Black Speculative Fiction Month

By Naomi Day

I recently realized we are coming to the end of October without having acknowledged the time of year that celebrates my favorite group of writers! So, here we are: happy Black Speculative Fiction Month!

What is Black Speculative Fiction Month?

Black Speculative Fiction Month, celebrated every October, is a month to commemorate speculative fiction written by and about Black folks. Individuals, libraries, authors, and organizations will often host events centered on Black speculative fiction authors and their work, post book lists highlighting authors writing in this genre, and write extensive articles calling attention to the genre and the wealth of diversity within it for folks who wouldn’t necessarily come across this work otherwise.


Why October?

The origin story I know of comes from author, Afroretroism expert, and gamewriter Balogun Ojetade. According to this post, he and author Milton Davis came up with the idea together one June; they chose October because the annual Alien Encounters celebration (formerly a conference for Black speculative and imaginative fiction, film and music and presently a celebration of speculative and imaginative arts) took place in October already, and it just made sense to overlap the two.

I like it because it means there are two distinct times of year to celebrate Black history in different ways: February brings us Black History Month and seven months later, October gives us Black Speculative Fiction Month.


Ok, so what actually is Black Speculative Fiction?

The most useful resource for this question, in my opinion, is an article from Marcus Haynes that goes through an extensive set of definitions of Black Speculative Fiction terms. To excerpt from the part that talks specifically about the umbrella term, Black Speculative Fiction refers to texts that force readers to imagine possibilities that do not fit with their present understanding of the world, with a focus on the people and cultures of the African diaspora.


Why is it important?

Speculative fiction is important as a genre on its own; it is one that asks us to question why our world is the way it is, and gives us the tools to think differently about changing the parts we don’t like. It helps us understand and refigure our history while we consider the multitude of courses the future could take.

Black speculative fiction does this through the lens of those who are part of the African diaspora (which is why the term “Black” is used—it makes it clear this envisioning includes Africans, African-Americans, Afro-Latin people, and so on). This is critically important because this is a group of people who are often pushed out of the present reality, not to mention excluded from visions of the future. The mere existence of Black people, particularly in America but all across the world, is too often seen as a physical and cultural threat and depicted as being against the norm. Writing Black folks into the future is an act of resistance as well as a call of hope.

And, critically, it isn’t saying that only Black people exist in the future—rather, it speaks to the wondrous and powerful events that can take place when there is a radical diversity of people stretching from now to eternity.


I’m in! Who can I check out?

Wonderful questions! You’ll find a short list of authors and their books at the end of this article. It’s a mixture of presently-trending folks with those who may be slightly less well known, with links (via Alibris, a marketplace for independent vendors that is a wonderful alternative to Amazon) to where you can find their books.

Additionally, to get you started on your own speculative fiction project, here’s a prompt I’ve partially adapted from an article about Margaret Atwood’s tips on writing speculative fiction:

Write down something that is interesting about the world presently around you: the dog lying on the sofa; the wooden table whose wood came from central America; the fact that you type with ten fingers (or two, or none). Consider how it came to be—what are the forces that have shaped its life such that it exists as it does? Write an alternate history that would give the same end result, but in a very different manner. For example, the wood of the wooden table was not harvested from trees: rather, the table comes from the second-most-populous species on land, an organism that shapes itself according to what is lacking in a space and will hold that shape for as long as the need is present. Have fun!

Reading list:


NAOMI DAY is a queer Black woman who enjoys interrogating the strange ways her mixed-race experience has shaped the way she moves through the world. Nowadays she primarily writes short stories focused on a future that actively and intentionally has Black people in it (a genre otherwise known as Afrofuturism). When she turns her life upside down and shakes hard, interesting things fall out for her to write about. She considers herself a lifetime student and much prefers the nomadic life, finding home in cities from Atlanta to London.



Indigenous Voices

by Joanna Cleary and Maria Prudente

Having celebrated Canada Day and the 4th of July earlier this month, many people in North America may be feeling more patriotic than usual. However, it is of utmost importance during these days of national celebration to acknowledge and pay respect to the voices of those who rightfully claim first ownership of these lands. Here are some provocative, humourous, heartbreaking, and, above all, relevant works by Indigenous writers that you should definitely put on your summer reading list!

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian 
Novel, Sherman Alexie 


“I draw because words are too unpredictable.

I draw because words are too limited.

If you speak and write in English, or Spanish, or Chinese, or any other language, then only a certain percentage of human beings will get your meaning.

But when you draw a picture, everybody can understand it.

If I draw a cartoon of a flower, then every man, woman, and child in the world can look at it and say, “That’s a flower.”

So I draw because I want to talk to the world. And I want the world to pay attention to me. I feel important with a pen in my hand. I feel like I might grow up to be somebody important. An artist. Maybe a famous artist. Maybe a rich artist.

That’s the only way I can become rich and famous.” 


Junior, an aspiring cartoonist, has mixed feelings about growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation. As he decides to take his future into his own hands, Junior leaves his school on the rez to attend an all-white farm town high school, one where the only other Indigenous presence is the school mascot.

Talking to the Diaspora 
Poetry, Lee Maracle


“Some sons are trees


Quiet mist magic memory oddly named sequoia

General somebody or other who killed us

killed his own

killed worlds

then came to rest a crest on this man-tree”

                                          -from ‘Archer’s Body’ 


The second collection of poetry by one of Canada’s most prominent contemporary authors features a look at diaspora and identity that is both intimate and larger than the individual experience.

They Called Me Number One: Secrets and Survival at an Indian Residential School 
Memoir, Janet Rogers


“I read somewhere that everyone is born with the potential for success, and it is only through life’s experiences that we develop or destroy that potential. For many Aboriginal people, our most vulnerable and impressionable years, our childhood years, were spent at residential schools. Our mental, emotional and spiritual growth was extremely stunted because of the way we were treated there. You have to tell our story like it is, don’t hold back or make it seem like it wasn’t as bad as it actually was. People have to know and believe what happened to us.”

A defining part of Xatsu’ll chief Bev Sellars’ childhood was spent as a student in a church-run residential school. This honest and evocative memoir details her time at St. Joseph’s Mission, as well as how it has affected her and her family over generations. As Sellars discusses trauma, diapora, and healing, she makes it apparent that it is only through knowing the truth about these past injustices can we, as a society, can begin to properly address them.

Islands of Decolonial Love 
Short Stories, Leanne Betasamosake Simpson 


“bringing up trauma from my life made therapy-lady cry, especially if it was “aboriginal” themed. she said “aboriginal” a lot, and i knew she was trying to be respectful so i planned on letting it slide until the breaking point and then i was going to let her have it in one spiralling long manifesto. therapy-lady liked to compare my life to refugees from war-torn countries who hid their kids in closets when airplanes flew over their houses. this was her limit of understanding on colonized intimacy. she wasn’t completely wrong, and while she tried to convince me none of us had to hide our kids anymore, we both knew that wasn’t exactly true. i knew what every ndn knows: that vulnerability, forgiveness and acceptance were privileges. she made the assumption of a white person: they were readily available to all like the fresh produce at the grocery store.”

