Is your work political?
Yes. Political forces affect my life and the lives of my characters (it affects everyone, but as things are, this seems to be made more visible with marginalized characters). Political matters are also a big part of my internal world, taking up a lot of what I wrestle with in my day-to-day thinking. So my work tends to be political. I also write about things that might not be considered political. But the political is very present.
What is the place of literature in politics?
Literature can be a tool for thinking, both for readers and writers. It may function as a mirror. Or it may compel us to look at mirrors we already have, but avoid. It may function as a map, allowing us to look at things that are too hard or big to process. Or it might be used as a way to interrogate and chisel at existing narratives that we take for granted (what we may see as “the way things are”, as a matter of fact). Literature could call out people and structures of power. It could help connect actions or ideologies with consequences. It can help us imagine other ways of living. Literature might also help galvanize people together and build on currents of thought. I am giving different possibilities and switching metaphors because I think literature can function in many different ways.
In seeing this question, I gravitated first to literature that is more intentional and readily recognized as engaging with politics. But more broadly, I think literature that might not be described as being political also has a place in politics. It might have some positive effects like those I mentioned, or it might not. Either way, what might be called “apolitical” literature can have its own politics, even if the author might be unaware of it. Part of that politics might be assuming a certain experience as default, or what matters, or what is “universal.” Part of its politics might be the belief that systemic forces can be ignored, are not relevant, or are not at play in the life of a particular character. Part of it can be a level of certainty on how the world works. I think the place of so-called “apolitical” literature in politics is especially relevant when seen collectively, considering the amount, frequency, and visibility of works together, rather than in isolation. Literature can also be a means to reaffirm already prevalent narratives that are harmful. To me, this is all complicated and hard to discern, but fascinating and important to think about.
What is your favorite political work?
I have such a hard time picking a favorite anything, especially from a wide open pool. I also have a hard time deciding something is political. But maybe I will pick a couple of works that come to mind right now that I love for different reasons, and that engaged with my political thoughts. I love “Counternarratives” by John Keene, a beautiful book, and the way it deals with the brutality of colonial history and the present (the story “On Brazil, or Dénouement: The Londonias-Figueiras” in particular haunts me, comes back to my consciousness often). I also love Simeon Marsalis’s work (including his book “A Lie is to Grin”), because of its beauty, and how the writing destabilizes me as a reader. To me, his writing works a little like the chisel I mentioned above. It makes me question what I think I know. Reading him, I often have an emotional reaction before I understand the implications of what I am reading. It is so intelligent and complex and difficult for me, but it always messes me up, in a good way. In a very different way, I loved Boots Riley’s movie “Sorry to bother you.” It is so smart, complex, and layered, and it requires and provokes thinking. But it is not subtle. It is so in your face. I love it aesthetically, as well as what it says. I am also very interested in it because I think a lot about things may be valued in writing, including subtlety, and I wonder who that ends up serving.
Do you feel voting is important?
Yes, voting is important. Our choices are limited (and I don’t blame how limited they are on how people voted in the primaries, or non-voters, or whatever, but on systemic factors). But even in this limited fashion, it is still significant, and consequences matter. There are different levels of very terrible and, unfortunately, the difference still has real impact. We can choose so little, but that choice is still relevant. Voting is not everything, but it is important.
What are your hopes for this election?
Hope is hard these days. But it is necessary (I have to remind myself). I hope what can be hoped for this election, which is that we can replace whoever we can in the current tragedy (president, and all applicable levels). I also hope that people remember right after the vote that alone is not enough and the very long lineage of where we are today. And I hope as many people as possible survive and are ok during this time.
Ananda Lima’s poetry collection Mother/land was the winner of the 2020 Hudson Prize and is forthcoming in 2021 (Black Lawrence Press). She is also the author of the chapbooks: “Translation” (Paper Nautilus, 2019, winner of the 2018 Vella Chapbook Prize), “Tropicália” (Newfound, forthcoming, winner of the 2020 Newfound Prose Prize) and “Amblyopia” (forthcoming, Bull City Press – INCH). Her work has appeared or is upcoming in The American Poetry Review, Poets.org, Kenyon Review Online, Gulf Coast, Kweli, The Common, and elsewhere. She has an MA in Linguistics from UCLA and an MFA in Creative Writing in Fiction from Rutgers University, Newark.
Find more information on Lima here: https://www.anandalima.com/
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