When I was at Clarion West, I listened in on a conversation about a Clarion West graduate, Anil Menon, who was conducting a writer’s workshop in India together with the writer, Vandana Singh. Late 2012, I received an email from Nisi Shawl asking if I’d be willing to review a book for Cascadia Subduction Zone. The book is an anthology of short stories edited by Anil Menon and Vandana Singh. It was titled Breaking the Bow. A fair number of stories in this anthology come from writers of Indian ancestry. It also includes a story written by a Kanpur workshop graduate–“The Chance” by Pervin Saket.
While not without its flaws, I found myself to be quite enchanted by this collection of stories that centered on the Ramayana. Late 2013, I asked Anil and Vandana if they would be willing to do a process conversation with me about the work involved in putting together Breaking the Bow, the workshop in India, and their experience as writers in a field that’s continues to be very much Western-centric.
What was the inspiration behind Breaking the Bow and what process did you go through in picking the stories for this collection? And what were the things that you took into consideration when picking the stories?
Vandana: Well, I grew up with the great Indian epics – the Ramayana in particular has always been part of the air I breathe. Anil and I, and Suchitra Mathur, an academic in India, conducted an SF writing workshop during which one of the participants, Pervin Saket, came up with a science fiction story about Sita, the consort of Ram in the Ramayana. That suggested exciting possibilities to both Anil and me. In particular, there are many historical versions of the Ramayana, and it seemed to me that coming up with an anthology of Ramayana-inspired stories could be both a part of the tradition of multiple Ramayanas and an extension of it into new territory.
Anil selected the first crop from the initial submissions so he is best able to answer specifics about selection criteria, but we both had a similar vision, I think. We didn’t have any kind of thematic constraints as long as there was some relation to the Ramayana, but we wanted stories that engaged the original framework imaginatively, with boldness, vision, and/or playfulness — so for instance many of the stories examine issues gender, or race, or class. We divided the final stories between us and went through each in detail, with suggested edits as needed. We also commissioned a few stories from well-known authors.
Anil: It was an iterative process. We got about a hundred submissions for our open call and after setting aside the easy rejects, we spent a few months going back and forth on the rest. We’d also sent out invites to established writers; their stories were treated separately. The overall plan was to represent as many interesting new voices as we could. We also wanted an international collection of stories. I think we succeeded on both those counts. Continue reading