Simpson’s debut collection of short stories explores the lives of contemporary Indigenous peoples and communities, especially those of her own Nishnaabeg nation.

Heartbreaking, absurd, and real, these stories aim to capture all aspects of what it means to be Indigenous in a world that has been taken from Indigenous people.

Prairie Rising: Indigenous Youth, Decolonization and the Politics of Intervention
Ethnography, Jaskiran Dhillon


“The persistent sensation of being hunted, of monitored movement, of freedom being truncated through institutional caging is central to the daily reality of being an Indigenous youth in Saskatoon. It is not an anomaly. It is not the fictitious creation of a youthful imagination on overdrive. Through their existence as Indigenous youth, these young people constitute a direct threat to an already existing settler social order.” 

Dhillon’s ethnography sharply examines the indigenous-state government of Saskatoon, Canada’s strategy of dispossession and the state’s failure to uphold human and political rights of the indigenous community. We learn that indigenous alliances meant to help indigenous women, lack representation for whom they are advocating: indigenous women. Dhillon, who grew up on Treaty Six Cree Territory in Saskatchewan, details the state’s refusal to look for missing indigenous women and its failure to include indigenous participation in what they deem to be a community in need of reform. Are Canada’s state advocacy organizations merely visible tokens for what they consider invisible problems in their own country?

To read staff bios, please visit our Masthead page here.


I’ve been living in my body for many years. It has changed. Girls my age use tweezers and razors, but I let my hair spread lawlessly. When I’m in the bathroom, I take a shower, look in the mirror, and observe the strays that nest beneath the wingspan of my eyebrows. I let them be, wild as beasts beside our backyard creek. I seldom ask for money to visit the drugstore. Deodorant, a little shampoo, and conditioner is all I need. My father says, just use soap. Tried that once. There were flecks in my hair that wouldn’t come out. I walk into my bedroom. Instead of grooming, I use my fingers to draw shapes and shades late into the night. There’s no T.V. My brother is gone. He stole a credit card and was off to Thailand. But there is peace in the house.

Then one night my brother returns home.

A mildewed backpack and a ripped sleeping bag are flung beside the front door where he walks in.

He steps into the bathroom. Unlike me, he loves to shave and pluck the hairs on his body. 

He’s hairy because my mother struggled with infertility for three years. She swallowed a lot of testosterone right before she got pregnant with him.


‘My Brother’s Death’ by Chuka Susan Chesney, Watercolor with Pen and Ink, 2015

The bathroom door remains locked for many hours. When I have to go, I use the powder room.

When he comes out, the counter is covered with dark stubble, as if it had grown a beard. The razor on the sink is full. I look in the tub. A ring and black, curled pubic hairs blemish the porcelain.

“Clean it up,” my mother tells me. “It’s good practice for when you’re married.”

My brother shaves his cheeks above his beard, his upper arms, his back, and wherever else he can reach. He sculpts his eyebrows because he wants to be pretty.

When he’s not shaving and plucking and tweezing away, he simmers mussels in the kitchen─and leaves a mess. 

After he eats, he drives off in his dented Firebird.  

“He’ll turn up again like a bad penny,” my father remarks.

My brother calls us from the E.R. with a broken jaw. His brakes went out. The car swooped down the hill and wrapped around a traffic pole. 

My father picks him up at 2 a.m.

My mother blends oxtail soup in the blender for him.

When his jaw is healed, he steals a credit card─again.

CHUKA SUSAN CHESNEY has a BFA in Fashion Illustration from Art Center College of Design and an MAT from Occidental College. She is an artist, poet, curator, and editor. Her award-winning paintings and sculpture have been shown in galleries all over the country. Her poems have been published on three continents. You Were a Pie So We Ate You, a book of Chesney’s poems was the winner of the 2018 San Gabriel Valley Poetry Festival Chapbook Contest. In October 2018, Chesney curated the “I Pity da Poe” exhibition at the Hive Gallery in Downtown L.A. In November, Chesney hosted a poetry reading with Don Kingfisher Campbell at the YEAR ONE exhibition featuring Loren Philip and Tomoaki Shibata’s collaborative art at Castelli Art Space in Mid City. Chesney’s anthology of poetry and art Lottery Blues, coedited by Ulrica Perkins will be published by Little Red Tree Publishing in 2019.

The Endless Night

On May 6th, 2017, at exactly 1:53 AM Central Standard Time, the sun turned off.

Around the time when the piercing rays of the sun would normally be peeking through the blinds, curtains, and tent flaps of the Western Hemisphere, hundreds of millions were shutting off their alarms and groaning, reluctantly dragging themselves out of bed for a day of work, school, or driving to visit Aunt JJ in El Paso. But there was no sunlight.

Manuel Hidalgo of Santiago, Chile didn’t notice. Neither did the Ross family of Lincoln, Nebraska, nor the entire city of Pittsburgh. However, Uh Yong-Sook in Seoul did, as did 80,347,568 Chinese farmers and 458 kangaroo ranchers. 3,434,847 people fell off their bikes after suddenly not being able to see where they were going. 84,568 people, in 189 different languages, asked someone near them, “Is there a solar eclipse happening?” 27,446 people replied “I don’t think so,” 14,871 said “No idea,” 4,104 said “Yes,” and 38,157 people pretended like they didn’t hear.

8,408,372 people screamed, 2,109,334 people pinched themselves, 843,145 laughed, and two drunk middle-aged men shouted at their wives to turn the lights back on, even though they were both outside.

As billions of electrons zoomed along cables stretching across the Earth, carrying with them messages, pictures, and cries for help, newscasters, used car salesmen, and gourmet chefs all asked the same question: Where did the sun go?

Whether it was through TV, radio, or looking outside, by 9:24am CST, nearly everyone on Earth knew that something was wrong. Everyone except 284,485,460 kids too young to know what the sun was, 45,278,994 elderly who refused to believe it, and 83,428 people in comas.

Katie Webster of Tuskegee, Alabama didn’t see it either.



           On May 6th, 2017, at 9:24 AM Central Standard time, Katie Webster was where she normally was at this time: sleeping in her bed, where she would remain for another six hours or so. Her mother, Mary Webster, was downstairs in her kitchen, watching her TV in disbelief. Her twelve-year old brother Mac and fourteen year-old-sister Angie were sitting at the table, patiently coloring some pictures of dolphins and squirrels. And her father, Roy Webster, was currently in Alaska, getting drunk off four different types of liquor, although none of them knew that. After two years of having to deal with three kids on opposite sleep schedules, Roy had gone out for a pack of cigarettes and never come back.

Katie Webster was born August 16th, 2010, weighing in at seven pounds, five ounces. Her breathing was steady, appetite good, and she laughed and cried as much as any other baby.

One year later, her mom took her in to the doctor after she got a particularly bad sunburn. After hours in the ER, a team of a dozen or a hundred doctors broke the news. They called it Xeroderma Pigmentosum. It was rare, it was serious, and it wasn’t going anywhere. All Katie saw were a bunch of giants in white coats. Then she saw her mom start to cry, so she cried too.


