"My queer, Indian, Appalachian words"
One of the joys of publishing a literary journal is seeing work that was first featured in Still: The Journal turn up in contributors’ books and anthologies and in other venues. Such is the case with Neema Avashia, our featured artist in this issue. We met Neema here in these pages before we ever met her in person, and two of the essays that are included in her new book of essays were first published here.
Another Appalachia: Coming Up Queer and Indian in a Mountain Place (West Virginia University Press, March 2022) is Neema Avashia’s nonfiction collection which counters the assumed narrative and culture of Appalachia in fresh and captivating prose. Neema was born and raised in southern West Virginia to South Asian parents who immigrated to the United States. The essays in Another Appalachia trace Neema’s experiences as a queer person of color growing up in the Kanawha Valley. “Much of my writing pertains to the unique experience of growing up as a member of a tight-knit Indian community in a state where we comprised less than half a percentage point of the overall population,” Neema says.
Neema’s collection of essays has been endorsed as “a bright and deeply empathetic portrait of a complicated place, a place that Neema Avashia allows to be multifaceted in the way it deserves.” In addition to writing, Neema is an experienced and politically active history and civics teacher in the Boston Public Schools.
Among other things, we talked to Neema recently about education and about some of the craft choices she made in writing the compelling essays that make up Another Appalachia.
I’d be lying if I didn’t say that Hillbilly Elegy, and my deep anger about that book, wasn’t a big impetus for writing my own book. I read a book that was purportedly about the place where I grew up, and the people I grew up with, and I found both the people and the place as Vance rendered them to be virtually unrecognizable.
Still: In one of your newsletters, you mentioned an issue that seems important to you, both as a teacher and writer: that how we see or do not see ourselves in books we read in school impacts our identity formation. Could you elaborate?
Also in this issue:
Read our review of Another Appalachia: Coming Up Queer and Indian in a Mountain PlaceReviewed by Laura Dennis