When I was a little girl, I often wrote short stories. Writing was the perfect solution to a 90’s childhood devoid of computers and iPads. Perhaps more importantly, it helped to capture my active imagination. But all my stories were about characters named “Sue” or “John” who “had supper” and “walked three blocks to school.” I filled notebooks with stories about snow in winter and eating bacon and beans for breakfast. But who exactly were “Sue” and “John” and what was “walking three blocks” anyway? Why did the characters in my story reside in a snowy Christmas village when I was growing up in the middle of a Kathmandu monsoon?
I was writing with a voice not my own.
The anecdote illustrates why I personally believe it is vitally important for writers of South Asian descent to find a voice and identity — never an easy process. But one way to start is at South Asian Young Writers Collective (SYWC), which I co-founded along with Afsana Oreen. At SYWC, we write as South-Asians. And not just that, but as South-Asian Americans, South-Asian women, South-Asian immigrants/Muslims/ Hindus/queers/adolescents and more.
“In terms of being a writer, my creativity comes not from being ‘Sri Lankan’ or ‘Canadian’ but precisely from the space between, that marvelous open space represented by the hyphen, in which the two parts of my identity jostle and rub against each other like tectonic plates, pushing upwards the eruption that is my work.”
At SYWC, we welcome young writers with hyphens. We welcome the exploration of this marvelous open space in between. We aim to create a safe space where young women can read, explore and debate issues of identity — a conversation that is so very critical at a growing age.
This summer, between July 8 through August 21, SYWC offers a bi-weekly workshop for young high school girls Asian Arts Initiative. Our workshops feature weekly themes ranging from a ‘Music and Dance’ to ‘Colored Girls: The Role of Gender.’ Wee hope to spark conversations that inspire and build relationships. Our programming this summer also includes workshops by novelist Bushra Rehman, The Aerogram’s Kishwer Vikaas and archivist Samip Mallik of South Asian American Digital Archive. Our vision is for participants to connect with writers and professionals whose work we can relate to, whose voice we can understand.
Many young women who have applied have expressed a desire to approach writing as a means to understand, express and form their own identities. This summer, SYWC offers that space. We welcome you to join us. To register for our summer workshop or for more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sabrina Singh is a rising junior at Swarthmore College, majoring in Political Science and Sociology/Anthropology. She and fellow Swarthmore student Afsana Oreen are co-founders of SYWC, funded by The Swarthmore Foundation and the South Asia Center, University of Pennsylvania. To learn more, visit the SYWC Facebook page. Or find them on Twitter.