          After two days of no sun, the potent initial shock subsided and gave way to a more sustained, constant fear around the world. Hundreds came forward as the Messiah, the Second Coming, the Grand Wizard of Destiny, announcing that Judgement Day was upon them and God, Satan, or some fourth-dimensional shape-shifters were coming to save them or damn them. Millions believed it.

It was the golden age of TV news. They brought on agriculture experts claiming that plants need light to grow. They brought on thermodynamic physicists claiming that the sun provides heat to the Earth. They brought on clinical psychologists claiming that sunlight combats depression and fatigue. They brought on nutritionists and biologists, photographers and congressmen, astronomers and practitioners of sorcery and magic, all with the same doomed message. The more fear they produced, the higher their numbers climbed, as more and more sat in their homes, too afraid to go outside, to look out their windows, to confront the debilitating terror that what was going on in the world of their TV’s might be going on in their world as well.

Meanwhile, great plans were set in motion by the governments of the world.

China quickly pulled together a mission to the dark and lifeless sun – but it failed shortly after liftoff because an engineer working on the first stage decoupling had gotten distracted by a donut and input pi as 31.4159265.

Germany figured out how to extract nutrients from rocks and, with no time for preliminary trials, enlisted a few thousand brave souls to try out the diet. It wasn’t tasty, but it kept them alive. At least for a few days, until they all began experiencing diarrhea the likes of which has never been seen before on Earth. Their hair started to fall out, their nails grew at 1000x the normal rate, and their tongues turned blue. And then they died slow, painful deaths.

And the UN commissioned a great ship to be built, filled with great works of art, music, and literature, history books and science books, pictures, videos, machines, artifacts, and relics: things to capture the essence, the beauty, and hardship of humanity. They cast it away, on a course out of the solar system. They hoped that one day, somewhere deep in the future, something would find it and think about humans, about Earth, about the fact that humanity existed and, in some small way, mattered.

However, nothing seemed to work. No amount of funds, bureaucracy, or bipartisanship seemed to be able to overcome the brutal fact that the source of Earth’s heat, energy, and life for billions of years was now gone.


          Katie Webster couldn’t quite grasp what was happening. Her world of darkness and artificial light now pervaded into the hours when she was usually locked away behind her protective curtains. “Hey, on the bright side, now you’ll never get a sunburn,” her mom had said through choked tears and bitter fear. Katie wasn’t quite sure what she meant.

Katie wasn’t quite sure of a lot of things. Like why her tutor Jody hadn’t been showing up. She missed her warm hugs and coffee breath. On the other hand, Mac and Angie seemed to be around a whole lot more. But when Katie asked them why they weren’t at school, all they did was stare back with wide eyes, before looking at the TV.

Whenever her mom would wake her up at these strange hours and she would ask why, all she would get is “don’t worry, Katie.” But she was worried. Her life had suddenly changed, and she had no idea why.


          Word spread that they had a couple of weeks before it would get noticeably colder. A few more after that and the outer extremities of the Earth would be virtually uninhabitable. Two months in, they expected hypothermic deaths by the millions. Six months, and it was a different world.

Governments urged people back to work – food, water, and energy require working economies. They reopened schools to keep children busy, and poured billions into research, though whether to focus on astronomy or theology was anybody’s guess. They promised that they had the best and the brightest working overtime, though 87,431 of the best and 44,181 of the brightest had long since retreated to secret cabins far from civilization.

Out of the public eye, delicately hatched plans began to take shape as many vied for the heroic position of savior: savior of themself, savior of their family, and savior of humanity. 


          The last, and only, time Katie had been on anything like a school bus was when her mom had let her go with Angie on a stargazing field trip. She remembered the foreign world of chatter, gossip, hormones. Laughter rung in her ears as she lay on the mossy ground, drawing lines between stars. That was also the last time she heard laughter that wasn’t Jody’s. She wondered why everybody laughed differently, and why school buses were yellow.

She wondered why she was now on a school bus, surrounded by strangers. She wasn’t used to this many people; it was disorienting and destabilizing. She joked about it being a magic school bus to the girls behind her. They stared for a second before continuing to talk about their favorite youtubers. Years of being exposed Jody’s antiquated taste in TV let her down as attempt after attempt to relate ended in failure. She retreated into her seat, silently hoping that these were the popular girls and she would find company in a less highly-viewed, but less critical clique.

Her mom had said to take the bus back home after school. She wondered how long school was. She spent the day being told about numbers by sweaty grown-ups, even though Jody had already taught her all of it. She quickly learned to keep quiet and not answer every question, even though she knew the answers. However, the damage was done, as rumors and notes spread about the smart-alec new girl.

After a lonely lunch, she reluctantly rode a wave of children out to the blacktop. Katie watched as other kids ran around the huge floodlights, screaming and pushing. She had never seen so many kids. She didn’t even know places like this existed.

Like an astronaut emerging from a ship onto a hostile alien planet, she was cautious and scared. She noticed a patch of trees and ran to it, thinking of the woods behind her house, something familiar, something safe, something she knew more intimately than books and tv shows. She began exploring, stomping around when her teacher, Mrs. Fuller, came up to her.

“Hey sweetie, would you mind coming back to the blacktop?”

        Katie didn’t want to and didn’t think she had to listen to Mrs. Fuller.

        “No thanks.”

        Mrs. Fuller persisted.

        “Listen, honey, we want everybody on the blacktop so we can watch – ”

        “Why were you crying in the bathroom this morning?”

        Mrs. Fuller stared. Katie, curious and ignorant, didn’t stop.

        “Is it because your stomach is so big, and it makes you look weird?”

        Mrs. Fuller, five weeks away from giving birth to a son in a world with no light, cried the whole drive home, but not before telling the other teachers to deal with “that little devil child in the woods.”

        It took four of them to finally manage to get Katie back on the blacktop. And there she stood, a lonely and confused astronaut taken prisoner on an alien planet.

After a few minutes she noticed a boy coming towards her.

She knew about boys. She had read 2,731 pages and watched 1,459 minutes of tv about boys. She wondered what kind of boy he would be.

He waved, so she waved back. Would he be a mean boy? He said “Hi,” and she said “Hi.” Would he pull her hair?

His name was Michael. Eventually he went up to her and tapped her arm.

“You’re it.”

She watched him run away, looking back over his shoulder. She stood there, bewildered and sad. A few minutes later he returned.

“Are you gonna tag me?” he asked.

“What’s tag?”

After he explained, off they ran, and 30 minutes and 30 tags later, Katie and Michael stumbled inside, grinning from ear to ear.


         The cold was steadily growing, the darkness relentless and infinite. Rationing began in Australia, Angola, and Amsterdam, after two months and eighteen days in the dark. Millions of farm animals had died, and farmers rushed to salvage any meat they could. But instead of selling it off, they decided to keep it, as they realized that they didn’t need money; what they needed was food. And just like that, thousands of years after its inception, the people of the world began to lose faith in the institution that had nurtured civilization, forged great armies, and dominated the lives of kings and peddlers alike. Farmers everywhere, embittered by the cold, sent shockwaves of doubt and fear all around the globe.

