Welcome flock to our featured nonfiction/hybrid writer interview! We're delighted to have Ashley Somwaru with us. If you haven't read her piece, you can find it here. Now, time to dive deep into a double-Ashley (or Ashely) conversation about the monstrous power of women.
Ashely Adams: First off, I have to say it was a real delight to get to read this piece. There was so much going on in this piece, so many hauntings around the narrator. Was there something in particular that inspired this piece–a specific event or perhaps just a general rumination?
Ashley Somwaru: Growing up, I heard a lot of stories. Superstitions of demonesses, blood suckers, shadow walkers. Ironically, all of them were women. There were times that my family even speculated that someone living down the block was a soucouyant and that we shouldn’t look her in the eye. I thought about how we so quickly label women as inferior or monstrous– something to stay away from or kill. I wanted to dig deeper, to think about the lives of women who are condemned in these stories. Inspiration especially came from the idea of a rakshasi– a woman thirsty for blood. What was she actually like? Can we see beyond the fear and manipulative beliefs? What circumstances could have forced a woman to become this being?
AA: One of the lines that struck me was “what is the point of Sita? She doesn’t do anything. She just lets herself get stolen”. I couldn’t stop thinking about this idea of purpose and expectation that runs through this work. Could you tell us more of your thoughts on this?
AS: I’m so excited to hear that these lines stood out to you. Here we have Sita, a prominent figure in the Ramayana, who has been reduced to a silent woman; someone who must uphold the rules of chasteness and purity. Many have thought her to be weak or useless. I’ve never thought of her that way, though. I thought of her as a powerful being. Someone, who when finally speaks, makes men hang their heads in shame. Someone who can split the earth open. There’s this expectation that women are supposed to be kind, gentle people, but when the worst happens to them, they are blamed and ridiculed. When they become the product of what society has pressured them into, they are harassed over and over. They become the stories we continue to hear. I felt that Sita and other women I portrayed were so complex that they couldn’t be characterized as just “good” or “bad.” However, I feared with the lack of understanding, these women were becoming erased. I wanted these women to come back and push against the perspectives placed on them. To challenge their given roles. Is this who they really were? That’s a question I kept trying to answer.
AA: I’m always interested in what drives people to come at a work from a hybrid perspective versus a more straightforward essay or short story. I’d love to hear what drove you to this melding of genres in this piece.
AS: This first started off as a poem. However, I realized that my usual realm of writing wasn’t going to hold how expansive this piece was becoming. As I started writing about my grandmother’s old age and sickness, I thought about the times I sat in my grandmother’s living room and heard her stories. I wanted to incorporate both her and her words. But also, how her words were a repetition of inheritance causing many women, including myself, to be boxed into something slightly sinister. I wanted to invoke the voices in my head. I wanted to play on the edge of reality and enchantment. It wasn’t just about myself or my grandmother. It was so much more. It felt like a community of women were coming together and the only way to let them have their space was to enter into this essay/block form that collided and responded to each other.
AA: I’m sure our readers would love to see more of your work. Do you have any past works you’d like to plug? Any upcoming projects we should be keeping an eye out for?
AS: Thank you so much for believing in my writing! Currently, I am working on a hybrid poetry collection that focuses on the Indo-Caribbean woman’s experience. I’m truly grateful for the magazines and journals that have published my work from this project in 2021. My poem “When Kali Runs in Your Veins” was a finalist in Solstice Magazine’s Summer issue. More work inspired by my superstitious upbringing has been published with Newtown Literary. I’m also very proud of the poetry published with Angime, Kithe, VIDA Review, and Pacific Review.
AA: And, finally, what is your favorite bone?
AS: The sternum– I like knowing, despite chaos, that my heart is protected.