Madness and the Inadequacy of Language in Swadesh Deepak’s ‘I Have Not Seen Mandu’

by Abheet Srivastav

‘I Have Not Seen Mandu: A Fractured Soul-Memoir’ by Swadesh Deepak, trans. Jerry Pinto (Speaking Tiger Books, 2021)

“The rest is silence.”
-William Shakespeare

In the beginning of summer, when I read I Have Not Seen Mandu, I thought of this line from Shakespeare that Swadesh Deepak quotes in his book. Mandu is a book of loud silences. I wonder if this is one of the few books that chronicles the life of an individual with bipolar disorder in India, written by the individual themselves. Deepak is telling us that there is no language to communicate his experience. Beyond all that is written on page, the rest is silence. His is an attempt to breach the silence, an attempt to leave us with more of it.

In 2006, Swadesh Deepak went out for a walk in his hometown Ambala and never returned. This was the last book he wrote where he tried to present a collage of his seven years of mental illness. Jerry Pinto has translated the title from मैने मांडू नही देखा: खंडित जीवन का कोलाज, into I Have Not Seen Mandu: A Fractured Soul-Memoir. The second half of the title is not a literal translation, but it sums up an important aspect of the book by highlighting that this is a broken memoir of the soul. The body, which Deepak tried to abandon three times, does not have memories. It is the soul which transcends time, which remembers the dream that the body inhabited for seven long years, which felt the memories that are relayed in this memoir. Deepak himself puts it thus: “Memory lives in the soul and therefore the soul is immortal.” It was, and still remains, the assertion of that immortal soul. 

The question worth pondering, for me, was how do I begin to understand this fractured memoir? How do I inhabit this language, which is borne out of a lack, a madness whose central theme is its failure to be articulated? At the beginning of the book, Jerry Pinto, puts a caveat for the reader, “Where you think fit, add the word ‘perhaps’. For some unsettled memories are fractured.” Hence, we begin with mistrust, or maybe a warning of the fantastical events that will subsequently transpire. Against Swadesh Deepak’s gun with which we hunted his characters, all we have is a ‘perhaps’, rendering the space between language and truth infertile. 

The reader is presented with an interesting choice from the get go, which is absent in the original Hindi version. They are  provided with the ability to approach the book with suspended faith, as a clinical examiner would, adding ‘perhaps’ wherever necessary and thus staying within the bounds of sanity, separating the mad from the lucid, the dreams from reality and, in an extended metaphysical way, the realm of Swadesh Deepak’s body from his soul. This ‘perhaps’ supplied to us by Jerry Pinto adds an entire dimension which not just questions or saves us, but also opens up a whole new world for us–to interpret something that we don’t understand yet, to add a hint of indecision and remind us to not be too certain about our realities, to say that just like Swadesh Deepak, as we try to understand these fractured memories, we can add the word ‘perhaps’ where we see fit.

In a Hamlet inspired sentence, Swadesh Deepak writes, “There is no method in this madness.” As I begin to delve into this fractured memoir, the paradoxical need to understand the absurdity of the structure becomes the central tenet. Despite the lack of method, we need a spatial and temporal “method” to understand both internal and external events. Events which are fractured in time jump forth as isolated memories strung together with a thin thread. They offer the reader the challenge to allocate them in neatly defined temporal slots in order to make sense of it all. 

Spatially, the terrain of the narrative itself jumps between reality and dream. The lines between internal and external drama are often blurred. We move from the internal chaos to an external stasis. The temporal and the spatial tie into each other, as we jump between time and space, or are stuck in an elongated moment that refuses to pass. Often time flows linearly, with him stuck in his hospital bed. People keep arriving and leaving. While, at other times, time abruptly stops in the middle of a sentence and we are transported to different places and different realities. As we search for a “method”, this narrative style offers an insight into both the fractures in thought, and often thought itself.  It gives us, not an objective truth but an attempt to retrospectively reconstruct the thought process of a particular time. 

The other challenge in developing a method to understand this memoir lay in building a shared narrative with Deepak. In an intensely personal work, we share the truth offered to us. However, in a memoir of his meandering thoughts, we are not privy to all the details of the paths we tread with him. The reality we build around him is formless. He sits at a party and wanders off into his dreamland. The parking lot gives way to a fever dream of a stranger prophesying his death. Symbols present themselves in disjointed realities, with varying meanings. It hints at a broader theme, where Deepak is a reader of his own experience. 

While he tries to write a memoir true to his fragmented thoughts, he has to build within it a method with which it can be understood, not just by the reader but by himself. When he writes “But there, I was back from my frightening dreamworld. From dreams, in which I change form, change form endlessly, dreams which do not end or break or fracture until someone drops the curtain…” there is a need to drop the curtain to extend beyond this frightening dream world. The only method that we develop is to approach the fragmented reality on its own terms and when the curtains drop, to introspect about the frightening dream world that he has offered to us.

We are invited to take part in this fragmented reality, which is not just fragmented at a singular level of identity, but at multiple levels, which does not necessarily form a hierarchical structure or move in a fixed direction from outwards to inwards or vice versa. They form a chaotic jarring state that Swadesh Deepak is able to bring out through an honest account of his words. The fragmentation is visible at the outset with his body being a shared inhabitant of both the Psychiatric and Burns Wards. It enters into a linguistic relativity with him being torn between Hindi and English–the two languages he switches between, his multitudinal feelings for the Seductress who visits him constantly, and him dangling between life and death. His dreams are formless and his identity takes various forms in them. Sometimes he is a tiger, sometimes a hunter, sometimes the hunted, sometimes a bird in a cage, sometimes a wolf, and in certain moments of lucidity, a patient tied to his bed robbed of time.

The language of this fragmentation, of this divide that Swadesh Deepak feels within himself, is a space to meditate on the symbology of his language and to form a bridge to the internal psychological state of a person which is both limited and enabled by this language. Throughout the book, we get glimpses into the strained relationship of a writer with his own language and words. He calls English the language of lies, and yet in his most vulnerable moments of breakthrough, he switches to English. There is a threatening quality to English offered throughout the memoir. The language offers alienation and disdain, and yet demands reverence. It is when Deepak switches to English that everyone cowers down and listens to him and yet everyone, from the boy next to his hospital bed to his wife Gita, asks him to never use the damned language. Deepak himself reprimands his children when they show a disregard for Hindi and use English, and yet goes on to quote English authors to transmit some of his most honest emotions. 

The constant tussle between the two languages is present even in his play, Court Martial, where English is given an aristocratic, alien quality, that implies a disregard for the lived reality of the people of the country and yet some of the most sublime moments in the play is when English itself is employed against the colonial and aristocratic heritage it defends. 

Deepak complains of having lost his words and how his illness has not just taken them but his hands with which he held his pen. His break from reality, and its relationship with language comes forth: “When it is an incurable disease, we generally forget even the mother tongue, for one lives in a land of forbidden memories. That’s when we withdraw to a foreign dream world.” In this foreign dream world, the tether to one’s own language is broken. One has to inhabit a foreign language to emote and communicate. The untethered desires and memories need to be translated into a foreign language–the “language of the mad”, as he calls it–to be transmitted to the world. The manifestation of the disease, the Seductress, does not exist in Hindi. “Hindi has no seductress. The only way to talk about Mayavini is in English.” In this confusing relationship with the two languages, I wonder if the disease of alienation from oneself drew him to English more and, at the same time, made him hate it. The use of language by a writer could be a statement in itself, a way to communicate how it feels to be stuck in a self that feels untethered.Yet, we cannot be sure if this is the exchange of one language for another or a hatred of the limited nature of language itself. All language eludes him. He confesses to Giridhar Rathi, when asked to write about his illness, “I don’t want to write about my illness. I don’t remember the events in any order.” Lost in time, there is no language for the spaces he inhabits: “We are international citizens. We have no language.” His distance and unease with literature is also filled with duality. He talks about writers and artists extensively, and then goes on to lambast them. He quotes everyone from Plath, Shakespeare and Eliott to Nirmal Verma, Soumitra Mohan and Faiz, and then writes, “Now I will not sin by reading. Wisdom destroys.” Perhaps, in one of his lucid moments, when asked to talk about his illness, he acutely sums it up: “What do I say? What do I tell you? Words have become enemies. They punish me.” With dreams that cannot be translated, he has to rely on the words of others and a foreign language.

In the foreign dreamland, there are ominous signs of an impending disease. This dream reality carries meaning. Symbology of his dreams comes forth in various forms. He is always looking for signs. Just like the reader’s attempt to establish a method to this madness, these disparate symbols are also an attempt to emote something of value to us. He is enraptured by a Seductress, who he first finds after the premiere of his play Court Martial, in Calcutta. She asks him if he would come to Mandu with him, and he insults her in return. Thus starts the fall, the revenge of the Seductress on Swadesh Deepak. The Seductress appears with three parrots. 

When he meets Arun Kamal at an art exhibition and watches the paintings, he recounts looking at a particular painting. “When I asked Arun Kamal about it, he said: Swadesh, I don’t know much about painting. In our folk tales and fairy tales, we always have parrots. They are never female. For the epitome of beauty is always masculine, never feminine; and a female character always wants to bring a beautiful male character into her control. And if she can’t find a man then at least a symbol, the parrot in a cage, will do.” I wonder if each of those parrots is a life offered to Deepak. Having tried to kill himself thrice, he tries to fly away but is captured again and again.