The hoarding came first, then the looting. Neighbors became enemies as they wondered how much gas, food, water they were hiding from each other. As communities slowly crumbled, so did common notions of civility, of manners, of patience, courtesy, and shared humanity.

A few places managed to band together, to cooperate and channel their common fear into productivity instead of hostility. The town of Doolin, Ireland, managed to pool all of their resources and restore faith in the local government, successfully doling out rations and making tough decisions to ensure their survival for as long as possible.

Addis Ababa pulled together like no other city could, with 90% of able adults going in to work, to keep the city functioning and producing, spurring the economy and keeping their supplies of food and energy steady.

And a small town in Australia decided to go out with a bang, gathering all of their food and alcohol and throwing a fifteen-day feast, filled with music, dancing, and debauchery, preferring to spend their last days in the hedonistic presence of friends and loved ones as opposed to slowly dying from the hunger, if not the cold.

As hope deteriorated, an idea, the inklings of a plan, were born in the mind of a prominent energy researcher, and a few weeks and phone calls later, Dr. Laura Butler announced her daring and heroic plan to save the Earth.

In front of reporters, cameras, and the world, Dr. Butler and her coalition of scientists described her pioneering new method of energy extraction, capable of producing sixteen times the energy from the same amount of fuel. This, coupled with a special form of lamp inspired by those used to treat babies with Jaundice, could save millions, if not billions, she said.

By producing not only light that mimics sunlight, but also vast amounts of heat, the lamps could not only provide the necessary conditions for humans to survive, but crops and animals, too. Everybody would have to gather in densely packed cities, leaving their homes, their lives, the memories behind them. Life would be unquestionably altered, but life would remain.

Billions donated, and research and development began. Countless scientists, engineers, urban planners, and designers offered their services, and for a select few, she graciously accepted and let them join her team. The world held its breath as its hope for survival was crafted in labs and factories, while food, water, and heat continued to decline. 


          At lunch the next day, Katie was sitting alone when Michael plopped his tray and himself down next to her.

They spent recess running, jumping, tagging, and laughing. As Katie rested against the wall after a particularly taxing but successful tag, a girl came up to her.

“Are you playing tag?”

Katie recognized her from lunch the day before. She didn’t let Katie sit next to her.

“Yes, but you can’t play!” Katie screamed, blind rage erupting, the painful memory of one of her first ever rejections reverberating in her head, the deep desire for revenge, for justice, for this girl, this witch to feel how she had felt-

But as Katie watched her walk away, she remembered the Golden Rule. Words she had read countless times, had heard countless characters speak.

“Sorry, you can join if you want.”

And like that, Amber entered her life and her games of tag.

Katie, Michael, and Amber spent every recess racing among the trees and the kids, feeling the soles of their shoes grind the asphalt, releasing the beautiful smell of rubber and rock that Katie was growing to love so much.

Soon, they were joined by a third. Then a fourth. After her first two weeks at school, Katie had acquired a small posse of recess-time adventure-seekers and tag-fanatics. They ran, carefree, under the floodlights, dodging each others’ hands, laughing, screaming, unaware of the stress, worry, and fear dominating the minds of the teachers who stood around them, silent and bleary-eyed. One day, she tripped and fell. She skinned her knee and cut her lip, but she didn’t care. She felt more alive than she ever had; her knee became a symbol for adventure, her lip a symbol for freedom.

The other kids were impressed by Katie’s agility and speed, skills nurtured and improved over countless empty nights running through the woods around her home, just her and a million crickets, all ignoring her mother’s cries to return home. Exploring was her love, an escape from the strange, dull world inside the house. The woods were her home; she felt warm and safe, even on those cold moonlit nights.

Never did she realize that there were others just like her out there, others wishing to feel the wind in their hair and sweat on their necks. She had always been so alone, assumed it would be that way forever. But as she played, she found warmth and safety in these people. She began smiling and laughing with them during class, talking about candy and cartoons on the bus, and feeling a bittersweet contentment as she left them, sad to leave but excited to laugh with them tomorrow.

Her mom, resigned to their new life of darkness, took down the blackout curtains in her room and Katie sat on her bed, looking up at the sunless sky filled with stars. Her dark prison cell became a waiting room with a view, a place to pass the hours until she could see her friends again.


          Dr. Laura Butler and her team of world-savers worked tirelessly as the people of Earth watched. Men, women, and children put all of their faith in chemistry, in physics in thermodynamics and materials science and quantum mechanics. Updates came daily, and Dr. Butler spared them the jargon and complexity. She kept it simple and gratifying, enough to excite the public.

Hope became the new business of TV. As spirits lifted, communities started gathering to share food and watch the news together, the atmosphere contagious and electric with hope. Billionaires announced grand contributions, appearing on TV with Dr. Butler to accept them. Progress accelerated and the people of Earth began envisioning their future, one devoid of the light and heat of the sun but filled with the light and heat of chemical reactions, a cheap substitute but a substitute nonetheless.

The countdown began when Dr. Butler said they nearly had it; it was only a matter of days until they were ready for mass production. With all the manufacturing resources they had devoted, they could light the world in a few months.

Small celebrations were thrown, celebrations of human ingenuity and the sheer willpower to survive. Celebrations of that which had turned us from apes into kings in a cosmological second.

Then, one day, Dr. Laura Butler stopped showing up on TV. No longer did her voice assure everybody that the solution was close. The people of Earth remained incredulously glued to their screens, wondering what had happened. Bewilderment swept across the globe and remained until, a few days later, a weary looking man appeared on TV.

He apologized and apologized. Apologized he had taken part. Apologized he had been selfish. Apologized he had participated in the lies.

As he described the elaborate plan that had been born in the mind of Dr. Laura Butler and perpetuated by the hundreds brought in to legitimize it, people in all time zones felt like they were sinking to the depths of the deepest ocean trench. He said the guilt was eating him alive. He said it wasn’t fair, how he and the others had taken the world’s money and bought themselves tickets to survival. He said Dr. Laura Butler was so convincing, so trustworthy. She said it was for the survival of humanity, how only a few could survive, how they were pioneers, how they would go down in history as the saviors of the human race.

He described the elaborate underground structure being built; the true product of the world’s money. He described the systems of air filtration, water purification, and hydroponics he had worked on in exchange for a ticket to salvation and a closed mouth. He described how they would not only survive but thrive, a few thousand living in luxury and decadence while billions starved and froze above.

He had bought into it. He had believed Dr. Butler when she said that this was the only way. That without this humanity was doomed.

He apologized and apologized, and then he stepped out of view of the camera, never to be seen again.

Riots broke out, the worst the world has ever seen. Fires the size of cities lit up the globe, giving a brief respite from the eternity of cold that would follow. The collective outrage fueled a mass search for the underground safe haven the man was talking about. Within days it was found, deep in the Canadian wilderness. The infrastructure that remained of the internet was used to organize a mob hundreds of thousands strong, which descended on the location like a swarm. They burned the living quarters, ate the food, found those that had already moved in and mercilessly beat them, and promised the same for any yet to move in.

