Knives and Sugar – A discussion between Asian writers Avni Doshi and Souvankham Thammavongsa

This year’s Indian Summer Festival began June 17, 2021 and is still going strong with plenty of virtual events that can be enjoyed by festival goers until July 17, 2021. Knives and Sugar: Avni Doshi with Souvankham Thammavongsa is one of the virtual events happening July 10, 2021. Doshi will be discussing her debut novel Burnt Sugar and Thammavongsa will be there to talk about her collection of short stories, How to Pronounce Knife.

The festival, produced by the Indian Summer Art Society under the leadership of artistic director Sirish Rao and managing director, Laura Byspalko, hopes to address something they feel is missing in Vancouver’s cultural landscape and dispel the stereotypical perceptions of South Asian art as ossified, traditional or nostalgic.

An award for South Asian writers

“Laura and Sirish used to run a prize called the Tibor Jones Award South Asia Prize. For a very long time they have been interested in promoting South Asian voices. They put together this prize for writers coming out of India and I was living in India at the time,” says Doshi.

The prize was connected to Tibor Jones and Associates in London England. In 2013, Doshi’s debut novel Burnt Sugar won the Tibor Jones Award South Asia Prize, which also established Doshi’s long lasting relationship with Rao and Byspalko.

“They were really there for me in the beginning, and I am sure a lot of other South Asian writers can say the same,” says Doshi.

A literary and cultural connection

Rao and Byspalko have always been champions of new South Asian literature. After a chance meeting at the 2020 Jaipur Literature Festival, Doshi reconnected with the two and was asked to be a part of the Indian Summer Festival. Doshi was instantly intrigued when she realized she would be on a panel with Thammavongsa.

“My talk is with Souvankham Thammavongsa. When I heard this, I jumped at the chance because she is just a wonderful writer,” says Doshi.

Doshi feels there is plenty of overlap between the writings of Thammavongsa and her own interests. She feels the Indian Summer Festival is not just a chance to speak to and with a fellow writer, but a fun, meaningful event to participate in.

“I’m interested in being a part of various festivals that are culturally connected to South Asia. I think it is great that they are bringing focus on South Asia to North America,” says Doshi.

Different perspectives

The talk has been pre-recorded, which Doshi feels gives her the unique opportunity to relive the talk along with other festival attendees.

Avni Doshi. | Photo by Sharon Haridas

“I was so riveted by what Thammavongsa was saying that I cannot wait to listen to the talk again. I actually want to sit there with my notebook and write down some of the really brilliant insights she had,” says Doshi.

She says the talk was not just an interesting conversation between two contemporaries – she learned a lot from listening to Thammavongsa.

“I think it is so exciting to be on a panel with a writer you admire and then come away with all these insights you can now bring into your own process,” says Doshi.

Doshi says that her and Thammavongsa’s books both exemplify what the Indian Summer Festival is trying to achieve. Although they are both writers with an Asian perspective, it does not mean it is the same perspective.

“My book is set in India and for Thammavongsa, her stories are set in other places. I am keen to let people know that there is more than one story and that there is a multiplicity of perspectives and points of view,” says Doshi.

She hopes that people walk away from the talk with their own new perspective on South Asian literature. Like any other literature, there is always more than one story.

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