Shankar Narayan | Writer | Changemaker | Teacher | Friend

SHANKAR NARAYAN

Writer / changemaker / teacher / Friend

 

These poems are wholly original and loaded with compassion, intellect, and lyric interrogation. Shankar Narayan’s Postcards from the New World explores proximity, intimacy, identity, violence, and diaspora with a knowing, prophetic allure. I love these poems for their epistemological underpinnings and their graceful invention. Gorgeous surprises fuel this wonderful debut. Fiercely talented and equally humane, Narayan is one of my favorite new poets.

—Lee Herrick, Fresno Poet Laureate Emeritus, 2015-17

 
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About

 
 
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I am an immigrant, activist, long-distance son, teacher, and person of color living in America.  I create voice to tell others’ stories and my own with the integrity and fire they deserve.  My day job working to protect the civil liberties of America’s many underclasses is one way I move that work forward; my writing and teaching are another.  My poetry explores identity, belonging, and power in a world where the body is flung across borders yet possesses unrivaled power to transcend them.  I tell stories of mythology and technology, transformation and love.

My upbringing informs my voice.  I grew up around the world, experiencing change—sometimes cataclysmic—in societies as diverse as the USSR, the Maldives, India, Yugoslavia, Thailand, South Africa, and of course, the United States.  I have worked in prisons on three continents, exchanging ideas with those incarcerated by their societies.  I frequently interact with the architects of the technological revolution that is transforming all of our futures.

I write to memorialize, to witness moments of beauty and terror, to connect with the divine, to bridge the chasm between my two homelands, and to survive the madness of the world.  I hope to build a community that perseveres and even thrives.

 

 

 

 


Select Literary Awards, Fellowships, Publications, and Readings

  • Three-time Pushcart Prize nominee (2013, twice in 2017).
  • Winner, Iowa Sweet Corn Prize in Poetry, 2017.
  • Winner, Paper Nautilus Debut Series chapbook competition, 2017, for Postcards from the New World.
  • Awardee, 4Culture artist grant for project Making Space, focused on raising voices of writers of color in Seattle, 2017.
  • Kundiman Fellow, nation’s premier fellowship focused on Asian-American writers, 2016.
  • Kundiman Northwest Co-Chair, 2017-18.
  • Made at Hugo House Fellow, developing works around themes of race, technology, and mythology, 2016-17.
  • Frequent featured reader at city- and statewide events, including Seattle LitCrawl, Open Books, Hugo House, WordsWest, Jack Straw Writers, Cascadia Poetry Festival, Seattle Public Library, Seattle Central College, Inland Poetry Prowl, Duvall Poetry Series, EasySpeak, and elsewhere.
  • Featured at readings focusing on issues impacting disempowered communities, including multiple readings for Race—Under Our Skin issue of Raven Chronicles, Kundiman reading at Seattle LitCrawl 2016 focused on communities of color, and Resistance and Immigration for WordsWest in March 2017.

short bio

Shankar Narayan explores identity, power, mythology, and technology in a world where the body is flung across borders yet possesses unrivaled power to transcend them. Shankar is a three-time Pushcart Prize nominee, winner of the 2017 Flyway Sweet Corn Poetry Prize, and has been a fellow at Kundiman and at Hugo House. He is a 4Culture grant recipient for Claiming Space, a project to lift the voices of writers of color, and his chapbook, Postcards From the New World, won the Paper Nautilus Debut Series chapbook prize. Shankar draws strength from his global upbringing and from his work as a civil rights attorney for the ACLU. In Seattle, he awakens to the wonders of Cascadia every day, but his heart yearns east to his other hometown, Delhi. Connect with him at shankarnarayan.net.

 
 
 
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writing

 
 
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books

Postcards from the New World, chapbook, April 2018, Paper Nautilus Press, (Debut Series Prize winner).  I'm doubly excited because Aaliyah Gupta's fabulous art is on the cover!  The chapbook launch reading at Hugo House was fantastic, thanks to Gabrielle Bates, Troy Osaki, and Dujie Tahat!  Pictures here.  Video below under Watch/Listen.  Order the chapbook here.

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These poems are wholly original and loaded with compassion, intellect, and lyric interrogation. Shankar Narayan’s Postcards from the New World explores proximity, intimacy, identity, violence, and diaspora with a knowing, prophetic allure. I love these poems for their epistemological underpinnings and their graceful invention. Gorgeous surprises fuel this wonderful debut. Fiercely talented and equally humane, Narayan is one of my favorite new poets.