Dr. Laura Butler, Jesus turned Satan, was found fourteen miles away trying to escape. And the masses turned her into a horrifying example of the most brutal human capabilities, an example that was broadcast live on the internet for millions to watch.

Anger and mob mentality brought about the destruction of the underground Noah’s Ark, and just like that, humanity’s last hope for survival disappeared.


          Katie’s mom sat her children down to explain what had happened. To explain that all hope was lost, that they didn’t have long. Katie didn’t pay much attention. Her mind was elsewhere, dreaming of what games they would play tomorrow. Content to go to school forever, as long as she could play with her friends.

She thought back to her world before, a world of artificial darkness and manufactured air inside her house, occasionally broken up when she was allowed to go outside. Now, the darkness was pure, deep, penetrating, the air crisp and smooth on the lungs. Her countless stuffed animals were replaced by real friends, friends who could laugh with her, get mad at her, talk to her.

Her mom spoke of the end of the world, but Katie was more worried about her friends: she thought of Michael, and Amber, and Michelle, and Drew and Ian. What would happen to them? Would they still be at school tomorrow?


          On March 3rd, 2018, at exactly 12:17 PM Central Standard Time, the sun turned back on.

Manuel Hidalgo of Santiago, Chile, was temporarily blinded and dropped the makeshift club he was about to use to smash a grocery store window. The Ross family of Lincoln, Nebraska looked through the barricaded slats covering their window and screamed. The city of Pittsburgh, now a fraction of its population a few months earlier, felt the warm, comforting, life-affirming rays of the sun for the first time in two months, twenty-one days, fourteen hours and thirty-three minutes. They all stopped what they were doing and basked, like a city of a thousand lizards. They felt the warmth overtake them, reaching deep into their bones.

Uh Yong-Sook didn’t notice. Neither did 4,844,685 Chinese farmers or 47 kangaroo ranchers. But within minutes, electrons had zoomed across the Earth, informing them of the news. And they eagerly waited, waited, waited, for the most beautiful sunrise the world has ever seen.


          At 12:17 PM, Katie Webster was outside, half a mile from her house, upset at her mom for not sending her to school, confused as to why her mom was saying school had stopped being organized.

So she had run away. She dashed through the woods, leapt over creeks, and stomped on all the dead plants. Then, suddenly, the sky opened up, and Katie Webster saw something she had only seen in the days before memory.

Panic gripped her, and she bolted out of the woods, emerging under the vast expanse of unfamiliar, starless blue sky. The rays of sunlight enveloped her, and she felt what everyone from British Columbia to Buenos Aires was feeling. She sat, stunned, for a minute that felt like a millennium. She wondered if Michael felt it too.

She heard her mom, crying her name. She ran back to the house, eager to share whatever this was with whoever was there. Nearing her back porch, she saw Mac and Angie dancing. As she rushed to join in, she saw her mom’s tear stained face emerge, stuck between what seemed like laughter and fear. She thought her mom was going in for a hug, so Katie opened her arms and embraced her.

Her mom held her tight and covered her with a blanket. Katie was confused while her mom dragged her inside, away from the warm, destructive, life-affirming and deadly rays of the sun. Katie flailed and fought in confusion and anger as she heard the door shut behind her.


          While Mac and Angie Webster danced and sang, everywhere else friends hugged, families cried, and couples made so much love that nine months later hospitals around the world would suffer shortages of space and medical supplies. But no one thought of the future. All thought was on the present, and the sweet, simple joy of sunlight that came with it.

Huge celebrations kicked off, impromptu parades were thrown, and joy was spread on the rays of the sun.


           Meanwhile, Mary Webster marched through her home, up her stairs, down the hall, and into the furthest bedroom, to hang up her daughter’s blackout curtains once more.

JIMMY BANTA studies Film and Math at NYU, and loves reading, watching, listening to, and consuming stories of all kinds. After spending time screenwriting, he recently decided to get into creative prose writing, which has been incredibly fun and rewarding. In his free time, he loves to enjoy nature, good music, good food, and good company.

Plants Need to be Tended to

        We lived in a cathedral-like apartment a family was murdered in right outside of Chinatown. I hoped it’d be cheaper than other apartments, but the landlord reasoned, “The painters we brought in are very talented, baroque style, no blood stains anywhere.”

        “What is baroque?” my roommate asked.

        “I don’t know. Naked people?” he said.

        “Why would we want nudes on our kitchen walls?” I said.

        “I would,” he said, offering no discounted price. Instead, the landlord provided cans of air freshener, offering a complimentary pamplemousse candle as well, one he purchased the night before from the adult store across the street.  

       “Why don’t you just call pamplemousse what it is, a grapefruit?” I snapped, frustrated he would not lower the rent.

        “Come on, it’s Manhattan. Do you want the pamplemousse candle or not?” he retorted. I grabbed the candle from him.

        The candle felt like a truce—to live amongst ivory angels on walls and, in its grandeur, Westernized life. When Ren and I first signed the lease, I assumed she was older, shocked that we were only a month apart; the girl acted thirty-five years old at twenty. We both emigrated from a city sheltered between mountains, known for its ice sculptures and beer gardens. That’s all I knew about her before we lived together: that we lived on neighboring streets back in Japan. She dabbled with men in their thirties, donning corporate clothing to grocery stores and tucking foliage around the apartment as if she and I were a married couple on HGTV. The vegetation masked the sewage odor, and she swore by this.

        She was a painter at the time, while I studied chemistry at the university. Everyone in my family was gone, even the professor who orchestrated my scholarship. I expected to resign myself to vagrancy after graduation and return to my hometown, but as an undertow pulls someone beneath a wave, Ren brought me back ashore to where I saw a future for myself as a doctor. I wish I could say this to her, how she chose my path in life. The week we moved in, Ren sprained her ankle and made me promise to never call an ambulance.

        “The hospital is only a block away. Will you help me down the stairs?” Proximity to the hospital didn’t seem reasonable enough to deter an ambulance, but I conceded.

        “Don’t lean on your leg like that,” I said. We hobbled down the stairs.

        “I remember you telling me you wanted to be a doctor, no?”

        “I don’t recall saying that—”

        “You know caring for plants ages you.” She spoke as if she were addressing a fifth-grade classroom, “Ripens you into maturation. You should try it. It’s great practice for nurturing people, and you can work up towards a bonsai.”

        “A bonsai?”

        “Yes, a miniature tree. I can help you care for it, too,” She winked at me.

         Ren started me off with fake ones, cradling and caressing them between her hands.

         “Water the leaves as if they breathed,” she said.

         So there I was, slapping the pitcher at them, onto the dirt—sloshing—unable to get it to stop splashing on the counter. I smiled at Ren, who nodded back and said, “Technique could use some work, but nice.”

