A friend and fellow writer called me up the day I received my copy of the
Catamaran last week. "Have you heard of this collection?" he asked.
"Should I buy it? Should I contribute? Will my story be accepted?"
Having had the opportunity to go through the book, I'm glad to report back a
qualified "yes" to these questions.
Catamaran is a collection of new fiction, poetry and essays from an array
of emerging South Asian voices. It offers multihued perspectives on
familiar themes of cultural identity crises and diaspora experiences. We
hear narratives of history, social issues and cultural confusion.
Anthologies play a useful role in representing a culture. The anthologist's
selection tells the story of the population for whom the authors
collectively speak. The question one needs to ask is, “Does this anthology
provide a growing reading public with the rich and diverse literary
expressions that make up the Indian American experience?”
Catamaran’s premise is interesting. In her preface, Rajini Srikant,
Executive Editor, says, “The artists featured in Catamaran are not
individuals you will encounter on the celebrity circuits today, but they
all have the potential for such recognition. We’d like to think of
Catamaran as encouraging and sustaining writers who have recently found
their creative voice and vision and need a forum to hone their craft. She
adds, “We look forward eagerly to submissions for forthcoming issues.”
The generous representation of fiction, drama, poetry and reviews makes the
first issue of Catamaran an eclectic mix of both established and emerging
literary voices. This first edition of what is expected to be a biyearly
publication is dedicated to the memory of poet and teacher Agha Shahid Ali.
Ali taught creative writing at UMass Amherst and was a friend and mentor to
many emerging writers in the region.
While making no attempt to be comprehensive or all-inclusive, this
anthology provides readers with a sampling of diverse literary expressions
that makes up the Indian-American experience. Catamaran has stories of home
and exile, the politics of the self and a nation in search of itself. They
describe how individual identities are morphed and communities take shape
on a daily basis.
I found some of the essays a little ponderous and a bit of a hard slog. If
Catamaran intends to cater to widespread readership it may want to select
less didactic and more user-friendlier pieces from these wonderful writers.
The talent represented is clearly of high caliber -- if they could only
tone it down a notch. Maybe it's just me. But there's something to be said
for simple writing that is elegantly appealing, without taxing my rapidly
depleting gray cells more than they need to be.
The articles on ghazals are fascinating. But this reviewer considers
herself something of an aficionado, and wonders if those of us who are
not, will find the minute explanations of the literary form of ghazals a
tad cumbersome and convoluted. The authenticity of the writing shines
through, but the lack of attention-grabbing elements can make for a less
than entertaining read.
From an editing perspective, one wishes for a more coherent flow of
material as the anthology moves through various genres of literature. One
has a vague sense of disjointedness as one navigates through this eclectic
That said I would encourage fans of fine writing to sample this book.
Such an endeavor deserves all the support it can get from literature lovers
of all stripes. I look forward to the next edition of this anthology.
Contributors to Catamaran include Neela Vaswani, Padmini Mongia, Saleem
Peeradina, Hena Ahmed and Sejal Shah.
Agha Shahid Ali was born in New Delhi on February 4, 1949. He grew up in Kashmir, and was later educated at the University of Kashmir, Srinagar, and University of Delhi. He earned a Ph.D. in English from Pennsylvania State University in 1984, and an MFA from the University of Arizona in 1985. His many volumes of poetry include Rooms Are Never Finished (2001), The Country Without a Post Office (1997), and The Beloved Witness: Selected Poems (1992). He was the author of other critical books. A posthumous collection, entitled Call Me Ishmael Tonight, will be published in 2004. Ali received many fellowships and was awarded a Pushcart Prize. He held teaching positions at nine universities and colleges in India and the US, and was director of the MFA program in creative writing at University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Agha Shahid Ali died on December 8, 2001.
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