Conversation between Vivek Shraya and Erin Wunker

Not too long ago I was reading through Twitter (almost always a bad idea) and I came across an amazingly wonderful piece of news: Vivek Shraya and Arsenal Pulp Press have collaborated to create VS.Books. Honestly, I cheered out loud. If you don’t know Vivek’s work, take a moment to read this interview from a few years back and check out her website.

Here’s a brief introduction to the new imprint: VS. Books is an imprint of Arsenal which will operate under the mentorship and direction of the incomparable Vivek. The aim of VS. Books is to support Indigenous writers, Black writers, and writers of colour who are between the ages of 18 – 24 years old and living in Canada. The aim and the intent of the new imprint have come out of the challenges, frustrations, gatekeeping, and racism exemplified in so many corners of literary culture in Canada.

I had the opportunity to correspond with Vivek and ask her some questions about VS. Books, writing, and self-care. Here are her generous answers.

Erin Wunker: Can you tell me the ways in which the imprint came to be a reality? I imagine conversations, frustrations, and sincere hopes as architecture for the idea, how did you move an idea into a reality? Who do you talk to about such a notion? 

Vivek Shraya: The imprint came from a place of wanting to build on my existing mentorship program. After a year of working with nine young artists, I wondered if young writers actually desire mentorship as much as they desire to be published. Is mentorship an offering that is romantically conceived solely in the mind of older artists who assume that this is what young artists need?

I am lucky to have a core group of friends, peers and muses who I often discuss any of my artistic ideas with. I shared my concerns about the limitations of mentorship with them, as well as the idea of perhaps funding a writer’s first book. Through these conversations, I was inspired to reach out to Arsenal Pulp Press about a collaboration, as they were the first publisher to show interest in my work and have since been very open to my ideas. VS. Books was born shortly thereafter.

EW: What does mentorship mean to you? What kind of advice would you offer to a writer seeking mentorship or a writing community?

VS: An ideal mentorship is one that is reciprocal, where both parties are learning from and inspiring each other.

My biggest advice to a writer seeking mentorship is to choose someone whose writing you love—not their brand or online persona. In regards to building a writing community, it is important to give to your community as much as you take from it.

EW: Your work demonstrates (to me, at least) such a radical kind of generosity. Whether you’re working on social media, in photography, in music, performance, or text you seem to have a boundless capacity for both innovation and generative vulnerability. Would you be willing to share with our readers how your own creative practice informs the mission statement of VS. Books?

VS: Toronto can be an ungenerous and unforgiving city, even in queer and arts communities. Encountering these traits in others has, at times, replicated them in myself as a kind of defensive mechanism. The only way to interrupt these tendencies is to try to model something else—an openness. I strive to be open in my art practice, despite the impulse to recoil. I hope VS. Books is also a reflection of this, that it feels like an invitation.

EW: Whose work would you like to amplify? Past, present, or future writers: whose writing is meaningful for you?

VS: I would love to shout out a few writers and artists whose informal mentoring and generosity to me has inspired the creation of this imprint: Tegan and Sara, Farzana Doctor, Amber Dawn and Maureen Hynes.

EW: How do you manage self-care in caring for others? As a mentor, as a writer, as a person of colour who is so radically generous with sharing your queerness, your identity, your creativity, and your own struggles with a reading public?

VS: I am learning to be better at saying “no.” I take a lot of naps and see a lot of movies.

Thank you so much for sharing with our readers, Vivek!

If you’d like to support VS. Books then spread the word so that writers in both urban and non-urban areas are aware of this amazing opportunity to have their work mentored and supported. You can tweet @vsbooksimprint

Photo credit: N Maxwell Lander



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