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From the end of March through last week, the Harvard Creative Writing Collective held a series of poetry readings hosted by South Asian authors.
The South Asian Poetry Series invited poets of South Asian descent to travel to campus, hold readings of their work, and join in on dinners with students and faculty.
Isabel T. Mehta ’24, the main organizer of the series, said she was first inspired to put on the readings when she heard her professor Vidyan Ravinthiran, who teaches English, read one of his poems for the CWC.
“I was blown away because I was in the presence of a South Asian person reading the poetry that they had written professionally,” Mehta said. “Being exposed to a South Asian person with a similar background as mine who has done this for their career was just kind of mind-blowing.”
Ravinthiran helped Mehta organize the events but gave credit to Mehta for bringing the poets to Cambridge.
“When we have a reading, I’m sure I’ll really enjoy it," Ravinthiran said. "But it’s absolutely her achievement, and I think that should be made clear.”
To organize the first event in the series, Ravinthiran put Mehta in touch with poet Srikanth Reddy ’95, who agreed to read his work to the group. Mehta said many poets were eager to take part in the series when invited.
“Here’s the other thing, poets don’t get a lot of attention — even the really, really good ones — and so they respond really quickly to emails and they respond to everything,” Mehta said.
Mehta also expressed disillusionment with the accessibility of creative writing spaces in general within the College.
“This is something that’s very important: being a creative writer at Harvard can be a very disheartening thing because most of the spaces that allow you to create, to do creative writing are very exclusive,” Mehta said.
In response to her observations of exclusion, Mehta joined the CWC and organized these events to create a more inclusive space and increase visibility for South Asians in fields like English.
“Why don’t we try and bring more of these people out?” Mehta said. “Not just from Harvard, but try to bring them from other areas.”
Aarya A. Kaushik ’24, a Creative Writing Collective board member, said the poetry series included optional dinners with the poets before each poetry reading.
“It was just a wonderful experience to get to see these poets in a more casual environment before going to the poetry reading and also getting to know them a little bit better,” Kaushik said.
Kaushik said the poetry series was successful due to the support from both Creative Writing Collective members and students across Harvard’s campus.
“We’ve been really pleased and a little bit surprised, but pleasantly surprised to see the turnout is definitely not just the Creative Writing Collective,” Kaushik said. “We’ve seen lots of people from campus and even more than that, not just South Asian students or diasporic students on campus, but students from all different heritages coming to these poetry readings.”
The collective may continue the poetry series given the success of this semester’s iteration, according to Kaushik.
“We would always love to hear them read some of their works again,” Kaushik added. “Two hours seems like a lot of time but it honestly flew by with those poets, so we’d love to have more events with them, as well as maybe continue the South Asian poetry speaker series.”
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