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24 April 2024

Wasafiri Wonders: Karthik Shankar

Ever wondered what your favourite author’s first drafts look like? Or which book they love that nobody’s heard of? Wasafiri  Wonders is a series that asks these questions for you. For this instalment, we spoke to the 2023 Wasafiri Essay Prize winner, Karthik Shankar, on his favourite reads, writing habits, and upcoming work.

The 2024 Wasafiri Essay Prize is now inviting submissions from early-career researchers, including PhD candidates, offering publication, mentoring, £250, and more. Enter by 31 May, 2024, 5pm BST.

Describe your first drafts in one sentence.

A parent returning home to find their hand painted all over their walls.

Tell us about your writing rituals. 

A lot of procrastination, delaying my writing through tasks like cleaning and replying to unnecessary emails, pacing around in my room, and finally a panicked call to my sister who reassures me that everything will be fine. Most of the actual writing happens in the late hours of the night when I’m delirious.

Tell us about your newest work. 

My article ‘Spectral Trans Figures’, in Wasafiri 117: The State of the Industry, is a piece on Jeet Thayil’s novel, Narcopolis (2012). I also have a short essay on botanic gardens in issue ten of It’s Freezing in LA! I’m also trying to get back to writing fiction, which is actually another attempt at procrastinating, since there are many papers I need to write for classes.

What is the best writing advice you’ve ever received? 

A prodigious writer told me not to be precious about my writing. Writing regularly is more important than writing well. You can’t make the perfect fluffy omelette if you decide to cook every twelve days. Admittedly, I can’t say I heed this advice, but I’m trying to.

What is a classic you recently read for the first time?  

U.R Ananthamurthy’s Samskara: A Rite for a Dead Man (2017), a Kannada novel translated into English by A.K Ramanujan. It’s a rich book that vividly foregrounds the violence and arbitrariness of Brahminism and is troubling in its articulation of caste.

What is a book or pamphlet you love that no one else has heard of? 

It’s hard to say that people haven’t heard about it because academic monographs gain momentum over time, but Vaibhav Saria’s ethnography Hijras, Lovers, Brothers (2021) is incredible. I think everyone needs to read it, especially those working on queer theory. I can’t wait to read more of their work in the future.

If your newest work were a music album, what would it be and how would it sound? 

Sufjan Stevens’ Carrie and Lowell (2015). I listened to it a lot the year my grandmother passed away and it’s how I envision good writing – stripped down, intimate, and unexpectedly moving.

Which books or authors are relevant reads in our political climate — or one you’d recommend to current world leaders? 

I don’t know if reading always cultivates empathy. Some of the world’s best-read people are imperialists and capitalists. But in this fictional scenario Narendra Modi and Rishi Sunak would read Gail Omvedt’s Seeking Begumpura (2008), Terry Eagleton’s Why Marx was Right (2011) and Mohsin Hamid’s Exit West (2017), and change their ways.

Karthik Shankar is a PhD student in English at the University of Virginia. His PhD project focuses on queer theory and environmental humanities across South Asia and the Middle East. 
Spring 2024
Wasafiri 117: The State of the Industry

We start our 40th anniversary year with Wasafiri 117, which has a special focus on ‘The State of the Industry’. Our spring 2024 issue reflects on the contemporary international literary industry through a variety of perspectives, from publishing to academia, via the work of writing, translating, editing, publishing, and teaching.

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