 It is often difficult to decipher if the Seductress is a metaphor for his bipolar disorder or if he was literally haunted by a seductress. I carry both interpretations in parallel as they both together offer a richer view into his inner life than either in isolation. The Seductress becomes a common recurring symbol, which prompts us to ask various questions. Why is the Seductress a woman? Why is the Seductress intermixed with symbology of animals, with birds and leopards? What is the relationship of the Seductress with his impending death? What is the significance of Mandu? When we approach the text, with all these questions in our mind, several symbols jump forth. With most of Swadesh Deepak’s literature filled with violent, male-dominated, testosterone-filled characters, the presence of a woman as both an object of disdain and desire, offers us an avenue to investigate this dialectical relationship. 

In his conversations with the Seductress, he alludes to the trope of the femme fatale, recounting the tale of Helen of Troy and Draupadi. He is misogynistic, and yet finds himself surrendering and belonging to the seductress. He often gives into his lust for the seductress, and finds books on tantric sex in her bookshelves. He is often torn between his immense desire and hatred for the same thing, where he both longs for her to arrive and yet knows that her arrival means his demise. His lust for her often rises to a spiritual sense of oneness and yet shows a lack of religiosity in his life. In his conversations with Nirmal Verma and his repeated allusions to disenchanted Gods, I wonder, if in all his disillusion, he did search for a broader faith that he could hold on to rather than this dangling, constantly oscillating desire. 

It makes sense, even when I extend this to a metaphor for mental illness, where mental illness manifests itself as a mystical being—a being he could not make sense of properly and yet he engaged with it in an integral and complex relationship which lies beyond words. The seductress, at the same time, also occupies the complex terrain between life and death in which Swadesh Deepak finds himself. On some days, the seductress wears a white sari and sings a dirge in his name, whereas on other days, she appears as a three-breasted deity, which might be an allusion to Meenakshi, the three-breasted goddess of fertility. She plots revenge on him and then cradles him in her arms and offers the only tether to belong in this world. 

The symbology of the seductress also hints at the fragility of the machismo he inhabits. This space between life and death is not just inhabited by the seductress, but also premonitions and prophecies. Most premonitions offer a feminine character to the impending doom. When he meets Faiz, he is told, “You will suffer at the hands of women. But why fear? Mirza too suffered much. May Allah protect you. But you are fated to suffer.”, while Amritlal Nagarji tells him, “Swadesh, beauty can often be dangerous….you will be destroyed. Be careful. Be watchful.” In yet another conversation when he travels to Madhya Pradesh, Malay diagnoses his illness as a fear of his machismo being shattered by the non-Hindi speaking audiences of Calcutta, at the first screening of his play Court Martial. In most of his plays, the characters are violent and loud. He is touted to chase his characters with a gun. In the language of his illness, those characters return, seeking revenge for their death. There are limited moments of tenderness, in a disease that has an immense requirement of it. Rather, all tenderness is suspicious. The moments of tenderness are also displayed as distant, acts of sympathy or through self absorption. 

I am never sure if the misogyny and the fragile masculinity is a quality of Deepak himself, or a disease that negates all classically feminine traits, until they arise from the disease itself. However, it does hint at the deeper malaise of the ingrained machismo and the inability to ask for help when brought up in a deeply patriarchal setting. This violent machismo also appears in his description of the Seductress, where he oscillates between conquering her or being destroyed by her. It is in his moments when his machismo falters, that he lets her cradle him and ask him to come with her. And yet, later, in his moments of rage he detests his supposed weakness. In a lot of ways, it opens up a conversation about mental illness in men, and how patriarchy can make it an incredibly violent struggle, both physically and psychologically.

However, the symbology extends beyond the seductress, where premonitions and prophecies abound. A strange man meets him on a lonely night, and tells him first in English, and then in Hindi, that he will die. The wind knocks against his window and whispers to him. He moves in pictures, and the pictures talk to him. The sparrows and the Jungle Babbler, arrive in groups of seven to narrate his death to him. He is warned by the likes of Faiz, Amritlal Nagarji, Ranjit Kapoor and Abrahim Elkazi about his future. Death is represented in all his dreams. He travels to the space between life and death, where tigers abound and recite the poetry of Nirala, and W.B. Yeats makes friends with him in heaven. Leopards arrive along with the Seductress, and he chases them in his dreams, and is chased by them. He is both the hunter and the hunted. He sees horsemen in his dreams, which might be an allusion to the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

In chaos that exists in his mind, there are still moments of lucidity. There are moments when Swadesh Deepak, the English professor, the radical playwright with his sharp critique on social issues, and the gifted writer is on display. He talks to his son Sukant and opens up to him about his mental illness. There are moments where he realises his own lack of power with his debilitating condition. The subject of the societal treatment of the mentally ill, though scarcely addressed, also presents itself in a conversation with his doctor who talks about how no one understands the illness properly and there is no language to talk about it in India. In another instance as Deepak sits in his home, an unemployed man working on his next book, we are shown his existence as a non-entity. It is a depiction of the resources and the respect that the mentally ill lack in our society.  Perhaps, that is why he could not find the right words, the right metaphors, in his own mother tongue to talk about his state. Maybe our mother tongue still lacks the accurate vocabulary to talk of mental illness, to discuss it with our close ones. That is why his attempt to create literature out of his experience becomes even more significant. 

I am reminded of a line of Soumitra Mohan he quotes, “भाग्य कहीं थमा हुआ है। (My destiny is stuck somewhere).” Swadesh Deepak offers us an insight into the complex life of an equally complex man. All I have is to offer theories and methods to understand a part of his experience but beyond all these analyses, all the literature he left behind for us, he teaches us empathy. He leaves us with an intensely human experience, creating a place where we can suspend our belief and exist in contradictions. A place where we can try to open conversation not just about mental illness but the nature of reality in itself and how the imagery processed by the human mind can create such a unique piece of work.

ABHEET SRIVASTAV is an analyst working in the field of Artificial Intelligence, and an avid reader. Always curious, he likes to learn about everything ranging from philosophy to science, and is always tinkering with both ideas and products to create something of value. His work has appeared in The Medley, an anthology of short stories, and various online platforms.  His writings can be found on his Instagram account @abheet_srivastav, and also his monthly Substack newsletter Figuring.

Book Review: Streaming Now by Laurie Stone

By Stephanie Gemmell

Postcards fulfill an impulse to share our experiences, concisely capturing moments in time and carrying brief messages to people in distant places. Now, postcards also tend to represent a sense of nostalgia, conveying some appreciation for an apparently simpler time.

In Streaming Now: Postcards from the Thing that is Happening, Laurie Stone’s writing reflects both a motivation to share her ideas and an appreciation for the past. Stone documents her experiences, thoughts, and seemingly random musings from the pandemic, along with some particular memories of her life before its descent.

The “postcards” that make up the book sound and feel like fleeting thoughts grasped just long enough to be put on paper. Many of Stone’s dispatches come from a place she calls “Pandemica,” viewed unsympathetically from her vantage point in Hudson, New York. She addresses a wide variety of topics, in no particular order, realistically capturing a steady stream of thoughts and ideas.

Stone recounts in detail the films and shows she watched throughout the worst of the pandemic. She unabashedly expresses her views on the value and necessity of feminism in frank personal terms. She candidly addresses loss: the death of her sister, the experience of caring for her dying dog. She questions the role of abstract language in the pursuit of social change. She describes her impressions of her early writing career and recounts the details of some gigs she worked as a caterer.

Some of Stone’s paragraphs flow seamlessly through intertwined topics. Others abruptly traverse chasms between disparate subjects. This unpredictability in structure conveys a pervasive sense of movement that evolves throughout the book. While this organizational element of Stone’s approach to the book can prompt confusion or unease in some places, even these reactions seem to support Stone’s intent. Stone shifts topics from sentence to sentence in some places, resulting in a stream of consciousness narration that feels authentic and artfully unedited.

The strength of Laurie Stone’s writing lies in her capacity to integrate evocative description with striking frankness and concision. Even the shortest paragraphs in this book embody Stone’s literary vitality and her palpable resistance to the weight of the pandemic. Her specific yet relatable narratives about mundane activities—buying plants for her garden, partaking in Zoom events, accidentally eating too much of a marijuana gummy—become increasingly engaging based on their apparent randomness and sheer number.

Stone’s writing in Streaming Now bluntly captures the complexity of life, as she details events ranging from the unremarkable to the life-altering. Based on what she includes, Stone’s forthrightness in this book serves less as a literary device than an effort to build real trust with the reader. 

Stone’s writing reflects the value of taking the time to freely capture thoughts as they come, honestly and without inhibition. As a whole, Streaming Now implicitly challenges readers to draw up vivid mental postcards of their own experiences and memories.

STEPHANIE GEMMELL is a writer and composer currently living in Pennsylvania. Her writing has been featured in Just Place ChapbookCapitol LettersThe Ekphrastic ReviewThe Rival GW, and in the poetry anthology Falling Leaves published by Day Eight. She also attended the 2021 Glen Workshop as a poetry and songwriting fellow. She recently graduated summa cum laude from George Washington University with a BA in Religious Studies and minors in Journalism and Psychology. Her work is motivated by the unique power of art to ask meaningful questions and inspire authenticity.

Book Review: The Lustre of a Burning Corpse by Anureet Watta

by Priyanka Chakrabarty

Queerness is a lesson in knowing that survival is both an act of violence and a form of self-love. In Sexualness by akshay khanna queer lives are described as “bare life of bodies” where they emphasize the untranslabitlity of being human and its fragile condition. Anureet Watta’s debut poetry collection The Lustre of a Burning Corpse, examines these bare lives of bodies that are subjected to the violence of existing, carrying grief and hope simultaneously. 

