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In Conversation with Vivek Shraya

May 18th, 2018     by Fazeela Jiwa     Comments

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****VS. Books is a new imprint from Arsenal Pulp Press that offers a mentorship and publishing opportunity for a young Indigenous writer, a Black writer, or a writer of colour – parameters that are necessary when entering what can sometimes be a hostile environment in the mainstream Canadian literary scene. I had the opportunity to talk with Vivek Shraya — the incredible writer, editor, artist, and teacher behind this imprint — about her work, why she designed this mentorship, and what she hopes it can accomplish.

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FJ: One of the things I find most interesting about you is your deep multi-disciplinarity — you’re a professor, a creative writer, a performer, an editor, and probably much more that I don’t know about, too. Do you feel that each of these pieces of your work express different parts of you — bodily, emotionally, mentally — or do they work together?

VS: For me, working in different mediums does allow me to express different ideas in ways that are best suited to whichever medium. For instance, poetry (via my book, even this page is white) felt like the right medium to explore white supremacy, and pop music has felt like an exciting means to convey my rage and disillusionment (via my band Too Attached’s recent album, Angry). That said, I do see all of my projects, no matter the medium, as fitting together into a broader body of work.

FJ: Do you see editing the writing of others fitting into this body of work?

VS: I don’t really consider editorial support as part of my own body of work (as I don’t want to take credit for the work of others) but rather, it is one of the foundational aspects of my practice — my own art production must be tied to supporting the creation and dissemination of younger artists of colour.

FJ: Does teaching creative writing relate to your artistic practice and mentorship?

VS: Teaching feels like a complete gift and an extension of my art practice as I can infuse politics I care about into my classroom — not unlike what I do in my art. It is also similar to my mentorship experiences as I am able to support emerging writers in their creative development.

FJ: VS. Books seeks to publish emerging young Black, Indigenous, and POC writers. Why did you want to dedicate your work with VS. Books to this group in particular?

VS: As an artist of colour, I experienced many barriers in my twenties, both in the music and the literary industries. Reflecting back, I now see how these barriers were often tied to my race and so it felt imperative that VS. Books pushed against these barriers that continue to exist for young racialized writers.

FJ: It’s so true, I have heard similar sentiments. Could you describe what some of these barriers look like and explain how VS. Books aims to push against them?

VS: I think one of the largest barriers that BIPOC artists currently face is the current so-called interest in “diverse voices.” This might not seem like a barrier on the surface (and seems like the opposite), but anytime something is treated like a trend, the implication is that it’s popularity is temporary. Technically, VS. Books also supports “diverse voices” but is committed to this investment — it’s the central mandate of the imprint — and this investment isn’t tied to wanting to profit from a trend but rather a genuine desire to nurture.

FJ: Tell our readers a bit more about the mentorship opportunity that VS. Books offers. Why is mentorship important? What can your mentees expect?

VS: Typically, a publishing contract comes with editorial support, which I certainly offer, but on top of this, my mentorship also involves regular communication (via email/Skype/phone), not only about the writing itself, but potential grant support, social media and online branding development, and anything else mentees are seeking assistance with. I never want to presume what someone else is looking for in a mentorship and encourage mentees to use me in whatever way they may need.

I am passionate about mentorship because so often art-making can happen independently, and sometimes this is a preference and sometimes this is due to isolation. When I was starting my music career at 21, as a racialized queer artist, I had no one I could approach to ask questions like, “How do I do this? Am I doing this right?” I want to be able to answer these kinds of questions and more for the young artists I am working with.

FJ: Do you feel there is more of a community of people to speak to about these questions right now compared to even ten years ago?

VS: In some ways, yes. I think many artists are more accessible now via social media, so I witness a lot of informal mentorship in these spheres, with younger artists asking questions that are often answered by more established artists. That said, I find myself still struggling for mentorship myself as a mid-career trans artist of colour, where I still don’t have a lot of options for support or even road maps to follow.

FJ: For young writers who may be reading this, can you tell us a little more about what you look for in a writer/manuscript that you want to work with, and how folks can send their work to you at VS. Books?

VS: To be succinct, I am looking for unpredictable narratives. I love being surprised when I am reading. More info re: submission details can be found at

****The applications for the mentorship and publishing opportunity offered by VS. Books closes on September 1, 2018. If you’re an Indigenous or Black writer, or a writer of colour, between the ages of 18–28 living in Canada, consider applying — this is for you!

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Vivek Shraya is an artist whose body of work includes several albums, films, and books. Vivek’s 2017 album with Queer Songbook Orchestra, Part-Time Woman, was included in CBC’s Best Canadian Albums of 2017. Her first book of poetry, even this page is white, won a 2017 Publisher Triangle Award and was longlisted for CBC’s Canada Reads. Her debut novel, She of the Mountains, was named one of The Globe and Mail’s Best Books, and her book I’m Afraid of Men will be out in Fall 2018 from Penguin Canada. Vivek has read and performed internationally at shows, festivals and post-secondary institutions. She is one half of the music duo Too Attached and the founder of the publishing imprint VS. Books.

A four-time Lambda Literary Award finalist, Vivek was a 2016 Pride Toronto Grand Marshal, and has received honours from the Toronto Arts Foundation and The Writers’ Trust of Canada. Vivek is currently a director on the board of the Tegan & Sara Foundation and an Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Calgary.

Fazeela Jiwa is an acquisitions and development editor with Fernwood Publishing by day (okay, sometimes by night, too) and a writer of poetry, essays, and creative non-fiction. Reach her at or @fazeelajiwa.

Tags: arts, interview, mentor, music, politics, queer, race, writing, youth writing

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