#DesiCraftChat: Sejal Shah on the art and craft of the literary essay

Desi Books Ep 9 w/ Sejal Shah & Fowzia Karimi Desi Books

(available at Anchor.fm, Spotify, Soundcloud, Apple Podcasts, Castbox, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, TuneIn, Breaker, Pocket Casts, RadioPublic, Overcast)

Hello and welcome to Episode 9 of DesiBooks — news and views about desi literature from the world over. I’m your host, Jenny Bhatt. Thank you for tuning in.

In today’s episode, in addition to the usual roundup of new notable desi books, short stories, poems, essays, interviews, awards, and more, we have Sejal Shah discussing the literary essay form and her new essay collection, This Is One Way to Dance, in the #DesiCraftChat segment. And Fowzia Karimi is reading from and offering one free copy of her new novel, Above Us the Milky Way, in #DesiBooksGiveaway.

So let’s get started.



You can find all the titles mentioned in this “New Books” segment at bookshop.org, which benefits local, independent booksellers directly. Go to bookshop.org/lists/desi-books-2020. This is a US-based site so my apologies to non-US listeners.

1) Sejal Shah has a new essay collection out titled This Is One Way to Dance. These are personal essays written over a couple of decades about her different identities: Indian-American, brown, woman, Gujarati, friend, daughter, sister, wife, and more. There’s a new excerpt at Mason Street Review.

2) Megha Majumdar has a debut novel out titled A Burning. Told through the eyes of mainly three characters, this is a story about justice, morality, politics, class, religion, and identity. There’s an excerpt at The Literary Hub.

3) Gopi Chand Narang and Surinder Deol have a book out called The Urdu Ghazal: A Gift of India’s Composite Culture about the evolution of this form of music with all its many influences from the 14th century on.

4) Sonia Shah’s new book, The Next Great Migration: The Beauty and Terror of Life on the Move, is about the science and history of migration in animals, plants, and humans. You can read an excerpt at The New York Times.

5) Annie Zaidi’s memoir, Bread, Cement, Cactus: A Memoir of Belonging and Dislocation, is out in the UK now in print and will be available in other countries soon. It’s about the meaning of “home” with reflections about all the places that Zaidi has called home.

6) The ebook version of Ananth Mahadevan’s memoir, Once Upon a Prime Time, is out now. You can read an excerpt at Scroll.in. Anyone who grew up in India in the 80s will remember this TV, movie, and stage actor. This excerpt focuses on an era when literary short stories were adapted frequently for TV in India.



Here are some new notable poems, stories, and essays from literary magazines and websites. I know I’m not getting them all so, if you know of new stories, poems, or essays published online by South Asian writers, please share them by tagging the @desibooks twitter account. Thank you.

1) Rita Mookerjee has a poem up at The Offing Magazine called The Stranger’s Guide to Brothels of Philadelphia, 1849. It’s a lovely sensory feast of imagined history.

2) Aatif Rashid has another thought-provoking column up at The Kenyon Review about the line between critique and endorsement. And, really, there’s enough to fill a book and more on this topic in the book world, for sure.

3) Sara Siddiqui Chansarkar has a haunting personal essay up at pidgeonholes about going back home after her Dear Abu is no longer there to greet her.

4) Anita Gill has a jaunty personal essay up at The Offing about wanting to learn the North Indian dance of bhangra.

5) Maddy Crowell has an illuminating narrative at The Virginia Quarterly Review Online about how the gutsy Indian magazine, The Caravan, has made its place in the country while putting out tough political stories and more.

6) Last week, we saw the first-ever South Asian Literary Festival, founded and headed by Dr. Pragya Agarwal from the UK. This brief essay by her at The Bookseller about the whys and wherefores is worth a read. Pragya Agarwal also has a book out in the US this month, Sway, about unconscious cognitive biases.

7) Jini Reddy’s essay at The Guardian about why white men got to travel more and publish more travel writing ends with a hopeful and optimistic note for more diverse writers being given the opportunities to do the same. Jini Reddy has a book out in the US this month, Wanderland.

8) Azfar Husain writes about Kazi Nazrul Islam’s nonfiction prose at TheDailyStar.net and how it’s insurgent and insurrectionary.

