Articles & Essays
I published this years ago in The Global City Review, but I like to come back to it, as it marks the moment when I was discovering my own credo of writing, of material, while struggling to write my first novel. I was also trying to understand the literary landscape and that was just emerging in the U.S. and the U.K. We now call it ‘diverse’ literature, but in those days, it was like a land mass that was just starting to show on the horizon, still inchoate, still to be written.
“Nowadays, most people think of Queens as a multicultural, cosmopolitan hub. But the Queens that I grew up in—the Queens that shaped Donald J. Trump—was far from a tolerant melting pot. During the 1960s and 1970s, Queens was a borough defined by tribalism, racial segregation, and simmering resentments. And it is precisely these feelings that Donald Trump has channeled throughout his presidential campaign. He conjures up a vision of a country that’s out of control, in the process of succumbing to inner city crime, violence, and danger.”
Forget Donald Trump’s obnoxious response to the Khans and the dust up that created. Their real accomplishment was to make ordinary Muslim Americans visible to the country.
As the clanging theatrics of both conventions start to recede, it’s important to note that you can’t fake your story, even in the political sphere.
Friedan’s Village (The Awl):
A look back at Parkway Village, the birthplace of The Feminine Mystique
YA Meets the Real: Fiction and Nonfiction that Take on the Real (The Horn Book)
“I’ve come to trust this dual instinct in myself, the confluence of nonfiction and fiction, journalism and imagination. It’s a hunch, a gut feeling, using a journalist’s eyes and ears to notice the stories of teenagers who are often not seen; young people confronted by something bigger than what they might be able to comprehend.”
I am sitting in a café in Jackson Heights with Partha Bannerjee eating a quick dal and roti lunch. Jackson Heights, New York is called Little India, a wedge of narrow streets in Queens, elevated train tracks slashing a dark shadow over the Indian grocers, video and CD, sari and jewellery shops.
Summer Nights, Part 1 (Open City)
Each of us has a moment, a shiny soap bubble of memory that contains our past and predicts our future.
Parkway itself will lose its luster, its sense of magic and ascendance. And I will begin my struggle to understand this twin heritage–luminous freedom and oppressive grievance. (Open City magazine)
In caring for her, I found my own exhilarating strength.
Interstate 78 is a highway corridor that shoots straight west from Newark, slashing deep into the heart of suburban New Jersey. This is prime Philip Roth territory, where upwardly mobile Jews like the Patimkins in Goodbye, Columbus left their tenement origins for the tony streets of Short Hills. I’ve come here too, fresh from a cramped apartment in Manhattan, only to discover that the route to success has forked. Get off at exit 50B and depending on which way our family turns –to the left for Millburn or the right for Maplewood–we’re entering two very different Americas, with two distinct visions of education and our children’s futures.
Last March, when the body of Cheddi Jagan, former President of Guyana, lay in state near the tiny village where he was born, the crowds of villagers and sugar workers streaming past to catch a last glimpse of their leader were so enormous that the cremation ceremony had to be postponed.
The author returns to the country that her father left behind in the late 1940’s.
What’s strangest is the quiet.
New York, that noisy, kinetic city of edgy people, zig-zagging taxis, pushy commuters, is as still and hushed as a cathedral. The air, as a friend of mine remarked, is filled with sorrow.
The day of my friend Kevin’s wake, I put on my brand-new suit–the same one that’s for my sister’s confirmation.
Except that Kevin wasn’t really my friend. And my sister isn’t my sister. Not by a mile. Not any day soon.
About Face: Women Write about What They See When They Look in the Mirror, edited by Anne Burt & Christina Baker Kline
When I was fifteen I went for an interview at a modeling school. This was my brother’s idea. He was a professional musician by then, touring on the road, and he now moved in a world of models and media and music. For some reason, he thought it would be a good idea for his kid sister, too. I had recently “blossomed,” as they said. My braces were off, my waist seemed to have stretched five inches, and when I went to get my hair cut at the local salon, the hairdresser asked if he could photograph me for their window, since my hair “showed so well.” I shrugged. The compliments gave me some pleasure but did not sink in much. –From “Inheritance”
Searching for Mary Poppins: Women Write About the Intense Relationship Between Mothers and Nannies, edited by Susan Davis & Gina Hyams
Sheila came to me by word of mouth. Another mother in my Upper West Side building had a daughter who would be starting school full-time, would need her for only a few hours in the late afternoon. My son had been born in the summer, and I was looking for a nanny to begin part-time at first. My sense of the job, of how many hours, of even what I expected a nanny to do, was completely vague–from “Sisters”
It began for us with her hair. One afternoon my mother came home with the worst hairdo I’d ever seen. She’d had it dyed and permed, only something went wrong. Her curls had kinked into an orangey, frizzy mass, accenting the freckles on her face. When she came downstairs for supper, my father took one look at her and let out a loud laugh, declaring in his West Indian accent, “You look like a mushroom gone been pickled!” Bursting into tears, my mother ran upstairs and locked herself in the bathroom.–from “Hollywood”
Victor knows he’s doomed the instant his mother emerges from the subway stop on Flatbush Avenue.
Her long black waves are gone–utterly gone. Instead her hair is a bright yellow, cropped tight against her skull. Gold hoops bounce against her long neck. With her dark, arched eyebrows, she looks good, striking even, like Halley Berry, just who his mom wants to be.
But he’s sure, with a dull angry weight in his stomach, what it means. They’re moving again.–from “The Plan”
All the time I ask my mother about my grandparents, but she doesn’t answer. “Leave that alone, Jemma,” she’ll say. “Look at what’s in front of you, not behind.”–from “Gold”