—Lee Herrick, Fresno Poet Laureate Emeritus, 2015-17

 

This series of thirty-one poems meditates on connection and dissolution, construction and deconstruction, selves and societies.  In a violent historical moment, when rupture and brokenness (the breaking of bodies and the breaking of the word) are so evident, the speaker in these poems announces a belief that there is (there has to be) some good, some optimism, some light from a new sun if "Entanglement is a whole country."  In an eerie echo of Whitman, Narayan writes that "Entanglement  means  /what happens to you happens / to me," not just as cosmic fact but as an ethical binding of various selves—the constructed energies of the speaker (abused by the world, consumed by idealism), the inherited and problematic threads of the world around the speaker (distant traditions as tethers to a faraway land, the violent and virulent racism of the America right at hand).  In a song driven by words from our moment, Narayan has given us a compelling series of poems that will be worthy of rereading in the coming years.

—Tod Marshall, Washington State Poet Laureate, 2016-18


Journals

Grass, Flyway Journal of Writing and the Environment, Fall 2017 (Pushcart Prize nominated, annual Iowa Sweet Corn Poetry Prize winner)

We Are All Something, Crab Creek Review, Vol. 1, Spring 2017

To CEO@Ancestry.com, Crab Creek Review, Vol. 1, Spring 2017 (Pushcart Prize nominated)

Duwamish, Crab Creek Review, Vol. 1, Spring 2017

Psalm From the Old World, Really System Issue 14 (La Mer Systyle), Spring 2017

Oppenheimer, Really System Issue 14 (La Mer Systyle), Spring 2017

Belonging, Jaggery, A DesiLit Arts and Literature Journal, Winter 2017

Immigrant Life in Bohemia, Raven Chronicles Vol. 24 (Home), Winter 2017

If Maps Were Hummingbirds, Panoply Zine, Winter 2017

X, Raven Chronicles Vol. 19 (Race -- Under Our Skin), Winter 2014 (Pushcart Prize nominated)

Police Department Demonstrates New Drone, to Help Allay Concerns, Mochila Review, Vol. 15, 2013

 


anthologies

How To Run Above the Cliffs, Washington 129: Poems Selected by Tod Marshall, State Poet Laureate

This Is Not a Translation, Poets Unite! The LitFuse @10 Anthology

The Moment I Realize Living in Seattle is Killing Me, Poets Unite! The LitFuse@10 Anthology

 


Watch/Listen

Reading at Hugo House's chapbook launch event for Postcards from the New World, April 25, 2018:

Reading at WordsWest, March 15, 2017 (audio only)

Raven Chronicles Reading for Poets Examine Race: Under Our Skin, Spring 2014.  An old reading, but I'm keeping it on here because of my fabulous co-readers, and because these issues only seem more relevant over time:

Conversations on Social Issues: Spring 2014 Raven Chronicles' Poets Examine Race: Under Our Skin Speaker: JT Stewart, Laura Da, Lawrence Matsuda, Shankar Narayan
 
 
 
 
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events

 
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November 27, 2018:  Made at Hugo House Fellows Reading:  This one is way, way out, but just in case you’re the type that marks your calendar very early, I’ll be reading at Hugo House in November—this time with former Hugo House fellows (fellow fellows?) Sierra GoldenLaura DaBill Carty, and Steve Barker.  Another good group in whose company to bask!  I’ll break out my best Thanksgiving poems, and perhaps some artifacts from India, from where I’ll have just returned.  The reading will be on November 27th, exact time TBD.  Stay tuned for details!


October 11, 2018:  I'll once again be reading at Seattle LitCrawl, this time with Korean-American poet Jongmin Jerome Baek, and with Gabrielle Bates hosting.  We're calling it "Cosmic Disconnect" because everything's cosmic and disconnected (especially with the amount of alcohol that will be flowing at Litcrawl!).  LitCrawl is October 11th, and this reading is at St. John’s at 8 PM. See you there!


October 6-7, 2018:  New Hugo House Class: Writing with Russian Fairy Tales.  As many of you know, I was born in Russia (in the then Soviet Union) and also went to high school there.  I've always had a fond spot in my heart for the dark and wild world of Russian fairy tales, where anything can happen (and often does!).  There are glee-maker cats, self-playing psalteries, card-playing dragons, stoves that move about, men who turn into birds, and of course, princesses, tsars, and witches.  All of this is excellent writing fodder, and I hope to turn it into a fun generative class!  One weekend only, October 6th and 7th from 1-4 PM on each day.  Sign up here!


