This week we feature the current favorites and obsessions of Nina McConigley, the author of the short-story collection Cowboys and East Indians, which is currently on the shortlist for the PEN/Open Book Award. (Read an excerpt on The Aerogram.) She was born in Singapore and grew up in Wyoming. She holds an MFA from the University of Houston and an MA from the University of Wyoming. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Salon, Virginia Quarterly Review, American Short Fiction, and The Asian American Literary Review among others. She lives in Laramie, Wyoming and teaches at the University of Wyoming. You can learn more about her at www.ninamcconigley.com.
1. Tara Books/ The Book Building
I worked at Tara Books in Chennai from 2007-2008 as an intern. Their books are magical. They are works of art inside and out. I saw one of their books in a shop in London, wrote them and asked if I could work there, and luckily, they said yes. Tara Books is one of India’s best independent publishers and they are a collective of artists, writers, designers, and thinkers.
Tara recently built the Book Building, which has become an amazing cultural space in Chennai. The space is to used explore the form of the book, and there are exhibits, readings, workshops, and a bookstore. My favorite Tara Books are The Night Life of Trees, Nurturing Walls, and The London Jungle Book — but I am excited to see their new release, Artisan Camera as I love studio portraiture.
I went to graduate school in Houston, Texas, and later lived in Austin. There is no shortage of good Indian food in Texas, but the Whip-In, with their catchphrase Namaste Y’all, is a little piece of Texas-India heaven. Part liquor and wine store, part restaurant (or Dhabapub), and performance space, the Whip-In has crazy good beer and a Texas take on Indian food. I always get the South Asian Frito Pie: Lone Star beer-curried chili, Fritos, organic black bean masala, shredded jack and cheddar cheese, sour cream, and homemade cilantro chutney. The also have Mumbai Migas. Now that I am back in Wyoming, I think about this place a lot. Maybe I can make a Wyoming-India mashup down the road?
3. Mira Jacob’s The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing
The book I am really looking forward to reading this summer is Mira Jacob’s new novel, The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing. Jacob was born and raised in New Mexico — so like me, she grew up in a place where there weren’t a lot of other Indians from India around. This book is exactly the kind of novel I want to read — it has Indians, the American West, family, and it spans time following the family’s path. I also like her essays — the one in Vogue this month is lovely.
I haven’t met Mira Jacob in person, but she is a delight on Twitter (@mirajacob) and has been so supportive of my book — and to many other writers. She founded the Pete’s Reading Series and for 13 years brought fiction, poetry, and non-fiction to the stage. Indians of the American West, Unite!
4. Jaggery, A DesiLit Arts and Literature Journal
Mary Anne Mohanraj, the editor of Jaggery has done a wonderful thing with this journal. This summer’s issue is full of fiction, poetry, art, essays and reviews by writers and artists I respect and admire, and ones I haven’t heard of but can’t wait to discover. Mohanraj writes, “Jaggery will offer a path of connection between diaspora writers and homeland writers; we also welcome non-South Asians with a deep and thoughtful connection to South Asian countries, who bring their own intersecting perspectives to the conversation. Our hope with Jaggery is to create a journal that offers the best writing by and about South Asians and their diaspora.” I can always get behind that.
5. Indian Summer Festival, Vancouver
I am teaching this summer, but if I could magically transport myself to Vancouver, Canada for this festival, I would. Now in its fourth year, this celebration of all things Indian looks not only fun, but smart. It’s a festival of art, ideas and diversity — but it is really hard not to be excited about a festival that brings literature (this year they have Rana Dasgupta and Reza Aslan among others), music, dance, film, and the all-important food from India to North America.
Sirish Rao, who I worked with in India, is one of the festival’s directors, and I love not only his books (have you seen An Ideal Boy?, but also the way he thinks about India and art. I would really like to particularly go to the Lunchbox Legends event as I still cannot figure out how Dabbawalas deliver so many lunches with such ease every day.