Nina Sharma is a writer from Edison, New Jersey. Her work has been featured in Certain Circuits Magazine, The Feminist Wire, Reverie: Midwest African American Literature, and Ginosko Literary Journal. She recently was awarded a fellowship from the Vermont Studio Center and nominated for a Pushcart Prize for her nonfiction. With Quincy Scott Jones, she co-created the Noreaster Exchange: a multicultural, multi-city reading series. She is currently attending Columbia University's MFA in writing program and working on her first book.
Cathy Linh Che: I know
that you are now attending Columbia for your MFA program. How has your work
changed during the course of the MFA? How has it
remained the same?
Nina Sharma: I’m
actually starting next week! This world
isn’t entirely new to me though. I have
a master’s in American Studies. I think
I began to find my footing as a writer during the course of that program. It was a little bit of a discovery period for
me—honing in on the issues and themes I care most about and how I’d like to
attend to them. I took chances. I slipped in creative writing when I could,
brought pop culture into conversations otherwise reserved for canonical works,
and vice versa. I felt a newfound charge
in my writing as I did. While I was
working along these lines prior to my program, shifting into that new space,
with a new audience, made me realize that the best writing comes out of a sense
of risk. I kind of take that with me
whether I am working in a program or outside of it.
you tell me a little about your life pre-MFA? What made you decide to apply and
NS: For the most part, up until
like a year or so ago actually, I was more of what I call a secret writer. I always wanted a professional writing life
but I wasn’t sure it would happen. Most
of my family members are in healthcare in some way. Only three out of the fourteen of us cousins pursued
something else. Even though I didn’t
take a science track and wrote throughout my life, I always struggled to see
this as something very real and possible. I owe a huge debt to Asian American
Writers’ Workshop, where I worked for a few years. Meeting other writers of similar backgrounds
and who engaged with similar themes, who pushed their work across bounds I
could not even fathom yet, connecting with like-minded organizations such as Cave
Canem and Kundiman along the way, I felt excited and hopeful in a way I hadn’t
before. Being part of a writing
community full time for two years is a real gift, to not have to fight for that
time or qualify it in any way.
CLC: Kundiman has an ongoing Kavad project this
year called Writing Race and Belonging: Would you mind spending some time
discussing your relationship to writing, race, and belonging? Broad topic, I
know, but we're interested in any gut reactions, memories, thoughts, or
impressions you have when you think about those three ideas.
NS: At the risk of sounding Mad Libby, I would say that writing,
in particular reflecting on race and identity, gives me a sense of belonging
more than anything else. I am a shy
person and I think I have written my way out of the silences in my life. I am thinking of the times when my loved ones
do not consider the traumas they have suffered to be worth acknowledging and
also times when I fail to acknowledge my own. I am, like many first generation South Asian
Americans, an inheritor of silences, we absorb them and later, learn to read
between them, just as we learn to negotiate the two worlds we exist in— the
world of our home and family and the one outside of it, in which the former is
often rendered invisible. It is that
threshold between the two worlds that is most like home to me, the closest I’ve
felt to belonging. That is where I write
CLC: What are you currently working on?
am working on a series of essays reflecting on my relationship with my husband,
Quincy Scott Jones, meditating on our experiences as an interracial couple— he
being African American and I, South Asian.
I reflect upon moments in our life and also engage with broader
histories that speak our experiences; in particular surprising, idiosyncratic
connections I found as I looked into things further. It’s been exciting, discovering so much even
as I write our own story.
CLC: Do you have any poetry (or art or music)
NS: The writings of Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, Maxine Hong Kingston,
and James Baldwin are particularly inspiring to me. They are and always will
be, to take a line from Kingston's Woman
Warrior, my swordsmen and swordswomen. Speaking more contemporarily, the
work of Minter Krotzer, Kamilah Aisha Moon, Bushra Rehman, whose wonderful
debut novel Corona came out earlier
this year, Thaddeus Rutkowski, Hal Sirowitz, and Mecca Jamilah Sullivan are
always close by me and Quincy’s The T-Bone
Series is right at the heart.
Nina will be reading at Kundiman & Verlaine this Sunday, September 8th with Jenny Xie and Sho Sugita. Facebook event here and more event info here.