9) Malavika Banerjee summarizes a Zoom chat session with Amitav Ghosh about the cyclone Amphan, climate change, and more at Telegraph India.

10)  Aishwarya Sahasrabudhe writes, at FirstPost, about a new translation of Sunil Gangopadhyay’s novel, Blood, from the Bengali by Debali Mookerjea-Leonard.



1) Sejal Shah was interviewed by Anjali Enjeti at The Literary Hub about her new essay collection, This Is One Way to Dance.

2) Sudeep Sen was interviewed by Nathalie Handal at Words Without Borders about the city, Delhi, and his poems on it.

3) The 2020 Commonwealth Short Story Prize has announced their regional winners. Kritika Pandey has won for Asia with her story, The Great Indian Tee and Snakes. You can watch her discussing it here. And there’s more about the story here.



Sejal Shah is the author of the debut essay collection, This Is One Way to Dance. Her stories and essays have appeared or are forthcoming in Brevity, Conjunctions, Guernica, the Kenyon Review Online, Literary Hub, Longreads, and The Rumpus. The recipient of a 2018 New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA) fellowship in fiction, Sejal recently completed a story collection and is at work on a memoir about mental health and academia. She is on the faculty of the Rainier Writing Workshop low-residency MFA program at Pacific Lutheran University. She lives in Rochester, New York. Find her on Twitter and Instagram at fictionalsejal.

In this craft chat, Sejal and I talk about the essay form and particularly the lyric essay form. She shares how her own craft has evolved through the writing of the essays in her new collection over a period of time.

With that, settle in and I hope you enjoy the conversation.



— Phillip Lopate’s To Show and To Tell

— Alice Adams’ The Stories of Alice Adams

— Margaret Atwood’s Nine Beginnings

Betsy, Tacy, Sejal, Tib at Guernica Magazine

An Interview Sejal Shah The Kenyon Review

The Lyric Essay at Seneca Review

— Sejal Shah’s essay, Skin at Route 9

— Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones

— Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way

— Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird

— Mira Jacob’s Good Talk

— Agha Shahid Ali’s The Country Without a Post Office

— Meera Syal’s Anita and Me

Contemporary Indian Poetry, edited by Kaiser Haq

Under Her Skin, edited by Pooja Makhijani



Fowzia Karimi was born in Kabul, Afghanistan. She immigrated to the US in 1980 after the Soviet invasion of the country. Karimi has a background in Studio Art and Biology. She received her MFA in Creative Writing from Mills College, California. Her work explores the correspondence on the page between the written and the visual arts. She is a recipient of The Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers’ Award and has illustrated The Brick House by Micheline Aharonian Marcom and Vagrants and Uncommon Visitors by A. Kendra Green. She lives in Texas.

Karimi’s debut novel, Above Us the Milky Way, is about a young family forced to flee their war-ravaged homeland, forced to leave behind everything and everyone beloved and familiar. Old family photographs and lush watercolor paintings based on medieval illuminated manuscripts interweave with remembrances, ghost stories/stories of the dead, and fairy tales to conjure a story of war, of emigration and immigration, the remarkable human capacity to experience love and wonder amidst destruction and loss, and how to create beauty out of horror.

You’ll hear more about the book from the writer next. All you have to do to participate is enter your name and email address at the link below. No catch and your information will not be used for any other purpose. An optional request, not a requirement: please share the tweet or post with a friend using the hashtag #desibooksgiveaway. This won’t affect your chance of winning the book but it will certainly help the book get more visibility as it deserves.

Oh, and Fowzia’s also including a set of beautiful bookmarks with the book for the winner.

Enter the giveaway at this link.




You’ve been listening to episode 9 of DesiBooks — news and views about desi literature from the world over.

Tune in next week for Episode 10. Follow on Twitter @desibooks or Instagram @desi.books and tag the account if you have requests or suggestions. Email at hellodesibooks@gmail.com.

Stay healthy, keep reading, and write well.


DISCLOSURE NOTE: The books linked above are from Bookshop.org. There is a tiny affiliate commission payable to Desi Books if you buy a book using the link here. This helps pay toward the cost of running the podcast. Thank you.

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