Sarah Thankam Matthews: Same-sex love is always there, and it’s a part of life

Interview with the award-winning Indian-American writer All this could be different“.

In mid-September, young Indian-American writer Sarah Thankam Matthews became one of the finalists for the prestigious 2022 National Book Awards with her debut novel, All this could be different, which tells the story of a young queer immigrant struggling in an unwelcome world. Matthews grew up in Oman and India and moved to the United States when she was 17 years old. She has received the 2020 Best American Short Story Award and fellowships from the Asian American Writers Workshop and Iowa Writers Workshop. Excerpts from her interview front line:

Congratulations on making your announced shortlist for the 2022 National Book Awards for Literature New Yorker.

I feel very grateful and lucky! I also try to balance gratitude with humility. Many people have supported and advised me on my journey as a writer and this achievement belongs to them as well. I am not missing that a South Asian novelist has never won this award, and there have not been many South Asian finalists in the award’s history. One line in my novel is the importance of community, and the story behind writing this book assures me that no one accomplishes anything worthwhile alone. I owe a lot to so many people, from my grandparents, to my loving friends and family, to the other writers I learned from along the way.

This is your first novel. Can you tell us about the journey that took you to writing it?

Throughout my twenties while working in a desk job, and during my graduate studies, I worked on a novel that I now call “Novel Zero”. It’s been more than seven years of work but at some point, I decided I didn’t know how to make the book the way I wanted it. I put it aside in early 2020.

Then COVID happened and I lost my job. I have been active in organizing around food issues where I live because many people have not had enough to eat due to the coronavirus crisis. The vision in these months was to work frantically in coordination with other people All this could be different take shape.

My fellow organizers agreed to take on more of my work so I could write this book. I went to unemployment benefits since I lost my job and there are no places to work. I wrote the book in a quick and urgent way, and I felt like I knew exactly what I wanted to say. By the end of the year, agent Bill Clegg offered to represent the final novel and pass it on to publishers. I didn’t miss it All this could be differentwhich advocates interdependence, a social safety net, and a true community in many ways is absolutely made possible through all of these things.

How did you come to this address?

The original title of this book was Sneha. After a period of deliberation, my agent asked me if I wanted to try a broader title. All this could be different Worked on multiple records. She demonstrated the narrator’s yearning for change within herself, criticized needless suffering under a capitalist system, and proclaimed the possibility of a better and better world. I liked most of all this phrase as a bold and hopeful affirmation.

You are an Indian immigrant living in the United States, and you have close ties to southern India, especially Kerala.

I was born in Bangalore to Malayali parents, and was raised by them in a close-knit Indian district of Muscat, Oman. My family and I immigrated to the United States in my late teens. I lived a very nomadic life but Kerala is the home of my beloved ancestors and my point of return. I try to come back as often as I can. I am very proud to be Malayali.

All this could be different He talks about same-sex love.

The writer’s job is to tell the truth without fear. We do ourselves no favors by pretending that same-sex love does not exist. Same-sex love has always been around, and it’s a part of life – just as desire, shame, and the rip between longing and commitment are all part of life. As much as the high cost of living and difficult bosses are part of life.

Why did you decide to write the novel?

Invented fiction is used to tell the truth in a way that allows people to hear it. It builds on our ancient need to hear and tell stories and bring to life the mirror with art. You can imagine new worlds, new ways of being, and you get wholesale characters that others might believe in and care about.

Literature is a long conversation through time. Before I started the novel I was working in politics. When I left this world, I made peace with work in a long-term time signature, ceding much control to other people. In my life, there is a connection between reading Arundhati Roy or Anita Desai or Toni Morrison as a teenager in Oman and what I ended up working on, living and believing. There’s something that moves me about the idea of ​​being a part of this relationship situation with people I’ve never met, people who may not have been born yet.

Many say that reading and writing is an unlikely means of communication for the “new generation”…

Reading prose is a participatory method. You have to walk along someone else’s thoughts and narratives, make up your own meaning, and engage yourself deeply in a way that is very different from passive consumption of images and sounds. It’s the medium I like the most, and so I chose to work with it.

Tell us about your writing influences.

My writing influences vary, but the books I read made their mark when I was young Arundhati Roy, Toni Morrison, TS Eliot, Vikram Seth, and Michael Cunningham.

What are you reading now?

Some of the writers I have read recently are Vivek Chanbag, Perumal Morgan, Chandramohan Satyanathan, Amiya Srinivasan, Fernanda Melkor, Dor Aziz Amna, Patricia Highsmith, Hernan Diaz and Jenny Bhatt.

Tell us about your next book.

I’m working on it now, so cross your fingers for me! The only thing I enjoy working on this new project is that unlike All this could be different, which shows the journey of a single Indian immigrant in a multi-ethnic but mostly white American environment, this project is not set in the United States and is composed of mostly Indian characters. It will come out when you’re done – I hope it won’t take too long, but you never know.

The 2022 National Book Award will be announced on November 16 in New York.

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