I am the sum of so many things and it is at once easy and difficult to place labels on myself. I’ll begin in the most obvious ways: I’m a daughter to an academic; my dad is a mathematician and was immersed in the world of biostatistics and multi-variant statistical analysis for more than a half-century before retiring this year. I saw how much he loves math — and I love language and writing and books in the same way. I’m a sucker for a good story, no matter the form or topic.
I’m a daughter of immigrants: my parents left India and moved to the United States, first to California and then North Carolina, years before I was born. I witnessed how much my mother loved and missed India and her family – and I learned from her the value of family and knowing one’s own history and culture. I was fortunate to be able to visit my grandparents and extended family in India when I was young, and from them I learned the love of literature and storytelling.
I’m a child of America, that is to say I am American by birth and in upbringing and attitude, and I carry it proudly – no matter who questions it these days, and who tries to erase me. I’m a wife and a daughter-in-law: for a long time, the family I married into was steeped in academia as well; I model my efforts to build community after their dedication & decades of service. I’m a sister and sister-in-law; in Bengali, there is no real word for cousin – we are all “sisters” and “brothers” – and I am happily in the thick of a big, tight-knit family. I am a mother to three creative, resilient and forward-thinking teens. It is a gift to have them in my personal orbit every day.
I may not be employed as one any longer, but I am a journalist. There’s a saying, “You can take a girl out of the newsroom but you can’t take the newsroom out of a girl,” and that is true. I’ve been reporting since I was one-third the age I am now; although I don’t report for newspapers any longer, the training and the deadlines have stuck with me. For a long time, I thought the journalism infected my other writing, but in recent years, with the help of some amazing teachers, I’ve changed my attitude, and changed the ‘i-word’ to inform. My journalism has informed my writing.
I’m first a poet: I wrote my first poem at the age of 9. I’ve been writing poetry throughout my journeys, as a daughter and wife, as a student, then a mother, as a reporter and an occasional editor, as a photographer (finding poetic captions and titles to my #artaday postings) and now a novelist. My debut novel, The Atlas of Reds and Blues, will be published by Counterpoint Press in February.
More than eight years ago, I lost all of my work when my husband was racially profiled by his former employer – the Georgia state police raided my home at gunpoint and many of our belongings were confiscated, including my laptop and my almost-finished novel. Though a state judge eventually dismissed all charges against my husband, our belongings are somewhere in Atlanta collecting dust – most of our things have not been returned. (for more information, see joylaskarstory.com)
I’ve had to start over. And I’m happy to say that I rediscovered the newsroom within: Every day I win back a bit of myself, as I read and write and publish. I’m a bit of a workshop junkie, and I’ve had a lot of help over the years from wonderful poets and writers – and to show for it, I’ve had dozens of poems published, two poetry chapbooks, and now a novel that I started back in 2004, lost most of in 2010 and re-imagined from 2014-16.
I’ve titled the blog for the coming year Attacus Atlas & Other Inventions, after stumbling on to a happy coincidence: The Attacus Atlas, or Atlas Moth, has roots in Asia and has markings similar to the owl that graces the beautiful cover of my debut.
I’m so grateful and thrilled to be a Debutante, and to share my journey and stories. Each week I’m going to give a glimpse into my writing life and what informs it: what I’m reading, what I’m researching, where I’m going. I’m also going to recommend the books that make up my personal canon, the “go to” books I re-read when I’m stuck. Thank you to the previous Debutante class for the warm welcome and thank you to my sister 2019 Debs – I’m delighted to be here with you.
What I’m reading this week: There, There by Tommy Orange, How to Write an Autobiographical Novel by Alexander Chee, What Lies Between Us by Nayomi Munaweera, The People of Paper by Salvador Plascencia, They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us by Hanif Abdurraqib.
My “classic” recommendation: At The Bottom of the River by Jamaica Kincaid.
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