Audre Lorde, in her seminal essay, “Eye to Eye: Black Women, Hatred and Anger,” distinguishes suffering from pain. Suffering is unscrutinized pain that festers like a wound. Pain is recognizing the festering wound of suffering and providing it with language. In the poem, “Where do you put down the scream?” Watta names pain as “holy agony” and asks, “What would/I be when I do not have this holy/agony to keep me company?” because “It keeps me company, the way a pebble/in a shoe, an itch you cannot reach/does.” There is an intimacy with the “holy agony” of knowing pain and carrying it like a scream. Pain often looks like anger, like a scream. After all, it is much easier to be angry than to be hurting.

The agony further stems from violence that is both personal and political. Watta writes, in “The Government has it Under Control”: “the postcard I write to my lover,/the prime minister licks the stamps for me,/the home minister checks for grammar”. These lines keenly emphasize the discomfort of being aware of the voyeuristic gaze of the state. The power vested in it is so deep that its presence is felt in the innermost sanctum of our love and the language we use to communicate. They further write, “Who wore it better, lets find out:/The prime minister’s sherwani/threaded with blood,/or the home minister’s boot,/caked with graveyard mud?” in the ironically titled, “Country of Non-Violence.” Watta’s poetry stems from the acute awareness of autocratic power and the violence it wields. The imagery presented is vivid, driving home a brutal point about the relationship of despotic power with bloodshed.

The collection is a roadmap of violence in its various grotesque and benign forms. There is the unending violence of the state masquerading as security, obsessed with safeguarding honour and mitigating shame. There is the violence of constantly finding oneself erased and invisibilized. How do we then survive, live, and bear witness to our lived experiences? In “We Swallow the Sun to keep from Stuttering” Watta writes,

“You have never longed to be understood

just acknowledged, 

under kinder skies and with undoubtful eyes 

but until then, 

I’m here, and I’m not really a hug person, 

but I think we can both use one.”

There is also a quiet form of violence that queer people reserve for themselves, like an arsenal for emergency use, in case they momentarily forget the normalized threshold of violence that constitutes their lives. It is discernible in the lines, “You have never longed to be understood/ just acknowledged.” To be understood and acknowledged is to belong so here is an attempt to belong in the face of the intrinsic violence of erasure. 

Poetry carries the crucial burden of witnessing. It carries the weight of testimony. The act of witnessing is fraught with the power dynamics of the one who suffers and the one who witnesses. This act is exploitative at its core when suffering is performed for the benefit of the observer. It becomes sacred when there is surrender and the binary of the witness and the witnessed collapses. As Watta says, “We are, after all,/ the truest reporters of ourselves.” The self they behold is always on the verge of being consumed and at the brink of this annihilation is the voice of their poetry. 

Watta stands witness to the lives they have lived as a queer person as well as the lives they couldn’t live or weren’t allowed to, holding themselves, all their selves, with tenderness and mercy. In “Poet as a Tragedy,” Watta pens one of the most powerful lines in this collection, “I learn the necessity of consuming yourself,/in exchange for an allegory.” They further say, “Mostly, I write, in fleeting moments of power I do not kill/myself/Mostly, I self-sabotage and wait for the poem./This must be how it works.” Poetry has always remained the domain of cis-het white men who are still taught in classrooms as canons. Poetry is fraught with romanticisation of tragedy, usually accompanied by the image of a brooding poet, taking long walks. This element of tragedy is rarely a lived experience. “Poet as a Tragedy” is a masterful subversion of this imagery where tragedy is not a convenient trope but rather varying shades of lived experience guised as a poem. Poetry then is a barter with life, which arrives in moments of self-sabotage, an attempt to live where moments of power are rare and fleeting. 

Watta’s poetry brings to us the redemptive power of language. In “Body Without a Border,” Watta writes, “To commit something to memory is to protect it from the/filth of touch.” The private shrine of memory is sacred. Watta tests language to measure queerness and mocks its inadequacy to map the terrains of desire and intimacy etched in memory and shrouded in silence. “Our imaginations are so revolutionary,/I refuse to sell then to authenticity,” they write in “Cinematic Imagination.” Language as a tool belongs to the powerful who determine the narrative that dominates public imagination. Queer lives, in this power structure, are written about as subjects of interrogation and curiosity. Our lived experiences constitute educational awareness material meant to convince people of our existence. Watta supplants this usage of language from a patriarchal, heteronomative gaze which showcases “realities.” Dry witted, they write, “No, I do not want to know about the part where/the lesbian commits suicide,/I was there when she did it.” They directly challenge the gaze that curates queer realities for an audience where valorisation of death is the only option. The narrative where queer lives are reduced to a shadow, and eventually a dead body, is an old misguided, even malicious, trope that long lost its charm. Instead, Watta draws our attention to queer joy and the horizons of imagination that contain possibilities of revolution. 
Carmen Maria Machado in In the Dream House writes, “When the historian of queer experience attempts to document a queer past, there is often a gatekeeper, representing a straight present.” In Watta’s poetry I meet that historian who is documenting a queer past, living a queer present, and imagining queer futures. This documentation is unlike the history of victories and conquests. It is a meticulous collection of intimacies, with one’s self as well as with lovers and beloveds. I often witness the gatekeeper and the straight present, it lingers in this collection too, but Watta grazes against it in anger and humour. The voice of a poet drives poetry. It is what remains like a resounding echo long after the words have been read. After the last page is turned, Watta’s voice lingers in all its anger and tenderness.

PRIYANKA CHAKRABARTY is a neuroqueer person and law student based in Bangalore. She aspires to be a human rights lawyer and is an avid reader of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry. She has been writing in the genre of creative non-fiction and is a literary contributor with The Chakkar. Her works have been published with Phosphene MagazineInklette Magazine and The Chakkar. She is a bookstgrammer and regularly documents her reading journey on Instagram: @exisitingquietly.

Book Review: ‘Dominant Genes’ by SJ Sindu

by Akilah White

Dominant Genes by SJ Sindu (Black Lawrence Press, 2022)

I was born by the ocean an island child

the core of me salt water and seagulls howling

As an island child who imagined conifer trees by an oily harbour in my hollowed core when I lived in a foreign mainland, those lines from the poem ‘Gods in the Surf’ were a recognisable code. Growing up in a tourist town bore out an affinity for writers who situated beaches within the locals’ quotidian patterns, the water-borne histories that often connect island states to colonialism and imperialism, rather than the popular image of idyllic pleasure sites. In Dominant Genes, a hybrid collection of poetry and nonfiction, SJ Sindu, a Tamil diaspora author in Canada, reconfigures dominant concepts about place, family, love, gender and sexuality, religion, and herself. She restories how they can be, how they are, and how she is in the world, considered through an exploration of familial and cultural inheritance.

This latest release made me mentally kick myself for letting my copy of Sindu’s debut novel Marriage of a Thousand Lies (2017) languish in the cloud unread. Readers who have followed her writing since then will be familiar with the bright thematic threads spun into the present: How do queer Sri Lankans navigate relationships with themselves, their matriarchal families and community marriage market? What is British colonialism’s impact on indigenous ontology and understandings of Hinduism that obscure its visiblly queer gender and sexual narratives?

The “I” appears often in what Sindu acknowledged to be a directly autobiographical work but the “I” does not stagnate in a limited individualism. To give the work a genetic framing necessitates a focus on self in relation to others. The “I” shifts to “we” in critical thematic pieces in which spatial, temporal, and spiritual boundaries are permeable pathways to consider inheritance: what legacies are within the writer’s power to claim, to reject? Recognising an ancient epic’s unique mutability in its hold over collective consciousness, Sindu restories mythic figures to pose potent questions about epigenetic endowments like anger and violence which are not easy to avow or disavow. 

In the poem ‘Sun God’, Sindu imagines herself in tandem with Karna through framings that implicate her Tamil identity. He is not the chosen one and “…his real story is one of self-destruction” where he ends up on “the wrong side of a holy war”. The speaker sets one of her childhood memories alongside an imagined “little Karna”, asking “bad questions” about identity. His is about perceived godhood, hers about perceived righteousness. 

Whether obliquely or directly addressed, the Sri Lankan civil war that started in 1983, four years before Sindu was born, underpins much of who and what she explores in this collection. Heritage—cultural practices and intangible ideas embodied in offspring across generations—becomes that much more of a contested territory for a displaced people driven out by targeted violence. 

if one man’s freedom fighter

is another man’s terrorist

then are we on the wrong side of this war

But a soldier with a weapon in hand is not the first figure to mete out violence on the page —it is the author’s mother, threaded needle in hand, in ‘The Birth Story’.

My mother, out of love, stitches up my heart, pulling the thread tight to make sure it won’t rupture again at the same spot. My heart is defenseless, ready to come undone at the next crisis. While she’s at it, my mother stitches up my mouth, too, and turns her needle and thread to my brain.

The author is disembodied, represented only as cavity and viscera, vulnerable, in a “birth” that recalls Dr. Frankenstein and his creature. In ‘Dominant Genes’, the last poem, there is a memory of Sindu as a child unknowingly taking advantage of her mother’s ophidiophobia to terrify her—a “favourite pastime” because it placed the mother within the child’s power. The two poems frame the power struggles in a fraught relationship that straddles the entire collection. The glimpses offered into their personal history encompass a mother who denies her gender queerness through the policing of her clothes in ‘Draupadi Walks Alone at Night’, dismisses her love for a woman as a “phase” in ‘Mother’, rediagnoses her depression as “weakness of character, stress, overwork” in ‘Parental Love’. The lens expands to include the aunties, active stockbrokers in a now globalised marriage market conducted online as well as in person. For to be perceived as a single young woman is to ceaselessly exist on an auction block under their commodifying, dissecting gaze – “My worth measured in pigments and strands.” 