September 27, 2018:  Kundiman South Asian Writers Reading:  In one of the first events at the brand new home of Hugo House on Capital Hill, I’ll be reading with Jordan Alam, Azura Tyabji (Seattle’s Youth Poet Laureate), and Jasleena Grewal, in an all-South Asian lineup—the first entirely South Asian literary event I’ve seen in Seattle in a while (or ever?). This should be a lot of fun—come support these three dynamic young writers (and me!).  Sonora Jha, former Hugo House writer in residence, will host.  It all goes down on September 27th at 7 PM.


August 4, 2018:  Open Books Reading with Kundiman Fellows and Poet Laureate Claudia Castro Luna, 6:30 PM.  A last-minute, super-exciting reading!  I'll be featuring along with Washington Poet Laureate Claudia Castro Luna and fellow Kundiman Fellows Cathy Linh Che and Margaret Rhee.  I'm excited, particularly since Margaret has written fabulous poems on love and robots, and is visiting Seattle from across the country in Buffalo.  I hope you all can be there!  Stay tuned for an official event page.


August 2, 2018Raising Our Voices for Compassion: A Poetry Reading to Benefit the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project:  Everyone could use a ferry ride to Vashon Island and its charming bookstore!  I’ll be back at the Vashon Bookshop for a reading in support of human rights and justice – Thursday August 2nd at 6 PM.  I really had fun the last time I read there—and as a bonus, it’s got a great Thai restaurant next door.  Also featuring Washington Poet Laureate Claudia Castro Luna, Robert Hasselblad, Merna Ann Hecht, and Lynn Carrigan.  Come join!


July 29, 2018Writing with South Asian GhazalsHugo House (1 day class), 1-5 PM.  Ghazals in South Asia are one of the most popular forms of poetry anywhere. While there has been much analysis of the ghazal's evolution in English, how the ghazal works as popular art is less accessible to western writers. This class aims to give participants a flavor of that space -- we'll listen to versions of ghazals in Urdu, read translations, consider what makes a good ghazal work, and create our own new works. Come ready to write!  Sign up here.


May 31, 2018The Ever-Shifting Diaspora: Kundiman Writers in the Pacific Northwest.  Reading in Portland with Literary ArtsNeil Aitken, Alex Dang, and Jyothi Natarajan also feature.  As if you needed another excuse for a roadtrip to Portland.  7 PM, Literary Arts, 925 SW Washington St, Portland.  See you there!


May 17, 2018:  I feature at Margin Shift reading series at Common Area Maintenance in Belltown, one of the most fun reading series around!  I'm thrilled they invited me back.


April 2018:  Check out the extensive new interview with me in the new issue of Moss!  Thanks to Dujie Tahat for his fabulous work on the interview and on the journal.  Please support this important outlet for Northwest Writing!


April 25, 2018:  Chapbook launch reading!  This is the chapbook launch reading for my new chapbook, Postcards from the New World, at Hugo House on April 25th at 7 PM.  Gabrielle Bates, Troy Osaki, and Dujie Tahat will read with me that evening!  Full video of the event here.


April 9 - May 21, 2018All-Accepting: Accessing Hinduism in Your WritingHugo House (6 week class), Monday nights 7:10-9:10 PM, no class May 7.   In this workshop, we’ll walk through some of Hinduism’s seminal concepts, such as dharma, maya, kalpa, and brahman, as well as excerpts from key texts such as the Vedas, Upanishads, and the great epics Ramayana and Mahabharata.  We’ll discuss how those concepts might be applied to a writing practice and do deep reads of poems in which modern South Asian writers in America have created their own interpretations of the Hindu cosmology.  Throughout, we’ll put these concepts into practice by writing!  Sign up here.


March 26, 2018:  Lillo Way Dubious Moon book launch reading, sponsored by Hugo House.  Fireside Room, Hotel Sorrento (900 Madison St), 7 PM.  I'll be reading a single poem, along with several others, to help kick off Lillo's launch reading!


March 10, 2018:  Extra-Bonus Last Minute Secret Reading!  You can catch me and prize-winning poet Sierra Golden reading Saturday March 10th at the Greenlake Public Library from 4-5:30 PM.  I know the event page says it's going to be Tod Marshall, but I assure you it's going to be me and Sierra instead.  Come join us!  It's going to be a good time.