        Not long after, I nurtured lithops, called ‘living stones.’ One, Ren jested, looked like a freshly-shaved asshole. Not the aesthetic I was going for, so I left them out in the living room, where for a month each day I came home to water them until one night work kept me late. They all wrinkled and died.

        Ren’s painting class ended soon and the subway took her thirty minutes to return home, leaving me shy of an hour to fix this. I paged through the newspapers in search of a replacement to find a Venus flytrap on sale, advertised for ‘Women adopters only’ by a man who lived across Tompkins Square Park. I sprinted over.

        “I wasn’t expecting anyone,” the lanky, red-haired man admitted. “But I understand. Jupiter is quite the catch,” he added. He invited me in and sat me on the couch to exchange pots.

        I shook his hand and ran back home to find Ren wiping her shoes on the mat. Before we entered the door, she eyed Jupiter and said, “How does one kill a rock? I need to visit my mother this weekend. Can you not kill the other plants while I’m gone?”

        She prepared Castella cakes before her train ride, along with a bouquet of white lilies wrapped in ribbon. Ren told me how she and her mother were very close. They took care of each other, especially after Ren’s sister left for university when Ren turned nine. Her mother couldn’t speak English well. Diffident and soft spoken, she asked Ren to help with doctor visits and taxes. They used to make days out of it. Ren would skip school, her mother would take her to this one greenhouse with wild shrubs and drooping trees encased in a giant dome, and then they’d go to the appointment. Her mother always worried they’d run out of money. She worried constantly about money. Ren only told me about her mother’s pendulum of moods once.

        “Is everything O.K. at home?” I asked.

        “I wasn’t finished talking. Don’t enter a stranger’s home ever, and just because the lithops were slanted at birth doesn’t mean they were dead. They probably only needed sunlight.”

        I wondered why Ren’s mood shifted so suddenly. Then I grew distracted and spent the night researching what Jupiter should eat. Why did I give up so easily on the rocks, and is a rock like a toddler? Thankfully, Jupiter could feed himself; all I had to do was throw some water onto the soil every now and then.

        But also, I could be wrong.

        Not even a week passed by before the chomping heads twisted off their stems, and as I watched the leaves shrivel, I thought back to the stones. I distractedly tripped over the Venus flytrap, and the pot cracked. Visiting every forum on every plant website I could find, I met a kind man from Mushroom Association of Mequon who responded to my queries.

       “Things like these happen. Just glue the shards back together. Most importantly, when was the last time your Venus Flytrap was fed?” He asked.

        I hurried to the dumpster behind my apartment and herded flies into a mason jar. Spoon-feeding Jupiter, I gathered a surge of confidence and purchased the book, Bonsái, which I left on the kitchen counter for Ren to take notice.

        She did not notice.

        I yawned and tossed the book onto the living room table next to Ren’s legs. “You’re not ready yet,” she said, without lifting her gaze. She did not mention her visit home, and so I refrained from mentioning the phone call I received from her sister that morning. Ren never mentioned that her mother resided in a hospital for some time, and I didn’t find it appropriate to tell her I knew.

        Once the snow fell, the superintendent placed an insulated shroud over the windows that made my bare room a womb and prison. Trapped between papery skin walls, I lived at Clark’s apartment more often than mine, except for one morning, when I realized I had forgotten to blow out the candles on my bedside table.

        I slipped back into the sweltering air to find my room adorned in petals, succulents and cacti ascending my pale desk—a ladder with heavy rungs as bookshelves. Paintings of dark figures in deserts hung on the walls. I thought I understood why Ren would perform such a deed, why she would decorate my room with desolate silhouettes, but I didn’t know how to mollify her. I returned to my bed again to keep her company.

        The space was suffused with life when we both were home. I would bake crisp apples and taro crepes while jazz resonated through the rooms, and Ren would light the candles and waft sage and incense through the air. The baroque disappeared beneath the foliage. She laid out plants everywhere: in the cabinets, above the toilet, along the window sills. One day she knelt down, nudging a plant below the sink, to discover a fat, tender rat squirming underneath the pipes. The landlord tried to convince us it was just a chubby mouse, but when Ren ordered he remove it himself, he agreed the creature was too vicious to be a mouse.

        Ren stayed up the entire night studying the contract, and she leveraged a lawsuit over the rat ordeal, convincing the landlord to install a third window panel. Her persistence didn’t surprise me. An enormous glass wall replaced the exposed brick—the rest of the bare angels too—transforming the apartment into a lush greenhouse.

        Amidst the renovations, rent was still demanded of us, and money ran dry. I spent my hours drudging at the library in anticipation for my anatomy exam. Ren took initiative and aggressively painted, and together, we harnessed more imaginative jobs. We hosted tea ceremonies, meditative practices—her sister taught us breathing techniques. As we cleaned the teapot, preparing loose-leaf, we shared our delusional ambitions, ambitions we never spoke about with others, ones that pervaded the fragile lining of our rationale. We saw in them glimpses of a future worth living for. Then it happened. Ren conjured the business that paid our rent.

        “Explain the job to me one more time,” I said.

        “It’s like a dog kennel but for stationary plants.”

        Not everything needs labels, Ren argued, but I called it ‘plant sitting.’ I flipped over one of the engraved name tags she splayed out on the kitchen table. The job felt too niche to attract any clients, but we agreed to try it.

        Surprisingly, the business collected more rent money than any of our others had. Everything ran smoothly until a couple with a critically injured bonsai returned from their spiritual journey a month earlier than the given date. They planned a two-month vacation to Salt Lake City.

        Ren and I were roaming through the narrow streets until we squatted on a bench to rest our legs. She spotted the couple walking their child on a leash through the park. When they locked eyes with her, they stopped mid-stroll, tugging on the child to halt. Ren was irate. The couple offered her a tripled pay, a tossed-in bonus even for intentionally leaving the bonsai with her while in town so she’d revive it. Hours she dedicated to spraying the leaves, pruning every night and day, and delicately wrapping aluminum around the branches, she felt taken advantage of. She mumbled about caring for her mother. Chucking the tree onto the ground, from then on, her moods swung wild.

       Two weeks passed, and her anger did not dissipate. “How dare he tell me I’m afraid to commit,” Ren declared. “I can’t be his girlfriend. I don’t need another person’s feelings to consider right now,” she paced the hall.

        I could hardly see her through the greenery.

        “Maybe we could sell some of these plants, and you could use the time you’d spend nurturing the plants to consider his feelings instead—”

        “How are you so willing to be with Clark?” She said. “Eager to be owned by someone else, is that it?”

        I wanted to tell her how even the plants we tended to were transient and could never be owned by us, but I couldn’t find the words.

        Later that night, Ren stumbled in swaying her arms around, heaving over the toilet. “I can hold my own hair,” she protested. I tied a loose ponytail and pivoted backwards, but she clasped onto my hand.

        Her breathing seemed off.

        Without letting go of my fingers, she whispered, “Some people aren’t meant to nurture.” At first I thought this was directed towards me, a bit hurt, but no alcohol fumes escaped her breath. I immediately nudged her face upward, slapping her cheek softly, “Ren, what did you take?”