Raj Chakrapani, a poet, filmmaker, and professor, in conversation with Sindu for The Rumpus in 2017, probed at the deeper reasons for Sri Lankan parents “obsession with marriage” beyond the typical assumptions, especially those who were war refugees. Sindu answered: 

“I think marriage for many South Asian parents becomes the embodiment of tradition and of maintaining that cultural link back to the homeland. […] The other part, specific to Sri Lankan parents, is that marriage and family are signifiers of security and support. And as people who have experienced war, they know how important the security and support of family can be to survival. When the world turns dangerous, who can you trust? Who can you rely on to protect you? A nuclear family is a great solution to that problem. And at the center of that is a happy marriage, according to traditional views of family.”

Yet, in this collection, Sindu never entertains the notion that her feminism and queerness renders her as other in relation to her culture. With the evocatively titled “Draupadi Walks Alone at Night”, the longest of the mini-essays, Sindu pins Draupadi’s story at the centre of the Mahābhārata to map and sequence the patriarchal norms embedded in its narrative code, and how it connects and reinforces the objectification of and violence against femmes, whether cis or genderqueer, detailed in varying degrees throughout the collection.

‘To all My Suitors and the Aunties Who Send Them My Way’ the family’s treatment of Sindu as a child creates an image that recalls divinity. “…my aunts and uncles took turns fanning the [chicken pox] sores with bundles of curry leaves so I wouldn’t be tempted to scratch”. That touch of the divine appears in Draupadi’s story, her birth a prayer granted to Drupada, her father, to aid in his revenge plans. To help grant his desire, she participates in his plan to make an advantageous alliance via marriage. At no point is the reader given the impression that Sindu felt any true desire to do the same, there was a period during which she met with “potential suitors” from the belief that her parents’ mental health depended on her performing conformity, however limited. Draupadi ends up in a polyamorous marriage to five brothers not by choice but through her mother-in-law’s mistake. Yet not even five husbands could protect her from abuse and public humiliation—indeed others cite it as the reason she deserves it—and so she has fallen from a created feminine virtue. As an example of the most extreme practices to uphold this ideal, in an earlier section the reader learns that women are forced to marry their rapists in parts of rural India.

Through this and poems like “Sun God”—about Karna, who called Draupadi a “whore”—Dominant Genes becomes a part of a centuries-long previously mentioned tradition of reinterpreting the ancient Sanskrit epics to sustain its relevance to the ever changing times. At the end of the essay, after detailing the extent to which Draupadi and so many like her are wronged, Sindu names what she desires for them all: anger. Not just the intergenerational trait “folded up in the pleats of sarees”, sucked through breast milk, as mentioned at the beginning—the anger she tries to exorcise through haircuts, the anger her mother tries to quiet through prayer. She wants a transformative anger that can destabilise and rebuild worlds. She morphs the thread imagery in ‘The Birth Story’ from her mother’s oppressive, confining intent to one that rage cuts through to unleash its creative generative possibilities. Sindu herself can spin it into her own protective boundaries, reconciling not only the differences between her mother and the writer-offspring, but also the different selves within the writer.

Is it fair to say that hybrid collections such as this are trending in the literary marketplace? True or not, they are my new favourites, especially ones like this where the combination of two writing genres, poetry and nonfiction, reflect the theme of twoness in the collection as coexistence and conflict. On average a little over a page long, the essays’ brevity and internal associative logic forced me to break their hold to remind myself which ones were the poems. It may not sync with the author’s categorisation but a more traditional or relaxed adherence to writing conventions proved the easiest tells. The poems feature a very limited use of capitalizations, except for proper nouns in most instances, and a few commas or colons for specific clarity. This sharpened meaning in poems like ‘Gods in the Surf’ that revolve around the different locations—“America”, the “Gulf” ocean—and the different meanings they hold, and in the silence of the landmass that is not named except in geographical terms. It also offered Sindu the freedom to play with how language creates meaning. With little punctuation, reading the poems aloud encouraged a sensitivity to rhythm and proximity to discern meaning. A stanza could be a complete statement on its own or it could be split, a part of it easily read and understood as belonging to the next. From ‘How to Survive a Pandemic’:

these were the happy days

before the plague

and then after

it was out of necessity

is what we tell ourselves

giving up our skin

was the only way we knew

how to stay inside

and still be human

In the title poem, Sindu traces her “serpent-tongue” through her “foggy ancestral memory” to her snake worshipping ancestors. She names it both a “gift” and a “liability”, the latter word weighted with its own ambiguity in this context. Who or what does it put at a disadvantage? Is that a bad thing? Her mother’s instruction to “write nice stories” is received as a move to cage her tongue, a negative image. Yet Dominant Genes shows Sindu’s awareness of the risk that comes with any kind of destructive power. Book marketing language can enervate overused words but I hope some of mine conveyed what courage, what rebellious love lives in this text. May it be a literary heirloom to families born, found, and yet to come.

AKILAH WHITE is a Jamaican freelance book reviewer and sensitivity reader living in the shark’s mouth. Her writing has appeared in The Book Slut, Rebel Women Lit Magazine, and Intersect‘s Caribbean Queer Feminist Stories Vol 1 amongst other venues. When not doom scrolling on Twitter she bookstagrams at @ifthisisparadise

Discover poet-lyricists: Artists embodying the relationship between words and music

By Stephanie Gemmell

As distinct art forms, poetry and lyrics remain inherently intertwined. While many artists focus their energies on one or the other, some poets and musicians naturally express themselves through both mediums. For these artists, the different facets of the creative process seem to energize one another, supporting the development of new creative approaches and enabling writers to cultivate their most open and authentic voices throughout their work.

To highlight songwriters whose work traverses and transcends the boundaries between lyrics and poetry, I chose 10 artists whose work reflects different musical genres, poetic themes, and personal perspectives. Organized in no particular order, these artists vary widely in terms of their creative career trajectories and their development as musicians. Many of these writers have powerfully influenced my creative process as a writer and composer, and I feel confident that the same is true for many others as well.

Despite their differences, all of these artists palpably demonstrate authenticity, honesty, and openness throughout their work, making their artistic contributions especially valuable. These creators also display courage through cultivating their own unique voices, reflected in the distinctive nature of their words and music. More than half of these artists have also produced visual art in a variety of formats, further embodying intersections across creative mediums.

Leonard Cohen

Leonard Cohen famously embarked on a musical career at the age of 33, having already published poetry collections and two novels. Despite his relatively late start in the music industry—or perhaps partly because of it—Cohen became an eminent singer-songwriter, releasing 14 studio albums between 1967 and 2016. Cohen’s fifteenth album, Thanks for the Dance, was also released posthumously in 2019.

The distinctive literary voice that Cohen cultivated throughout his life echoes through both his lyrics and his poetry, contributing to a powerful catalog of music as well as multiple poetry collections. Most recently, Cohen published Book of Longing in 2006, and it included his first published poetry since the publication of his collection Book of Mercy in 1984. Following Cohen’s death in 2016, The Flame, a collection of poems, drawings, and journal entries, was published in 2018.

In discussing his creative process, Cohen tended to emphasize the length of time he spent drafting and revising individual songs. “The only thing I can say is, a song will yield if you stick with it long enough,” Cohen explained in an interview. “Usually, I take a long, long time – partly because of an addiction to perfection, partly just sheer laziness.” Despite his self-effacing remarks about his unconventional creative process, it remains clear that Cohen’s writing approach worked for him, enabling him to bring meaningful and memorable songs and poems into being.

Cohen’s poetry and lyrics throughout his career frequently addressed existential and religious questions, reflecting Cohen’s personal thoughts and questions. Cohen’s song “You Want it Darker,” released in 2016, explores notions related to religious belief, struggle, and justice from Cohen’s perspective near the end of his life. Much of Cohen’s posthumously-published writing included in The Flame also involves these themes. In the foreword to his father’s last book, Adam Cohen writes that the book “was what [Leonard Cohen] was staying alive to do, his sole breathing purpose at the end.” Adam Cohen also notes, “my father, before he was anything else, was a poet,” and this reality remains evident in the varied writing that follows. Many of Cohen’s poems employ rhythmic rhyme schemes, but in the poem “My Career,” Cohen concisely writes, “So little to say / So urgent / to say it.” Similarly addressing themes related to his work and legacy, Cohen concludes another poem, “If I Took a Pill,” with the lines, “I am trying to finish / My shabby career / With a little truth / In the now and here.”

Alicia Keys

When Alicia Keys entered the music industry at the young age of 13, she quickly faced demeaning power differentials and struggled to maintain control over her work and creative process. However, Keys embodied artistic tenacity from a young age, retaining power and ownership over her music and her public persona. Following the release of her debut album Songs in A Minor in 2001, Keys has continued to write, perform, and produce music that reflects her own unique R&B sound.

Following the release of her sophomore studio album, The Diary of Alicia Keys, Keys published Tears for Water: Poetry and Lyrics in 2004. Like her music, the collection offers insights into her mindset and perspective, as well as her own personal creative process. In her introduction, Keys writes, “I know that any creative expression is destined to be subject to criticism, but this book is for me and all those who are on the search for freedom.” The poems that follow embody an authentic vulnerability and sincerity, honestly reflecting specific moments and revelations in Keys’ early career. Along with Keys’ poetry, Tears for Water also includes explanations of the poems’ origins and what they originally meant to her. 