March 5 - March 26, 2018: Techwashed!  The Language of Data, Surveillance, and TechnologyHugo House (4 week class), Monday nights 7:10-9:10 PM.  Sign up here.


January 31, 2018:  Passing of the Laurel reading at Seattle Public Library, Central Branch (1000 4th Ave), main auditorium, 7-8:15 PM.  This is the final event of Tod Marshall's tenure as Washington State Poet Laureate, and the first of Claudia Castro Luna's.  It's also the final Washington 129 Anthology reading.  Should be fun!


December 11, 2017Featured reader, EasySpeak Wedgwood.  Wedgwood Ale House (8515 35th Ave NE), 8 PM.


October 19, 2017:  Ever-Shifting Diaspora: The Writers of Kundiman.  Barça Lounge (1510 11th Avenue), 8 PM.  I'm hosting this event as part of my 4Culture Project, Claiming Space, and in collaboration with Kundiman.


October 11, 2017:  Featured reader with Washington State Poet Laureate Tod Marshall.  Vashon Bookshop (17612 Vashon Highway SW, Vashon, WA), 6 PM.


October 6, 2017Made at Hugo House Fellows Final Reading.  Hugo House (1021 Columbia St.), 7 PM.  Last chance to hear all six fabulous Made at Hugo House Fellows reading together!


October 5, 2017:  WA 129 Anthology Reading.  Open Books (2414 North 45th Street), 7 PM.  Come support our only poetry bookstore!


September 18, 2017:  Raven Chronicles reading for Home issue.  Columbia City Gallery (4864 Rainier Avenue South), 7 PM.  Includes readings by writers from Recovery Cafe's Safe Place writers' circle.


August 20, 2017: Cephalopod Appreciation Society reading.  Friends of the Waterfront (1400 Western Ave), noon.  Say yes to cephalopods!


July 25, 2017: Anastacia Renee book launch reading. Elliott Bay Books (1521 10th Ave), 7 PM.


July 7, 2017:  Reading and publication party for Raven Chronicles Vol. 24, Home. Jack Straw Cultural Center (4621 Roosevelt Way NW), 7-9 PM.


May 26, 2017Made at Hugo House Fellows Midyear Reading.  Hugo House (1021 Columbia St.), 7 PM. 


March 15, 2017Featured reader at WordsWestC&P Coffee (5612 California Ave. SW), 7 PM.  So excited to be reading in my local West Seattle home series with the fabulous Donna Miscolta!


January 14, 2017: Margin Shift series featured reader.  Common Area Maintenance (2125 2nd Ave).  Doors (and wine) at 7:30, and the poetry starts at 8 PM.

 
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Teaching/Doing

 
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Classes


In Russian fairytales, the world is literally a fantastic place where anything can happen. Venal tsars, card-playing dragons, man-eating cats, dancing geese, and all manner of fools, princesses, phoenixes, devils, and witches populate this space. Fatalism, feasting, trickery, and violence abound. As it turns out, this lively mix also makes for great inspiration for writing! In this generative class, we’ll look at classic Russian fairytales such as “Go I Know Not Where,” “Fetch I Know Not What,” “Fenist the Falcon,” “Vasilisa the Beautiful,” and others, and riff off them to create our own fiery pieces. Come ready to write!

Class offered:

  • October 6 - October 7, 2018: Hugo House (two day class), Sat and Sun, 1-4 PM. Sign up here.


Swami Achuthananda wrote that “[i]f Hinduism is the all-accepting religion, then English is the all-accepting language.”  Each syncretic creature has much to offer the other.  Hinduism is much more a way of being, a set of practices, an ethos, and a mythology than a religion.  In this workshop, we’ll walk through some of Hinduism’s seminal concepts, such as dharma, maya, kalpa, and brahman, as well as excerpts from key texts such as the Vedas, Upanishads, and the great epics Ramayana and Mahabharata.  We’ll discuss how those concepts might be applied to a writing practice and do deep reads of poems in which modern South Asian writers in America have created their own interpretations of the Hindu cosmology.  Throughout, we’ll put these concepts into practice by writing!  Beginners and experienced practitioners alike are welcome.

