We Are Not “Just One Thing”: Q&A with Debut Author Neema Avashia

On March 31, FYACS and the Foundation Trust will celebrate the launch of Neema Avashia’s new book, Another Appalachia: Coming Up Queer and Indian in a Mountain Place. Neema will read from her debut essay collection and be in conversation with Marjan Kamali, best-selling author of Together Tea and The Stationery Shop about race, class, gender and sexuality.

Meet Neema and Marjan in this 1-min video!

Video edited by Jack McCormack, 10th grader at Melrose High School

We spoke with Neema about her work, what readers can expect to hear, and why all of us can get excited to support and celebrate this new local voice at her Author Talk and Book Party on March 31 at Follow Your Art Community Studios. Read more here:

1.     What kinds of conversations does your book invite about diversity and equity?

Issues of race and gender and sexuality are at the core of the book. Particularly the question of what it’s like to be a member of minority groups in communities that are overwhelmingly populated by members of dominant cultures. So I think if you’re someone seeking to understand that experience, and to think about what needs to be done differently in order for minoritized communities to feel better supported, then there’s certainly an opportunity to engage in that conversation.

“And through our very existence, we make the existence of more of us possible.”

–from “Present-Life Hair” by Neema Avashia

I also think that the elements of the book that look at my work as a public school teacher in Boston may be relevant for folks interested in equity and diversity, as I try really hard to surface the impacts that underfunding and segregation have on the experiences of my students.

2.      Many of your essays discuss your child and teen years not fitting into the white, straight mainstream. What can teen readers who might feel the same way take from your book?

I think that for teens, seeing adults who model what it means to live out identities that are multifaceted, instead of being “just one thing,” is hugely important. It is really hard for us to carve out authentic lives for ourselves when we don’t have models of how other people have done that. So I hope that young people reading my book take away permission to live in the ways that feel most authentic to them, even when their authenticity might cause tension or conflict in the short term.

3.      What can the audience at the Big Yellow House expect to hear on March 31?

I plan to read a couple of different essays from the collection that hit on different themes, are written in different styles, and get at different big ideas in the book. If you’re someone who loves a good story, then I think you’ll enjoy this event. And getting to be in conversation with Marjan is very exciting. She’s such a thoughtful writer and asker of questions that I feel confident that our conversation will be really enriching.

4.      FYACS is home to a large community of emerging writers and artists. How might they be inspired by your work?

I wrote this book while working full time as a teacher in the Boston Public Schools. I really struggled to find time and space for writing. I think that I can both validate the experiences of working artists, and also provide some insight into strategies that I found helpful for making time and space for writing.

“I stand on the foul line at the Cross Lanes Methodist Church gym. I am nine, the only girl playing on an all-boys basketball team. The only Brown kid on a team of White boys, my puny arms, thick glasses, and long, oiled braid set me even further apart from their wiry, muscular bodies and cropped blond haircuts.”

–from “Be Like Wilt” by Neema Avashia

Neema Avashia was born and raised in southern West Virginia to parents who immigrated to the United States. She has been a middle school teacher in the Boston Public Schools since 2003. Her essays have appeared in the Bitter Southerner, Catapult, Kenyon Review Online, and elsewhere. She also writes opinion pieces on the topics of education and is frequently quoted in the press. Her book, Another Appalachia: Coming Up Queer and Indian in a Mountain Place, will be published by West Virginia University Press in March 2022.

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