In the poem “golden child” Keys writes, “Girl, you be smart / look in your heart and see what shines in you.” In her commentary, Keys explains how the poem reflects a shift in her internal mindset, writing, “I was forced to believe in myself and not in what others thought of me,” describing the moment captured in the poem as a turning point in her life. Directly addressing themes of self-doubt, uncertainty, and burgeoning artistic confidence, the poems included in this collection exhibit the creative courage that Keys has continued to cultivate over the past two decades. In addition to her poetry collection, the fifteen-time Grammy winner also released a memoir, More Myself: A Journey, in 2020.

Lana Del Rey

In an early interview, Lana Del Rey described that she selected her stage name as something that would guide the trajectory of her musical and creative process. Following the release of her breakthrough sophomore album Born to Die in 2012 at the age of 27, she has continued to create unique, authentic work that remains true to her voice. She released eight studio albums between 2010 and 2021, and her debut poetry collection, Violet Bent Backwards Over the Grass, was published in 2020.

In contrast to the rhythmic structure and rhyme scheme used in her music, the poetry in Del Rey’s collection tends to employ a free, stream of consciousness narrative approach. In the poem “SportCruiser,” Del Rey describes taking flight classes and sailing lessons, concluding, “All of this circumnavigating the earth / was to get back to my life / 6 trips to the moon for poetry to arise / I’m not a captain / I’m not a pilot / I write / I write.” 

Jim Morrison

After rapidly rising to fame as the frontman of The Doors in the late 1960s, Jim Morrison developed a reputation for his distinctive onstage theatrics and the descriptive, philosophical nature of his lyrics. After cofounding The Doors with keyboardist Ray Manzarek in 1965, Morrison recorded six studio albums with the band between 1967 and 1971. Morrison’s unique vocal style and offbeat lyrics gave life to songs ranging from “Riders on the Storm” and “When the Music’s Over” to “Moonlight Drive,” “Roadhouse Blues,” and “L.A. Woman.”

Following his sudden death in Paris in 1971 at the age of 27, Morrison remained a seminal figure in psychedelic rock, being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993 along with his bandmates from The Doors. But Morrison conceived of himself as a poet first and foremost, with his lyrics stemming from his original dedication to the craft of writing poetry.

Morrison wrote poetry and lyrics synchronously as a member of The Doors. He self-published two collections of poetry in 1969, later compiled in The Lords and the New Creatures. Many of Morrison’s poems, drafts, and journal entries have been published in posthumous collections, including Wilderness in 1988 and The American Night in 1990. Most recently, The Collected Works of Jim Morrison, published in 2021, contains nearly 600 pages of both published and previously unpublished work from throughout Morrison’s life, reflecting his development as an artist and individual.

The collection demonstrates the breadth of Morrison’s interests beyond the sides of him commonly known in pop culture, including vividly descriptive imagery, metaphysical concepts, and narrative poetry. The book also provides pictures from Morrison’s notebooks with poems in his own handwriting, showing elements of his drafting and revision process. Morrison’s poem “The Universe” reflects recurring themes of metaphysics and reptile imagery. Morrison writes, “The Universe, one line, is a / long snake, & we each are / facets on its jeweled skin.” 

Florence Welch

As the vocalist and primary songwriter for her band Florence + The Machine, Florence Welch found her breakthrough success in the music industry with the band’s debut album Lungs in 2009. Since then, Welch has released four more albums with the band in addition to collaborating with other musicians as a featured artist. Many of Welch’s original lyrics incorporate existential and religious themes from varying perspectives, and her poetry collection, Useless Magic, reflects similar concepts.

Published in 2018, Useless Magic includes lyrics from Welch’s first four albums, followed by poetry. In her preface, Welch explains, “I don’t know what makes a song a song and a poem a poem: they have started to bleed into each other at this stage.” In the poem “Monarch Butterflies,” Welch paradoxically writes, “I am afraid of things being written down / Confined to the page so permanent / There is an impermanence to song / It is fleeting and of the moment / Words grow wings.” 

John Lennon

As one of the preeminent songwriters of the twentieth century, John Lennon left a lasting musical and cultural legacy, impacting generations of musicians and creatives. It would be difficult to overstate Lennon’s influence as the founder of the Beatles, a solo singer-songwriter, and a prominent peace activist. But in addition to his well-known accomplishments and artistic pursuits, Lennon also published two successful books early in his career.

In His Own Write, published in 1964, includes poetry, short stories, and illustrations. The book has generally been classified as nonsense literature, featuring wordplay and anti-authority sentiments. Lennon published another book, A Spaniard in the Works, using a similar format of drawings and nonsensical short stories in 1965. Skywriting by Word of Mouth, published posthumously in 1986, includes more of Lennon’s miscellaneous writings, drawings, and cartoons. All three books reflect elements of Lennon’s background in visual art, including simple cartoons paired with his writing, stemming from his experiences and interests he originally developed as a young student.

Keaton Henson

Songwriter, composer, and visual artist Keaton Henson has paradoxically gained greater attention and recognition through his quietness. As a singer-songwriter, Henson scarcely performs due to anxiety, and themes related to mental health figure prominently in both his lyrics and instrumental scores. Henson’s vulnerable, deeply personal songwriting reveals an understated yet formidable artistic courage that finds expression throughout all of his work.

Henson launched his creative career as an illustrator and visual artist, designing album art for other musicians. Henson released his first music in 2010, after beginning to record original songs in his apartment without originally intending to release his music publicly. Since then, Henson has continued to consistently produce and release new music, sporadically performing his work live in concert. Henson also composed Six Lethargies, a 70-minute work for string orchestra, and the piece debuted in 2018.

Henson’s songwriting style reflects a poetic sensitivity to language, and he published a poetry collection, Idiot Verse, in 2015. The book illustrates Henson’s background both as a writer and visual artist, including poetry and sketches. Henson’s publisher describes the collection as drawing on “the tradition of Leonard Cohen and John Lennon,” and similarities in style and creative approach are present throughout the collection. In the final stanza of the book’s opening poem, Henson states, “I’ll write it out just as I see it / and just as it sounds in my heart / and pay no mind to those wasting their time / in confusing confusion with art.” 

Mike Posner

After releasing his debut album 31 Minutes to Takeoff in 2010 at the age of 22, Mike Posner quickly became known in pop culture for his singles “Cooler Than Me” and “Please Don’t Go.” Following his first album’s international success, Posner grappled with the pressures of fame and struggled with depression, leading him to focus on writing and producing for other artists rather than releasing new solo work.

In 2015, Posner released the original acoustic version of his song “I Took a Pill in Ibiza,” which was later remixed by SeeB into a chart-topping tropical house song. His 2016 album, At Night, Alone, included both versions of “I Took a Pill in Ibiza,” along with “Be As You Are.” Both songs’ lyrics reflect a shift in artistic perspective, openness, and creative maturity that found similar expression in Posner’s 2017 poetry collection Tear Drops and Balloons. Posner has subsequently released two more albums and completed a walk across the United States in 2019, successfully walking more than 3,000 miles across the country after surviving a dangerous rattlesnake bite.

Joni Mitchell

Revered as a multidimensional songwriter whose extensive catalog of music transcends genres, Joni Mitchell has received nine Grammy Awards for her work and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1997. Mitchell’s songwriting demonstrates a profound sensitivity and attentiveness to the power of language interconnected with rhythm. The poetry she has published throughout her career similarly reflects her talent for descriptive storytelling and her awareness of the interplay between sound and meaning in language.

Published in 1997,  Joni Mitchell: The Complete Poems and Lyrics, reflects the breadth of her writing up to that point in her career. More recently, Mitchell published Morning Glory on the Vine: Early Songs and Drawings in 2019, representing a reproduction of a book she originally gave to friends as a gift in 1971. The book contains her original lyrics along with paintings and drawings, offering authentic representations of her creative process and mindset in the early stages of her musical career. In “Woodstock,” Mitchell writes, “We are stardust / We are golden / And we’ve got to get ourselves / Back to the garden.” Mitchell’s poetry tends to reflect her attention to both rhythm and the inherent music of language. In“Cactus Tree,” she writes, “Now she rallies her defenses / For she fears that one will ask her / For eternity / And she’s too busy / Being free.”

Kurt Cobain

Known as the frontman, guitarist, and primary songwriter of Nirvana, Kurt Cobain left an indelible impression on the music industry and uniquely affected the development of alternative rock. Cobain released three studio albums with Nirvana, finding major commercial success through the release of the band’s sophomore album Nevermind in 1991, followed by In Utero in 1993. After Cobain’s tragic death by suicide at the age of 27 in 1994, his artistry has continued to powerfully impact other artists and musicians. Cobain was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2014 along with his Nirvana bandmates.

Many fans and admirers of Cobain would be unlikely to characterize him as a poet in the traditional sense, and he did not publish any poetry during his lifetime. But Kurt Cobain’s Journals, published posthumously in 2002, includes poetry he drafted, along with other lyrics and drawings from his personal notebooks. The unedited nature of the writing provides a clear glimpse into Cobian’s thought process and creative perspective.  In one entry, Cobain writes “I am threatened by ridicule… My emotions are affected by music. Punk rock means freedom. I use bits and pieces of others’ personalities to form my own.”