Class offered:


Ghazals in South Asia are one of the most popular forms of poetry anywhere. While there has been much analysis of the ghazal's evolution in English, how the ghazal works as popular art is less accessible to western writers. This class aims to give participants a flavor of that space -- we'll listen to versions of ghazals in Urdu, read translations, consider what makes a good ghazal work, and create our own new works. Come ready to write!

Class offered:

  • July 29, 2018: Hugo House, 1-5 PM. Watch this space for the sign-up link!


Can you feel the wave coming? Invisible to most of us, quantum advancements in technology are challenging our society’s most basic foundations. Data about us, and the algorithms that feed on those data, already empower some and disempower others, determining our status. We’ll talk about what this revolution means, and examine its language by closely reading technical writing, essays, and poetry. Most of all, we’ll write, riffing off those materials to create our own mini-tsunamis to share and discuss.

Class offered:


writing help

I would be happy to help you with your writing.  I love to teach (see my teaching philosophy below) and have worked with students at the University of Washington, Litfuse, Hugo House, and Seattle Public Library, among others.  Our work together will be directed by your goals -- my aim will be for you to achieve the strongest possible version of your own, authentic voice.  I am also empathetic to the challenges writers of color and others face, and would like to coach you as you work through those challenges.  Rates depend on project.  Please get in touch with your proposal!


teaching philosophy

As a teacher, I aim to create a courageous, open, mutually engaging, and joyful space that connects with each student as a complete human being and helps move them towards finding and strengthening their true voice.  I combine the following key elements:

Courageous

I believe in creating a space in which students will feel empowered to engage with the subject matter and produce their best writing.

+Open

I aim to teach my classes in a structured but flexible way that strikes a balance between following a preset curriculum and allowing opportunities for new ideas to open up channels of learning.

+Engaging

Learning, for me, always goes both ways, and I continue to be humbled by how much I learn in every class I teach.  I prefer engagement and discussion at as many points as possible, and build in plenty of in-class writing as well as courageous sharing.  Finally, I try as much as possible to ensure students vocalize their questions or other needs, and give them responses and options based on those needs.

+Joyful

Writing classes should be fun!  I aim to work in humor and levity, particularly to balance somber subject matter.  I often work with subject matter that brings out strong emotions, which I try to recognize and create appropriate space to work through. 

+Human

I believe teaching without connection is impossible.  So I try to get to know and understand my students as complete human beings in the context of their writing goals, and to encourage them to know, understand, and learn from one another.  Writers need other writers, and I see the project of strengthening the mutual bond between writers as being every bit as important as imparting knowledge of a particular subject matter.

=Voice

In the end, I aim to impact the lives of my students by helping them find and strengthen their voices and achieve their own writing goals, whatever those may be.


other projects

  • claiming space -- support and voice for writers of color

I'm grateful to 4Culture for supporting the Claiming Space project.  This year, the stakes have gone up for all people of color—immigrants and refugee communities, religious minorities, and others are being targeted verbally and physically.  At the same time, the very right to speak freely, to create, and to criticize the government is in question.  Writers of color must now operate at the difficult intersection of those challenges, and as we have seen in past times of repression, need particular support to lift their voices.  Spaces specifically for writers of color have existed sporadically in Seattle, but those efforts have rarely been consistent or supported monetarily.  The Claiming Space project aims to create consistent, supportive spaces where writers of color can engage with these difficult issues, discuss what it means to create in this environment, and produce this necessary work.

If you are a writer of color with ideas for how to create such supportive spaces, including salons, readings, workshops, classes, or anything else, I would love to hear from you.  Get in touch here!


  • kundiman northwest

I'm honored to be Kundiman's Northwest regional co-chair, along with Jordan Alam and Neil Aitken.  Kundiman creates an affirming and rigorous space where Asian American writers can explore, through art, the unique challenges that face the new and ever changing diaspora. We see the arts as a tool of empowerment, of education and liberation, of addressing proactively the legacy we will leave for future generations.

As Northwest regional co-chair, I aim to create a supportive environment for Asian-American writers in the Northwest and to connect emerging Asian-American writers with new opportunities.  If you're an Asian-American writer in the Pacific Northwest and want to connect with us, please drop me a line!

 
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CONnect

 
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email me

Writers, changemakers, teachers, friendsI welcome connecting with you.  Please use this form to get in touchI'll use your email address only to respond to you.  If you wish to get my (very) occasional email updates, please use the "Get Updates" form below instead.  I hope to hear from you!


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