Interview of Devanshi by Richa Gupta
Hi Devanshi! Thank you so much for speaking with me today. Before we start, could you tell us more about yourself and your background as a writer?
Absolutely! So I was born and brought up in Bhopal, India and had lived there all my life before I moved to New York for college. I am currently a sophomore at NYU majoring in Comparative Literature with a minor in Creative Writing, and spent a semester abroad at NYU Florence. I focus mainly on Italian literature and culture. I am also becoming increasingly interested in translation, however, and hope to have a career as a translator one day, perhaps translating from Italian to English or from Hindi to English and vice versa.
How are you finding your time at NYU, oceans away from home? How did you decide your major and which classes to take (without being overwhelmed by NYU’s incredible selection)?
It’s funny because I just landed in New York a couple of hours ago. I am sitting in my favorite coffee shop as I type this and for the first time in the last six months, I feel happy and peaceful. This feeling will probably not last for long. There are just a few more days of rest remaining before the semester starts. But I think that after each semester, I grow up so much and I always end up gaining newer perspectives to view the world from. I never know what to expect each day at NYU or in New York city. I am always encountering something new, something weird and wild and even unknown. My idea of home, therefore, has undergone a dramatic change. I find more silence and peace in New York than I do elsewhere and maybe that is the reason I so comfortably call New York home.
After a certain point, I was interested in studying literature from a decolonized perspective. I became more interested in writing from around the world and in translated writing. I had a lot of requirements to finish my first year and I had to take Italian language classes for three semesters. I am interested in contemporary writing, gender, and film and I think most of my classes or choice of classes go in that direction. I have taken a creative writing class with Morgan Parker, for instance. At NYU Florence, I took a class called Culture and the City wherein we explored and would sometimes walk down the streets of Florence to learn more about its history and how that history still exists in the social and cultural fabric of the city today. This semester, I am taking a graduate class with Domenico Starnone in Italian as well as a class called ‘The Passions of Elena Ferrante.’ One of my core classes last year was themed on utopias and their creation, failures, and shortcomings, while another was based on global borrowings and how plagiarism is sometimes acceptable (and very welcome). Another class last year was all about film noir; and that was fundamental to my understanding and appreciation of film. At NYU Florence, actually, I also got an undergraduate research fund to do research on Pier Paolo Pasolini’s last film, Salò or Le 120 giornate di Sodoma.
In fact, at NYU or around the NYU campus, I have been able to meet Jhumpa Lahiri, Richard Gere, Salman Rushdie, Arundhati Roy, Zadie Smith, Sharon Olds, Eileen Myles, Ann Goldstein, Kaveh Akbar, Bianca Stone, Alec Baldwin, and so many famous figures. It is amazing how we have some of them as our faculty members and can actually form long-lasting relationships with them, as well. I thought it would be overwhelming to see so many celebrities and eminent people around me but, on the contrary, I think of their presence as opportunities to learn and grow and be more confident.
Your social media is brimming with gorgeous photos from Italy and other touristy destinations. How does travelling influence your creative process?
I think my semester abroad at NYU Florence changed the way I perceive traveling. I had traveled a lot and even lived alone in different parts of the world before but those places were dominated by the English language, even countries like Iceland where everyone I met was fluent in English. I had been learning Italian for a year at NYU before I went to Italy and so I believed I had quite a good understanding of the language. But I did not imagine that Italy would be so different or that it would make me feel remarkably uncertain. Being in Italy was tasting a different world altogether: a world where most people see themselves and the world through the lens of the Italian language, a world that is written in Italy and where the Italian language feels omnipresent and yet, a world that is deplorably resistant to diversity, to immigrants, to refugees, a world that is afraid of being written in a changing and different way.
I am guilty of presenting a manufactured reality on social media that doesn’t reflect my truth most of the time, to be honest. I want to stop posing for pictures, I want to stop posting only that which is beautiful or luxuriant. I do go to a lot of touristy places and in Italy, I traveled mostly with a friend or a group of friends. I am privileged that I get the opportunity to travel and that I can find options that are not financially draining. But when I travel, I am in a perpetual state of mourning. I feel most depressed, anxious, and lonely while traveling, regardless of whether I am traveling solo or in the company of others. I always thought loneliness was essential for creativity but I think traveling exposes me to the more destructive side of loneliness, uncertainty, and unpredictability. Nothing is foreseeable in travel. This semester, travel made me more aware about my depression and where it comes from, the different shapes it takes and the thoughts it triggers. But coming to terms with my sorrow and writing about it has given me, on the contrary, a sense of deeper gratitude. I sometimes wonder if I would rather be in my comfort zone and never have to deal with my sadness. When traveling and writing, I am able to see beyond the elemental and appreciate both beauty as well as the lack of it.
How do you, an Indian girl navigating foreign landscapes, stay in touch with your homeland and cultural identity?
I don’t think my homeland or my cultural identity is something I ever lose touch with or am distant from. Surely, there is physical distance but no emotional distance or detachment whatsoever. My upbringing in India along with my identity as an Indian woman shape my experience every minute of the day and are an essential part of me. I think the idea of being in foreign landscapes only reinforces my Indian-ness to a certain extent and makes me more conscious of my “foreignness” sometimes. I mean, my forthcoming poetry collection “Small Talk” has a lot to do with India but also an emerging distance from it. Writing this poetry collection didn’t bring me closer to my cultural identity and homeland but it did make me feel comfortable with the idea of owning up to another home and to a probable shift in identity as I had known it till that point. I think writing is my method of healing and I think the definition of home, for me, is becoming increasingly tied to healing— healing that exists as well as a kind of healing that is yet to come into existence.
You’ve organized several writing workshops (congratulations!) over the years. What do you believe is the key to organizing a successful workshop?
I don’t know how this is going to sound but I believe humor is the key to a successful workshop. Humor binds people in a room and eases them. During a writing workshop, it is imperative to know you are flawed and make your peace with it. Writing, especially in a workshop environment, is always about being able to write something without thinking of its consequences or what shape it’ll take. Like laughter, the act of writing is best enjoyed when you are in the moment. Therefore, I prepare for most workshops like a stand-up comic. I write punchlines down, I write jokes about myself and my life and the content or the writing prompts I’ll be sharing. I want to make sure that everyone has a good time. I follow this practice for all my in-person workshops. For the virtual workshops I teach, especially with the Glass Kite Anthology Summer Mentorship program, my discussions are more grounded and serious since I usually just have one or two mentees. But I do make it a point to invite another mentor or poet as a visiting writer so we can intimately explore our differences and similarities as writers and more importantly, as people.
Where do you see yourself in five years? How about ten?
I wish I knew. I have a few plans and options. I want to go to graduate school, perhaps to do a Master’s in Comparative Literature or to do an MFA in Creative Writing. I am not sure which of those I want more. I hope I can afford to live in New York soon enough. I hope I get to read and write lots and do a lot more experimental work. But more importantly, I want to be a stronger and more independent woman, a better friend, and a more responsible citizen of my country and the world.
Would you have any advice for young girls across the globe?
A very close and wise friend of mine once told me that advice is perhaps only useful for the person who gives it. And I do believe that. But I want to tell every girl out there that I am there for her, that I believe her, and that there is nothing in the world women can’t conquer. I want to be a good listener for every girl out there. I care for their stories, I care for their truths.[share]