STEPHANIE GEMMELL is a writer and composer currently living in Pennsylvania. Her writing has been featured in Just Place ChapbookCapitol LettersThe Ekphrastic ReviewThe Rival GW, and in the poetry anthology Falling Leaves published by Day Eight. She also attended the 2021 Glen Workshop as a poetry and songwriting fellow. She recently graduated summa cum laude from George Washington University with a BA in Religious Studies and minors in Journalism and Psychology. Her work is motivated by the unique power of art to ask meaningful questions and inspire authenticity.

In Conversation with Auður Jónsdóttir

by Devanshi Khetarpal

There was nothing unusual about the day we met. But I’d left my apartment early to reach Auður’s hotel on time. We were meeting in the lobby and I was hoping for it to be quiet. I stopped at a cafe to grab a cup of coffee on my way and to flip through the pages of her book, Quake. I wanted to be reacquainted with my first contact with the book. It attracted me as soon as I stepped into my favorite bookstore, Three Lives and Co., a few weeks ago. A story about a woman losing her memory sounded interesting. And Auður was an Icelandic writer I knew of, but hadn’t read before. I bought the book without giving it too much thought. But little did I know that the book would be more than that. Like any great book, it starts to show you its true self outside its confines, margins, structures and plots. I felt, as I turned the pages more and more feverishly, that the ground beneath me was shaking. I was thinking about Saga, her name and her being. Who is she or isn’t she? Reading Quake is like gaining pleasure, in slow currents,  from feeling estranged in a way. In Meg Matich’s translation, many words were left in the original Icelandic, and I felt as though I was sleeping with a stranger. I felt that kind of pleasure: page after page filled with thrill and risk, pain and doubt, worry and secrecy. I felt good and bad, exposed and enconscened within the safety and structure of the narrative. 

 And I was all the more fascinated after I attended the book launch at McNally Jackson Seaport a week ago. It was a small audience who knew what they were there for. Everyone listened carefully, attentively, and thoughtfully. Like Meg Matich said during the event, it felt like we were in a living room. And I was in my own head, remembering my time at Siglufjordur when I was eighteen, how Icelandic literature changed me and made me think about translation and literature in translation in ways I never imagined. I asked Auður to sign my copy of Quake, and wondered if I could meet her for an interview. I was excited when she agreed. It’s been a few years since I’ve interviewed a writer in-person, let alone one as important and unique as Auður. 

So here is the history and the setting: a hotel lobby in Manhattan, two women on a couch talking. It is 10am and we begin talking. I hope you join us.

You mentioned during the talk that you started writing when your dog died, and I wondered if you could tell us a bit more about the dog and how you started writing after that. 

Yeah, I had a dog and I, I really loved my dog. And I was a child when he died. And I just remember it was so soothing to write. It was like, you know, taking some strange medicine or something because I felt much better when I was writing.


And I just remember this as a discovery. Yeah, that it was such a strong tool to have in life, right? Just a pen, it’s just magical, just a tool. So, yeah, these feelings were not so difficult after the writing as before the writing. So this was like discovering some kind of little magic. 

Quake (Dottir Press, 2022)


And I think when you are writing, you are giving life to some kind of purpose. Or meaning. So it actually gives you some kind of control in life, because you are finding the stories in all the chaos. You know what I mean? It’s so hard to understand but when you are writing, you can understand it with your glasses and your pen. 

And it’s striking because your book, in a sense, is about this woman losing control. And that’s what sort of struck me about…like, even when you said that in Iceland, you don’t have control over the landscape. Nature has control over you, and I am not a “nature person” but when I went to Iceland, I felt, for the first time, that there is some greater force that has control…

…that has control, yes, that we are also nature. We tend to forget. So the book is also a bit about that: the nature in our feelings, in ourselves. This piece of music— when the book was published, a composer contacted me and he asked if he could write a piece of music inspired by the book. 


And he did so, and it’s called ‘Quake’ and this piece of music started to travel all around the world, and he got a really big prize for this piece. And always when they play it, they have certain sentences from the book with it. And I am talking about this because he is working so much with nature in our soul, or in our being. So that’s the reason he decided to quote this book in his work, and he’s actually making the music for the film, ‘Quake.’ The film is being released now, so he’s also making the music there. And I am also really into these things that we don’t have any control over nature, or… We are just born into this absurd reality. 

[Auður laughs lightly] 

Yeah, but there is a key sentence in the book where it says something like, “I don’t want to control others and I don’t want others to control me.” So…

…yeah, I remember that sentence. And I also think a lot about the sentence that goes something like, “We are part of our own fictions.” Because it was so fascinating to me, the point in the story,  when she goes through her social media, her Facebook to see who she is… 

…who she is.

…yeah, and it makes you realize the surreal, artificial, and kind of scary aspect of how we’re archiving and documenting or creating our lives and lies…

…and creating some kind of image of our being. Yeah, so it is strange we are always going outside to seek information about who we are. And, for example, now there is another book about the “like” culture [Auður chuckles], about seeking approval from others. But also, I read this in a German science magazine. It was an article by some -ologist and he was writing about this, and it’s just science that we are our own fiction because we remember things as it suits our personality. So, in a way, suddenly she just can’t do it the way she has done it anymore. Her body collapses in a seizure, an epilepsy seizure. And then, suddenly, all the memories that suit her personality vanish and new ones come up. Just like when you have an earthquake and the earth starts to break but you have a new landscape at the same time. 

[We pause. I look down, my gaze towards the ground. I sort my thoughts]

And I think… um, I was also wondering how you managed that balancing act in a sense, because you were writing about things losing control and this woman trying to figure herself out again. And I think, in writing, we have immense control as writers [I laugh nervously]over what we write…

…Yes, yes, we have some kind of power…

…we have some kind of power! We can manipulate words…and um, so how did the process of writing this go about?

It was a bit difficult. I’ve written several books but it was maybe more difficult and, in a way, dark to write this book. It’s also a story about violence and trauma, how you become your childhood trauma later in life. So I had to dig deep, and I remember listening to a lot of Philip Glass while I was writing it, because it was like classical meditation music but it was like… I just always write. First, I start writing from all kinds of ideas then, you know, in the end, I am writing ten hours a day or something just to finish for a deadline. But I just knew when I started that I wanted to tell a story about a person waking up from an epilepsy seizure. Like, she’s born again and in a way, starts again from this seizure. Also, because I had epilepsy seizures as a teenager, so I always remembered this strange feeling. I didn’t even remember my name when I woke up, so it was like being recently born. 

[Music plays outside]

And it’s interesting you use that word, “born,” because it’s also a book about motherhood and, you know… 

[Two men enter the hotel lobby. They are loud and exchange a brief word with the receptionist before going to the elevator]

…yeah, and the fears we have in life. Maybe we always have this fear but it becomes so strong and you have no control. You have to somehow just agree with this, that everything can happen every day and you know, that’s just life. It’s different when you have a child and you have no control sometimes. 

Hmm…I think what also fascinated me at the talk was how you mentioned that you didn’t grow up around conversations about literature and culture all the time, as people like me would assume. Because your grandfather won the Nobel Prize and I think, from what I understand given my conversations and experience in Iceland, is that he sort of revived Icelandic literature on the global stage again for so many. So do you think of yourself as an “Icelandic writer”?

Of course, I work with this strange language that only 350,000 people talk. And that’s my tool in life. But as a person, no, I don’t think so much about myself as an Icelandic writer because I’ve lived in four countries. I lived in Spain– Barcelona, Copenhagen in Denmark, Berlin in Germany and then in England when I was small, a kid. 


So I always, you know— I am always the same wherever I am. And I have also been an immigrant in other countries, so that changes a lot. But it’s, like I said, the Icelandic is very Icelandic. 

[I smile]

Of course, I’m working with Icelandic society, I am telling stories about people living there. Once, actually, I wrote a book that happened somewhere in Europe, in some big city and all the main characters were, you know, immigrants. It was like an allegory, so I also like to play with that. But you can’t escape it, to be an Icelandic writer…


…like you can’t escape being a woman writer, even though you just want to be a writer. 

And, um, I wondered if you work with translators. Like, did you work with Meg Matich on this translation, or did you work on the film adaptation?

It’s different when you’re making a film or a play of the book, and that has been done with some of my books. And in a way, you’re making a new piece of art. So, the person doing it— you know, if it’s some director in theater or filmmaker— has to have, you know, their own glasses and be able to create because you have another kind of narrative in a film, and another kind of narrative in the theater. But that is not what you do in translation. I work as a translator also, and then you’re giving this piece the true outcome in your own language, you know? And in that way, like a writer, because you have to be creative in your language to be capable of bringing the right feeling. But you’re not rewriting, like into a film or play. But yes, I met Meg several times and she was a creative translator and coworking with my publisher. And it’s the first time I published a book in the United States so it was a different procedure from it being published in Germany or Denmark, but my work has also been published in Arabic so I have no control over the text, or anything. 

[We laugh in spasmodic bursts]

But it’s always an interesting procedure. Like, in Germany, my translator is my friend who has translated other books but he’s also a writer, and then we can have a very interesting debate when we’re meeting over the scripts. Sometimes, in translations, you have things that are not working. People just don’t know what you’re talking about or their sense of humor is just not going to grab something. There is a difference between nations regarding many things. 

Meg Matich (Photo by Patrik Ontkovic)

Yeah, I think that’s what surprised me about Meg’s translation of your book because, for someone who doesn’t know Icelandic, she retained a lot of words from the original. You know, even words for “yes” were retained in Icelandic and it got me thinking because I am not used to seeing that on paper. You know, I am used to seeing, maybe “yes” in French, or “yes” in Spanish and Italian… 

[The phone rings. The receptionist answers. His greeting is rehearsed, lively but restrained]

…but not in Icelandic…

…yeah, not in Icelandic. 