        Eleven minutes and thirty-seven seconds passed before the paramedics rushed in to pump her stomach out.

        We spoke very little after that. Rusty, corroding walls no longer dominated the interior, only patches of wooden floor. She warned me to never call the ambulance again. Her sallow cheeks and bones appeared too heavy for her skin, heavier with each dying plant.

        I imagined Ren as my sister and decided caring for a bonsai would make her forget how sad she was. I went and bought one with a sticker with 82 years pasted on it. “Goddamn,” I mumbled on the last flight of stairs under my breath, which I was nearly out of. The door cracked open, and I twisted the knob to find Ren gazing out the opened window.

        “I never told you. When I went home, it was my mother’s gravestone I visited.”

         I lowered the bag without realizing, and her attention drifted towards my hand. She asked what it contained. I hesitated because the timing felt off, but her face reddened, so I slowly presented the bonsai to her. She nearly fell back.

        “Get it away from me!”  

        “Caring is intuitive. It gives you purpose.” She refused the gift. Her countenance expressionless, absent.

        The following morning, I asked Ren’s older sister to meet for coffee. She told me how Ren washed her mother’s sheets, baked her Castella cakes, brushed her hair before bedtime after her hospitalization. Ren was only 11-years old when their mother died. It was ill timing. The ambulance came during rush hour. Ren found her dead.

        The sister dabbed the corner of her mouth with a folded napkin. “Imagine an empty funeral parlor where the only ones there are your two children. I don’t hate her.” She paused for a moment, then continued, “I don’t hate my mother. She brought us to this country barely able to speak its tongue. She suppressed her own self-hatred, her humiliation to care for us for as long as she could. Should one be despised for that, for self-loathing?” She placed her hand on mine as she paid for the check. Before we parted ways, she said, “But her soul, beyond the control of the vessel in which it nestles, was not stripped of because that would imply its possession in the first place.” That was the last time I saw her.

         I kept the bonsai, tending to its needs, its tendrils as hands, its leaved branches as lungs. I thought of the tree’s age as I watched it wither. Why didn’t possession of the vessel ensure survival of its soul? I grew angry with the sister’s comment before we gave our goodbyes. Perhaps I didn’t do enough.

        I sat on the edge of my bed, enveloped in the desolate figures. Women adumbrated into tortured shapes, each writhing in her own way. The paintings weaved a vast desert, where one bled into the others, seeping through the frames. The largest one nailed to the wall’s center. A figure laid on her side away from the onlooker towards bountiful mounds of sand, and as I closed my eyes, I saw it happen. How Ren couldn’t pull the heavy couch out to reach her mother’s black bed of hair. How her finger forced still against the dark figure’s neck. How she smothered her flesh with wash cloths while rivulets bled through them, and how instead of the hospital rushing paramedics by foot, an ambulance drove over, arriving too late because traffic was too heavy.

        I didn’t buy any more plants after that. I decided I’d rather care for people. The sewer smell was gone, no more pamplemousse candles. Volunteering at the hospital, I wheel chaired old ladies down hallways and delivered cards to patients. I rarely came home, leaving a toothbrush and pajamas and shorts at Clark’s. I still thought about Ren often. She and her boyfriend had the apartment to themselves, though they mostly stayed at his studio, everyone abandoning the plants altogether.

RACHEL JACOBSON will earn a BA in Anthropology and a minor in Creative Writing at New York University. Additionally to reading and writing, she relies on photography to keep sane. She is devoted to writing about minorities and interracial dynamics.

Pride: A Reading Collection

Although the spirit of queer pride should last 365 days a year, today marks the last Friday of Pride month 2019. Here are the top picks of LGBTQ+ literature or works of literature written by LGBTQ+ writers to last you all until June 2020.

Links to buy books mentioned below through Amazon can be accessed by clicking on the titles.

Annie on my Mind by Nancy Garden


I found this book at a time when I was just beginning to come to terms with my queerness and it helped normalize being gay for me. While this love story between two girls takes place in the 1980s, the nuanced character development and intricacies of the love explored helped me realize that being all forms of love deserve to exist not solely defined by their political status.

– Joanna Cleary, Blog Editor

Tin Man by Sarah Winman


I read Tin Man on the recommendation of a friend, unaware of the storyline or the synopsis. The story I encountered was perhaps one of the most emotionally poignant ones I had read. Tin Man depicts love and sexuality beyond the cardboard boxes we put them in and touches upon art, friendship, and desire by freeing these from their socially gendered labels. It’s a warm, gradual narrative on sadness and nostalgia, and the transformative potential of love.

-Smriti Verma, Poetry Editor

Interpretive Work by Elizabeth Bradfield


While the poems in this collection often deal with the conflicts of history, politics, culture, and family, hope and beauty win out for the view of the future. Her poems cross boundaries into the vulnerable to reveal how loving someone can help you love the world.It’s published by Artoi Books, which is an imprint of Red Hen Press (Arktoi Books publishes literary poetry by lesbian writers).

-Lisa Stice, Poetry Editor

Sea-Witch: Vol. 1 (May She Lay Us Waste) by Never Angeline Nørth (formerly Moss Angel (formerly Sara June Woods))


I think Sea-Witch was revolutionary for me: a work centered around transsexuality, a genre-fluid/genre-defying and literature-altering book, Never Angeline Nørth’s book is about a girl monster, a witch-god, about their origin stories and journeys and narratives. I don’t know how to summarize this book but I do know that this book will change the way you look at and critique texts, and I believe it is a great introduction, both in terms of form and content (as much as I despise considering those as the two components of a text), to what the category of LGBTQ+ literature is and can be. Sea-Witch helped me come to terms with my still-developing notion of what my own sexuality is and what it means to me. The book sounds tumultuous but that is the beauty, that is its defiance, and that is what motivates me to make peace with my tumultuous sexuality.

-Devanshi Khetarpal, Editor-in-Chief

A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood


Christopher Isherwood was one of the first queer authors I came across during my English studies, and his stories opened up new perspectives to regard the world I’d grown up in. In my private Isherwood collection, A Single Man still stands out most remarkably. An artistically crafted story about seclusion and otherness, it tells the tragic end of a curtained love in a homophobic society that grants no (public) closure for the bereaved. But more powerfully, Isherwood’s insight into a single day of a grieving man revealed to me the beauty of two men in love – physically and emotionally. Reading A Single Man, you’ll certainly be touched by the despair that travels from the first to the last page. But I also hope that you’ll be ignited – to make reality better.

– Stela Dujakovic, Prose Editor

What Belongs to You by Garth Greenwell


Look Garth Greenwell up on Youtube and listen to him read aloud from his work before you read this novel. He was trained as poet before turning to prose, and his history shows in his work: every sentence has a rhythm that demands to be read aloud. That isn’t to say that the ideas of his work don’t matter, but auditory beauty is a nice way to ease yourself into the story that is ultimately devastating. The story follows an American professor teaching in Bulgaria, who pays a young man named Mitko for sex and comes back to him again and again. The driving question of the novel is whether Mitko really has a connection with the narrator, or if it’s all just loneliness making infatuation feel like love. I’m not gay, I’ve never been to Bulgaria, and the world of illicit sexuality described in the book is something I’ve never experienced. Which might have been part of why I liked it so much: much of the power of fiction is to show you what you’ve never known or seen. But even more powerful is the universality of the book. Wondering if your love is real or not is something that every romantically-inclined person has felt, no matter who you are or who you love.

