March’s Clark Writer of the Month is Aliyah Rawat, a student from the University of East Anglia who’s studying abroad here at Clark. She’s already a staple of the creative writing community, performing her original work at Yoni Ki Baat and Clark Writes forums.
LB: Did you write your own monologue for Yoni Ki Baat (South Asian Vagina Monologues)?
AR: Yes, I wrote my own monologue. I initially wrote my piece about growing up as a queer South Asian, because no one else was doing a piece directly about sexuality as a South Asian. It’s a topic in South Asian culture that isn’t discussed when you grow up and is really heavily stigmatized. I started writing about that, but then I ended up writing about a bunch of experiences that all linked together. I ended up writing about being queer, South Asian, Muslim, a survivor of different traumas and mental illnesses, and stuff like that. It ended up being this thing that weaved throughout my life from when I was twelve to now.
LB: That’s a lot of stuff to write about for one piece.
AR: Yeah, because so much of it links together. I always knew it all linked together, but when you write things on paper you realize things link together in a different way.
LB: Was it difficult to write for you?
AR: No so much, because it’s ideas I’ve had in my head for a while. It’s about representation and visibility. Growing up, if I’d heard someone say something like I said, I would be like “Oh, that’s someone who’s gone through similar experiences to me, so I know my identity is valid.” Growing up for me, I saw no representation of queerness among anyone that wasn’t white.
LB: That’s one of the issues that I had with Vagina Monologues.
AR: It’s really cis, too. And you can’t edit the script.
LB: What is it like writing something that you’re going to perform in front of a lot of people? Is it different than writing something for yourself?
AR: That’s the first time I’ve written something to perform in front of a lot of people. I’ve done open mics with short poems before. But writing this, I can’t write it like poetry or prose, because I know it has to be performed in a certain way.
LB: Do you ever get stage fright?
AR: Oh yeah. I messed up so badly on the day I performed. I forgot my lines on stage! It was a seven minute long piece, and I was closing [the show], and I was so nervous. Everyone laughed along with me, in like a “Don’t worry, we got you” sort of way. And I messed up a bit that I really like how it was written. Stage fright is a real thing. But afterwards, people came up to me and messaged me saying “Thank you for doing that.” So it had a good impact on people. I didn’t do it for myself, I did it for the people.
LB: Yeah, I think the important thing is that the message got across. What inspires you to write?
AR: For me, it’s a combination of using writing as self-care and self-healing. I’m really influenced by Audre Lorde. One of her essays, “Poetry Is Not A Luxury” really inspired me when I was younger. It was really important to hear it coming from her, another woman of color who’s gone through similar experiences. It rings true to me, to write poetry is to heal and to process. There are things in life that you can’t write about for a long time as a way to protect yourself, and when you get to that point where you can, it’s so therapeutic. And it’s so important for representation. To make it visible that these things happen, even though it’s so hard to talk about. Writing is a really accessible way to do that.
LB: I feel like that’s super relevant in [today’s] political climate. Everyone is so mad, and everyone has so much to say, but no one knows how to say it. Even people I know that normally don’t write poetry a lot are starting to write.
AR: It’s like an easy way to put so much into such a short space.
LB: Exactly! One last question: what’s one book you think every poet should read?
AR: That’s a tough question. I’m going to say any of Audre Lorde’s work. Her autobiography “Zami: A New Spelling of My Name” and her collections of poetry.