I remember this from books, like reading something in Jamaican English and suddenly there’s a Jamaican phrase and I like that a lot. You can feel it. 

[It sounds like the receptionist has answered someone’s question. He says “All right. See you soon” and puts down the phone]

And I think it’s a pleasure to know that you’re reading a book in translation through the way in which language is preserved. 

Yes, it’s like a ticket to a new country when you read in translation. 

[Two men walk into the hotel and head confidently towards the elevator]

You know, it’s your first time being published in America, like you said. Have you heard from readers so far?

Yes, very positive and nice things. So I am really glad. And, yeah, I had some good reviews in Publisher’s Weekly and so on, and European Literature Network. So I am just really happy to hear from people, and it’s always nice when you’re telling a story and you have the feeling that people living in another environment are mirroring this or they can find themselves in the story somehow. 

And is this your first time in New York, or…

I’ve been here once before, four years ago, when there was a book published of short stories by Icelandic writers. And then we were reading in the Scandinavia House and I was there. 

Out of the Blue: New Short Fiction from Iceland (University of Minnesota Press, 2017)

Hmm, do you like this city?

I love it!

What do you like about it?

I love most just to stroll around and see people from all over the world. That’s like— I love to live in other countries and meet people from the whole planet [more guests pass by, talking. It seems like a busy day]and see all kinds of people. So this is like heaven. 

[We laugh. This is the best review New York has received]

And I also wondered if there’s something maybe in the Icelandic language or with writing that, you know, you’re still trying to explore, or you don’t know enough about or that you’re trying to answer, or that escapes you in some way. 

You can really use a language to explore. And we’re living in a world where all our ideas and ideologies and techniques are constantly changing our vocabulary and at the same time, our way of thinking. And words are the tools that change our thinking. So when I am constantly working with the language, I have to create new words in Icelandic from foreign words, or find new words, or find something that grabs [more conversation in the background. I can’t make out what they’re saying though I could, if I tried]this part of the new reality at the moment. So when I teach creative writing, I often say that we can use the pen as a tool to understand, to write to understand and to, you know, create this complicated reality in our way. 

[We pause for a few seconds. Someone shouts “thank you”] 

And we lack a lot of words in Icelandic. Like, English is spoken by so many people and maybe you use one word here, but in Icelandic, you have to use four words to describe. Like, when Saga wakes up from an epilepsy attack, she doesn’t remember how to phrase some things. 

[Another group of people leave the hotel, yelling “thank you.” “See you soon,” the receptionist replies]

And I remember this since I had epilepsy attacks, you know, seizures. So she always has to find within this lack of words, in this condition. So it’s also a bit like sometimes how an Icelandic writer has to work, because you want to use this word, but you don’t have a name for it in Icelandic, so you have to create a new word or say that thing in translation. 

Has your experience in translation helped you with that?

Yes, especially with languages related to Icelandic– Danish and German. And I sometimes find words and then try to rewrite them the Icelandic way. 

I wanted to ask if there are any writers that influence you or that are writing currently, or that you grew up reading?

In Iceland or abroad, or both?

Both, yeah. 

There are many writers. I was really fond of writers from South America, like Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Isabelle Allende, and so on. I was always into, you know, big, fat novels, like Günter Grass. And also the Russian writers like Bulgakov and Gogol. A bit absurd, those writers. I just read everything I could find when I was a kid. Also, some writers from Japan like Haruki Murakami and Yoko Tawada. I really like her. But in terms of recent books, I was really fond of The Vegetarian. 

Oh, yes! Yeah! 

I don’t know if I mentioned it, but it’s a book that inspired me in recent years. I’ve mentioned The Vegetarian and a book by Yoko Tawada about a female polar bear writing herself, her story as a refugee in Berlin [Memoirs of a Polar Bear]. I don’t know the name in English but I read that one in Icelandic from German, but I would like to mention these. 

And Zadie Smith. I’ve always been really fond of Zadie Smith, and also the book Americanah…

Yeah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie…

…yeah, by the Nigerian writer. I remember I was really inspired by that. 

…yeah, Zadie Smith teaches at NYU, where I study. 

Oh, that must be great!

Yeah, so she’s frequently in the writers’ house or around campus. 

Yeah, that’s so funny because my friend lives in Manhattan. She’s lived here for ten years. And we’ve written a book together and a short film, and so on. And we had this book club and she was here, and I was in Iceland. And we decided to read a book by Zadie Smith. So I went to a bookstore in Iceland and bought the book and then, I sent her a message and said, “I have Zadie Smith now” and she said, “yes, me as well.” And I said, “Did you already buy the book?” And she said, “No, I am in Central Park and she’s just sitting beside me.”

[We both laugh]

Is it different for you working with friends who are translators, or when you collaborate?

Yes, there’s an understanding. Mostly I’ve worked with Christa who has translated two books into German, and then my Danish publisher, he’s a brilliant and an experienced editor. And when you have this trust and you know that the person really is experienced, then it can be a really creative and good procedure. And you always learn something new working with a new person, you know. You always gain some new information and insight. 

There’s one more theme, also, in this book about the body as an attacker. How the body attacks. As like, you know, some crazy person you meet in the dark, following you in the street and trying to rape you, or something like that. Our body is capable of attacking us, so I’m playing with this a bit. 

I think that that theme really…I think when I picked up your book, I thought it was about memory. And I didn’t anticipate the body, really, to play such a huge role. And it was also, of course, a woman’s body which is always different because women’s bodies always occupy and play such complex places or roles in history and society. And I came to the book after going through a period of illness and, sort of, wondering about the body. When you mentioned at the event, that phrase about a body attacking itself, it really resonated with me. 

Ah, was it something serious?

Yeah, I am recovering from anorexia. So I think I was sort, of like— and my body’s changing and my body image– I am gaining weight, there were medical complications earlier. 

And then, there is such a strong connection between the mind and the body. So that is a bit like epilepsy. You can actually write the same story with anorexia. 

Yeah, yeah. 

And it is also like that, that our trauma or the things we experience, they are in our veins and in our body and muscles and reflexes. And sometimes we even become ill because we have some kind of trauma. So I think it’s really interesting to explore this. 

Mhm, and I was wondering, because you got published with Dottir Press, which is a feminist publishing house. Did that feel good to be published by them? I mean, I imagine it did…

…Yes, it does feel good. We have really strong feminist voices in Iceland and a really strong and colorful debate in many perspectives. And it has been so for many years. So I think that we have a very good feminist discourses, so yeah, that’s really something I am just happy with. 

…yeah, I really loved that too. Because you were writing about a woman, you were also writing about motherhood— and there has actually been a renewed conversation around motherhood because we had the movies The Lost Daughter and Parallel Mothers this past year and a lot more contemporary writing about motherhood recently. 

Yeah, and also, I’ve written a lot about motherhood, but also in a new book published in Iceland several months ago. That is a lot about the body’s shame, or how women carry this body-shame feeling. And that is about a woman and her, her relationship with her body through life and she has some personal relationships, but it’s also like Quake, like conversations with her body because there is…there is always so…everybody is so opinionated about the female body. 

Oh, yes! It’s really tiring… [we chuckle]

…it’s really tiring. But so, yeah, I am playing and exploring the female body. 

Right, I hope more of your books are translated and available for us here. I really loved this one. But I wondered if you have any advice for young, emerging writers?

That is to write and write. And also, to believe. 


I think people are often afraid or stuck because they start to write and then it’s not perfect right away. And then, they just stop. So I always tell people not to stop, but to continue and to write a lot of chaos. And then, you have to somehow find your way out of the chaos. But you can always come back so very often in the rewriting. But if you’re too perfect in the beginning and never get into the chaos and the crazy ideas, you have to be able to flow. And if you flow, and if you’re not thinking too much or writing, then we get all that juicy stuff. So it’s really necessary not to think too much. 

[I laugh nervously as if I’ve been exposed]

That’s really good advice, yes. Gosh, that’s going to be helpful for me. But thank you so much for this. 

Thank you so much. This was really nice.

Auður Jónsdóttir is one of the most accomplished authors writing in Icelandic today. Her novels have aroused interest in Iceland, as well as abroad, for their rare blend of incisive candor and humor. She won the Icelandic Literary Prize for The People in the Basement and the Icelandic Women’s Literature Prize for Secretaries to the Spirits. Both of these novels were nominated for the Nordic Council’s Literature Prize. Auður’s latest novel, Quake (Stóri skjálfti), became her most successful publication to date and gathered a huge following among Icelandic readers of all ages, strengthening her position as an important writer of her generation.

(Photo by Saga Sigurðardóttir)

Our Guide to Local Bookstores

by Anne Caywood

Hello, Readers!

My name is Anne Caywood, I am a recently brought-on Books Editor for Inklette. What really drove me to present this as my first piece is the fact that I was raised on books. My mom would read to me every night until I turned about 6, and I had a flashlight I hid in my room for when I thought my parents wouldn’t notice me staying up late for just “one more chapter.” I was also the kid my parents had to literally drag out of the library. Locally owned businesses are a passion project of mine, as I have worked for locally owned coffee shops for the past year, and made it a point to source most if not all of my books from local stores. Especially in light of the pandemic, I really wanted to give a voice to the stores that may have been negatively affected by COVID-19, as well as a spotlight to queer-owned or BIPOC-owned stores. It is so, so important to me that these stores stay afloat and continue to give back to the community through books, and thrive for a long time before closing their doors.

With that being said, me as well as the other members of the Inklette team wish you happy reading, and happy book shopping!

