novel Ophelia Rising

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CQR friend and contributor Signe Ratcliff with Syed Haider and CQR friend and contributor Gary Houston

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Syed Haider and Gary Houston with CQR friend and contributor Sharon Solwitz

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Printers Row

Chicago Quarterly Review at Printer’s Row!

 

Come see us, June 6 & 7 in the Poetry Foundation tent! Current and past issues, lovely postcards, friendly editors and contributors standing by! Here’s where:

Tent: MM 
Quadrant: 3
Quadrant 3 covers the southern half of Dearborn St. between Harrison St. and Polk St and the two short blocks of Polk St. between S. Plymouth St. and S. Federal St. Look for the Poetry Foundation banner. 

A reading for the CQR!

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Eight Chicago Quarterly Review contributors will read from their work from 4 to 6 p.m., Sunday, May 17 at The Celtic Knot Public House on Church Street in Evanston. You’ll hear from:
SHARON SOLWITZ, award-winning author. Among her honors: the Carl Sandburg, Midlands Authors and Pushcart prizes, plus inclusion in Best American Short Stories of 2012.
LIZ RADFORD – Her work has appeared in Prick of the Spindle and AWP’s The Writer’s Chronicle. She is an MFA candidate at Northwestern.
PETER FERRY – Evanston writer whose work has appeared in McSweeney’s, Fiction and Story Quarterly; he is the winner of an Illinois Art Council Award for Short Fiction. He is the author of Travel Writing, and his new novel, Old Heart, is due in June, 2015.
DIPIKA MUKHERJEE: novelist, poet, sociolinguist. Her novel, Thunder Demon (2011) was listed for the Man Asian Literary Prize. Her poetry has been widely anthologized. She has edited two collections of Southeast Asian stories: Silverfish New Writing and The Merlion and Hibiscus. Her poetry collection, Palimpsest of Exile, was published by Rubicon in 2009.
STEVE CEJTIN – visual artist and principal of Hammer & Pixel designs, will read from CQR’s special issue featuring new literature from Italy, edited by translator Michela Martini.
GARY HOUSTON – well known actor/director, writer and editor emeritus of Chicago Sun Times “Show Book Week” and Chicago Literary Review.
UMBERTO TOSI – author and CQR contributing editor reads from Ophelia Rising, his new novel reimagining the life of Shakespeare’s fair maid before and after Hamlet.
ELEANOR SPIESS-FERRIS – noted Chicago narrative surrealist reads from her story, “The Art Store.”
Where:
Celtic Knot Public House
626 Church St
Evanston, IL 60201
(b/t Orrington & Chicago Aves)
Ph (847) 864-1679
When:
Sunday 4-6 pm, May 17