– John S. Osler III, Prose Editor

To view staff bios and learn more about our staff, check out our Masthead page here.

Interview with Mihir Vatsa

Our Blog Editors interviewed Mihir Vatsa, an Indian poet and the editor of Vayavya, for this week’s blog. In this interview, we ask him about the practice of writing and the habits that pertain to it in some way or another. We also ask Mihir about not only staying committed to writing, but also staying committed to writing about Hazaribagh.

Blog Editors: Ernest Hemingway wrote first thing in the morning. Maya Angelou reserved hotel rooms just to write. Stephen King forced himself to write six pages every day. Susan Sontag instructed people when not to call. Have you developed any specific methods for writing?

Mihir Vatsa: I wish I could reserve hotel rooms to write. Someday, perhaps, I will. I usually write at night– the darkness sorts relevance from distraction. When I am writing to meet a deadline, I set a target. With prose, it is thousand words. Poetry is more malleable that way– just three lines could be a poem too, as long as they are good three lines. I am more relaxed with poetry, less so with prose. The latter demands some discipline, I have learned recently.  

BE: Do you journal? And how well do you work with or meet deadlines?

MV: Unfortunately, no, I don’t maintain a journal. I do have some romantic affinity towards the process though, and I like to hear stories that involve journal writing. I have tried it before, but have stopped midway. Trivial things begin to annoy me– is the notebook cover journalish enough, what if I wrote something and someone read it, if I am doing it on my PC then what should be the password, do I really want it personal or do I secretly want it read? I think of these clearly pressing thoughts and defer it.

I think I can work with deadlines, though I procrastinate a lot. So if the deadline is tomorrow, I would get working today, not sleeping, not eating, a bit possessed. It’s not a healthy practice for a writer, but then writers are not really known for their exemplary health.

BE:Do you outline ideas before or do you let the form teach you what kind of story you are writing?

MV: I do outline, but mostly in mind. I prefer having some ideas, some thoughts about what I should write once I start the computer. Often a poem is left hanging for a few days: one stanza emerges, then there is the wait, then another line comes up. When I am not writing, I am working with collages– cut here, paste there. When I think I have enough to go with, I start typing. With longer poems, I take it slow, filling in the blanks first, then tying the content up as the form suggests. With prose, and especially essays, I have found that it’s helpful to have some pointers beforehand, a road map, on how to progress from one thought to the other without jarring the flow.  

BE: What do you do when you become stuck while writing?

MV: If the deadline is far, I give in to the block. I switch to Netflix or Youtube, or take up a book which I had been meaning to read. You can only watch something for so long. When saturation hits, writing becomes a needed retreat. Sometimes I get stuck because I don’t want to put an idea into a form that I have already done before. Then, reading helps. I go to the internet and read whatever poetry I can find, preferably by poets who are alive. That way, I get to see what other poets in the world are doing, how they are managing language, how they are working with form, and so on. The last time I got stuck, the deadline was close. So I ordered a book and told myself not to touch it before I finished writing. It kind of worked.

BE: How do you stay committed to Hazaribagh? Is there a different lens or observation you require in order to practice the writing of something so close when you want it to reach far?

MV: This is a really good question, actually. My upcoming book A Highland in the East (Speaking Tiger Books 2019) is a memoir about living and travelling in the Hazaribagh plateau, and though I had a great time writing it, I was also often conflicted about my loyalty to Hazaribagh. I am not talking about the town per se– Hazaribagh is like any other small Indian town. It has its half-finished buildings with exposed brickwork, it has its temples and mosques and narrow streets. Somehow these things haven’t appealed to me yet. I am more attached to Hazaribagh’s landscape. Therefore, the hills, the trees, the rivers, etc are my points of affect. I remember, this one time, my friend Raza Kazmi and I were staying for a few days at Palamu Tiger Reserve in Latehar. The place is about a six-hour drive from Hazaribagh. There, I was surrounded by taller hills, denser forests, reliable waterfalls, and it made me sad. What if I outgrow Hazaribagh? “You can be committed to Hazaribagh and still enjoy Palamu,” Raza said something along this line, and though I understood him, I was still uncertain. What I fear is that one day there will be nothing wonderful about Hazaribagh for me. No waterfall will excite me. Been there, done that– that kind of boredom, you know, and so I try to modify perspectives. There is a lot in Hazaribagh, things that I still don’t know, so maybe one day I will enjoy the roads, or the history, or engage with the place in a more direct, participatory way. At the moment, I am gripped by the plateau; later, it might be some other aspect of the town.

Perception is universal– the way I perceive Hazaribagh may be similar or different to people who perceive other places, but the act is not uniquely mine. As writers, we work in and with shared cultures, so I think while Hazaribagh may be a little-known, “niche” place to write about, the things I feel when I am in Hazaribagh do resonate with people outside. When I post a photo of a hill range and see the reactions on it, I know I am doing something right. I try to understand the relevance of Hazaribagh for other people, and this is a conjecture at best, but I think that in Hazaribagh, I work through a dual-gaze. I am both an insider and the outsider, insider to the town, outsider to the plateau. When I look for information on, say, how the lake came about, or how the hill was fashioned earlier to appear the way it does now, I am being a hopeless local historian; on the other hand, when I venture into the forest, trailing a stream and not knowing where it would take me, I feel more like a tourist. Perhaps this duality works, though I am not sure yet.

BE: Do you think your editorial practice, or editorial ethics, have impacted your practice as a writer?

MV: Maybe? I don’t really know. Earlier I used to get irritated at the long wait to get a response, but as someone who has also been on the other side of things, I realise now that such delays happen, especially if you are working as a small, un- or underpaid team. One thing that I loved doing as an editor was to really edit– and not just select– a poem for publication, you know, the old-fashioned way. I would chance upon a poem which was almost ready, except that it didn’t work in some parts and patches. Whenever it was the case, I offered detailed feedback, putting the ball in the poet’s court. Here is what I think. If you agree, we can go ahead with the publication. With my own writing too, I am not averse to feedback or revision. I appreciate it if someone devotes a chunk of their time to offer comments on my work. This is something that I cherish with respect to writing, mine or someone else’s.

155727205559673739MIHIR VATSA is the author of the poetry collections Painting That Red Circle White (Authors Press 2014) and Wingman (Aainanagar & Vayavya 2017). A former Charles Wallace Fellow of Writing at University of Stirling, UK, Mihir is the winner of Srinivas Rayaprol Poetry Prize and a Toto Funds the Arts Award in Writing. Mihir lives in the plateau-town of Hazaribagh, India, where he works across the disciplines of literature, writing and human geography.