Anne Caywood — Books Editor

Location: Tempe, AZ, USA

Northshire Bookstore

Saratoga Springs, NY & Manchester Center, VT

Founded in 1976 by a married couple in Manchester Center, VT, Northshire has expanded from a small community bookstore to a wide array of 300,000 titles among 2 locations in the Northeast United States. Both locations have their uniqueness, Manchester in its historical location and Saratoga in its selection. My parents live about 20 miles from the Saratoga location, and I cannot take a trip to visit them without driving along the 89 North to the quaint bookstore tucked into the chaotic beauty of Saratoga Springs. The highlight of the location is that the upstairs is dedicated to a children’s center, which would’ve been a haven to child-me, who grabbed any book she could get her hands on. Every staff member is incredibly friendly and is a tight-knit group who fuel my passion for literature every time I visit!

Changing Hands Bookstore

Tempe, AZ & Phoenix, AZ

Opened by a group of people with a vision for working at a local bookstore with a small community, Changing Hands has been Arizona’s leading independent bookstore since 1974. It is a favorite among Arizona residents, especially students. The Tempe location is small and near Arizona State University’s campus, and there are always author signings, conversations, and events you don’t want to miss. Phoenix’s location has a First Draft Book Bar, serving both coffee and alcoholic beverages (which I think any book reader can take advantage of!). Changing Hands is the winner of several awards, including Business in the Arts Small Business Award, Governor’s Arts Award for Small Business, New Times Best Bookstore and Phoenix Magazine reader’s choice best bookstore.

Hobart Book Village

Hobart, NY

Located in the small, hidden village of Hobart, this village is home to 7 bookstores and is known as upstate New York’s only book village. Each bookshop has a different theme and are owned by members of the community. The children’s bookstore even has a little dog that greets you at the door! I went in the summer of 2021 and as I was talking to the owners of the bookstores, there was an undeniable sense of community among the staff of the village. The area is beautiful and the books have unbeatable prices, and the owners of all of the stores are very friendly and welcoming. They have sales on Memorial Day and Thanksgiving weekends, and they host the Festival of Women Writers, several art shows, author readings and signings as well as the very popular Winter Respite Lecture Series. The tight-knit community also has a weekly farmer’s market and occasional town-wide movie nights.

Devanshi Khetarpal — Editor-in-Chief

Location: Manhattan, NY, USA

Three Lives & Co

New York, NY

Three Lives & Co. is one of the most welcoming spaces in New York. Their old location was round the corner from my favorite coffee shop, ad hoc, and was like a cozy living room filled with books. It’s just as cozy in their new location though (but they’re returning to their old location soon!) and the bookstore is home to a generous collection of books from small, independent presses as well as translated titles. But it’s really the staff that make this space what it is. I highly recommend signing up for their newsletter (trust me, that’s one of the few emails I look forward to) and asking them for recommendations when you go there. Some of my best conversations on books have taken place at Three Lives. They also have signed copies of some titles and since it’s a short walk away from my apartment, I order books through them and pick them up at the bookstore.

McNally Jackson Books

New York, New York

But when I am not at Three Lives, find me at McNally Jackson Books. Nobody asked, but I am going to rank their locations anyway: Seaport, Williamsburg, SoHo (you’re welcome!). What I like about McNally Jackson, especially as a Comparative Literature student, is that they categorize their books according to the region or language the titles are originally from. You can find a shelf dedicated to Bulgarian literature, for instance, or Scandinavian literature and books from the African continent in translation. I try to make sure that a majority of the books I read are books in translation or books from non-white authors, and it is bookstores like McNally Jackson and Three Lives that help me achieve that goal as a reader, a writer and a scholar. You should also stop by McNally Jackson’s stationery store and treat yourself to the most expensive pen you will ever own (it’s worth it, writers). And do please go to one of their events, especially at their Seaport location. I’ve had the opportunity to meet or run into writers like Zadie Smith, Andrew Solomon, Cole Swensen, and translators like Ann Goldstein, Jenny McPhee, and Inea Bushnaq there. I also recommend checking out McNally Editions, their new paperback line dedicated to “hidden gems.” It’s not just their marketing term, the books really are beautiful, hidden gems. So far I’ve read Winter Love by Han Suyin, Daddy’s Gone A-Hunting by Penelope Mortimer, Something To Do With Paying Attention by David Foster Wallace, and am eagerly waiting for the next trio of books to arrive: They by Kay Dick, Troy Chimneys by Margaret Kennedy and The Murderer by Roy Heath.

Stephanie Gemmell — Books Editor

Location: Washington, D.C., USA

Bridge Street Books

Washington, D.C.

As a college student in Washington, DC, I came to love three different locally-owned bookstores in northwest DC. Bridge Street Books, located at the southeast edge of Georgetown on Pennsylvania Avenue, draws students, tourists, and locals alike into a quaint two-story townhouse offering a wide selection of titles. Bridge Street has a reputation among students for being the best place to find poetry collections and philosophy books, and its welcoming ambiance makes it the perfect place to warm up and decompress during autumn and winter errands.

Kramers Bookstore

Washington, D.C.

Kramers, on Connecticut Avenue along Dupont Circle, offers a spacious bookstore with a broad range of genres, along with a popular restaurant and bar. Kramers often provides a broad array of nonfiction books, larger collections and compilations, and gift items like adult coloring books.

Second Story Books

Washington, D.C.

Another wonderful bookstore in the Dupont neighborhood, Second Story Books, sells used books and can be a great place to stumble on something wonderful and unexpected. While Second Story sells rare and antique books as well, it’s known among college students for its unbeatable prices on used titles including poetry collections, memoirs, nonfiction texts, and even comic books.

Areeb Ahmad, Books Editor

Location: Hyderabad, Telangana, India.

May Day Bookstore

New Delhi, India

Launched on 1st May, celebrated as International Workers’ Day, in 2012, May Day Bookstore is an offspring of LeftWord Books, a Delhi-based Leftist indie press. 

Lisa Stice, Poetry Editor

Location: Hampstead, NC

Pomegranate Books

Hampstead, North Carolina

I live in Hampstead, NC, and the locally-owned bookstore I like to frequent is Pomegranate Books in Wilmington, NC (4418 Park Ave). Besides having a lovely selection of books and gifts, it’s a cozy atmosphere where you can sip a yummy drink or snack on a yummy treat from their Zola Café. Pomegranate Books supports local authors through readings and through its monthly poetry open-mic night.

Other Recommendations

WORD Bookstore

Brooklyn, NY & Jersey City, NJ

A queer-friendly bookstore focused in the heart of both Jersey City and Brooklyn, WORD is a locals favorite in the area. They offer subscription and mystery boxes, and host several events and signings from authors both local and from afar. There are also all-inclusive virtual book clubs with a variety of subjects, including Show Me The Women, Well-Read Black Girl, Gilmore Girls, and more!

Glad Day Bookshop

Toronto, Ontario

While being one of the more well-known bookstores among the community of book lovers, Glad Day is celebrated for being the oldest queer-owned bookstore worldwide. Opened in the 1970s and surviving through history, Glad Day emerged victorious and proudly supports members of all communities. They also serve coffee and cocktails! There is a Gay and Lesbian Book Club offered on site as well!

Reparations Club

Los Angeles, CA

A Black-owned, women-owned hidden gem in Los Angeles, Reparations Club prides itself on valuing literature that focuses on diversity and inclusivity. They host signings and promotions for books published by BIPOC authors, as well as women and LGBTQ+ writers. There are a variety of events available on their website!

Queer Lit

Manchester, UK

Manchester’s most well-known queer-owned bookstore, Queer Lit focuses on literature published by queer, diverse authors. They seek to find themselves in literature that they may not have been able to as adolescents, as well as give back to the community by promoting these titles. On top of that, they give back to the community by donating over 100 LGBTQ+ books a year to schools across the United Kingdom, allowing young queer students to see themselves as the heroes of the story.

The Portal Bookshop

York, UK

Portal Bookshop is unique in the sense that they specifically focus on selling sci-fi and fantasy books, particularly that of the LGBTQ+ community. They have a donation page where they provide free handbooks to gender nonconforming and transgender teens that may come from unsupportive homes, to remind them that there is always someone on their side! UK residents can either visit in person or order online.

Category is Books

Glasgow, UK

Home to Glasgow’s most-known locally-owned, queer bookstore, Category is Books is a favorite among residents and students of Glasgow. Founded by a genderqueer married couple, Category is Books has been open since 2018 and focuses on literature, comics and zines that features queer people. They also have a pay-it-forward program, for those who may not be in a position to buy books but still have a passion for finding themselves in literature.

Gay’s The Word

London, UK

Gay’s the Word in London is most known as the UK’s oldest queer owned bookshop, opened in 1979. The staff is small, but driven and passionate about books, and the spot is a favorite among anyone who visits London. It is also conveniently located next to The British Museum, University of London and King’s Cross Station!

More Resources

Black-Owned Bookshops in the UK

Black-Owned Bookshops by State in the US

Search Engine for Locally-Owned Bookstores for US and Canadian Residents

Indie Bookstores in India with Online Ordering Options

Independent Bookstores Worldwide

List of Many, Many More Indie Bookstores

ANNE CAYWOOD is a junior at Arizona State University, pursuing a career in English. She is also a full-time barista at a locally owned coffee shop, and in turn, is a bit of a coffee snob and loves promoting local businesses. When she is not working or writing, you can find her reading every dark academic novel she can get her hands on, watching cat videos on YouTube, and playing video games. She is also a volunteer intern for the literary magazine Sepia Quarterly.