Vijay Seshadri Becomes the First Asian American to Win the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry


Vijay Seshadri became the first Asian American poet to win the Pulitzer Prize yesterday for his book 3 Sections. In its citation, the Pulitzer committee hailed the work as “a compelling collection of poems that examine human consciousness, from birth to dementia, in a voice that is by turns witty and grave, compassionate and remorseless.”

Reviewing the collection for The American Reader, Bhisham Bherwani wrote that Seshadri’s characters found themselves, “in situations that compel them—even as they remain inevitably attached to reality—to grapple with the domain of their disassociated selves.”

Born in Bangalore in 1954, Seshadri moved to the United States with his family five years VijaySeshadrilater and grew up in Columbus, Ohio. In this 2004 interview with Jeet Thayil for Poets and Writers magazine, Seshadri said he began writing as a teenager:

I think I conceived of myself as a writer before I started writing, and I started writing poetry when I was 16. I was in college. I had become interested in poetry and that first January I heard Galway Kinnell read from The Book of Nightmares, which as yet was unpublished. I loved that reading. I remember it clearly; it made me want to go home and start writing. I was never one of those writers who knew from the age of six that they were writers, who lisped in numbers. In my early twenties I wrote, or tried to write, a novel that was much too ambitious for me. I’d been influenced by the French new novel, and by Pynchon, and John Hawkes. They were radical novelists and I felt I had to write a novel like theirs. I probably had a novel in me, but it was much more a conventional novel that a person in their early twenties would write, a coming-of-age story; but I had modernist and postmodernist models. Around the time I was also reading Beckett’s trilogy and thought that’s what novels had to be. An impossible model, really. In my mid-twenties I went back to poetry.

Seshadri’s 3 Sections is his third book. It was preceded by 1996’s Wild Kingdom and The Long Meadow, which was published in 2005. He is currently a professor at Sarah Lawrence College.

High School Student’s Article on Rape Culture Sparks Free Speech Debate

High school senior Tanvi Kumar.
High school senior Tanvi Kumar.

High School Newspaper Article Sets off Free Speech Discussion: A high school senior has found herself at the center of a debate on free speech in schools after publishing a piece on rape culture.

It began when Tanvi Kumar, a senior at Wisconin’s Fond du Lac High School, published a piece titled “The Rape Joke” in a student-run magazine. According to the Fond du Lac paper The Reporter, Kumar’s article “documents a prevailing rape culture within the school and its impact on students who are survivors of sexual abuse.” (All of the students quoted were given aliases.)

In reaction to the piece, Fond du Lac’s principal Jon Wiltzius announced that all future newspaper articles would have to be approved by the administration and could be rejected if they did not meet official standards. “This is a reasonable expectation,” Wiltzius told the Press-Gazette. “My job is to oversee the global impact of everything that occurs within our school and I have to ensure I am representing everyone and there was some questionable content.”

The school’s student journalists promptly launched a petition to stop the censorship of the paper and the school’s English teachers have asked district administrators to drop the censorship policy, releasing a 22-page statement in support of the students’ right to free speech.

For its part, the Fond du Lac community has for the most part been rallying around Kumar and the rest of the student newspaper staff. As one alum wrote in this letter to the editor, “When a courageous student like Ms. Tanvi Kumar publishes an article seeking to expose a culture of sexual abuse and violence among fellow students and friends at Fond du Lac High School (FHS), such a student deserves the highest praise.”

Kumar told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that she was inspired to write the piece after hearing rape jokes while walking through the hallways of her school. “I was appalled by that, and it upset me to the point that I felt like I had to say something or do something about it,” Kumar told the paper.

Interested in reading the piece at the center of the controversy? It can be found on page 13 here. [American Bazaar, India West]

Photographing Life in a South Indian Queer Community: Photographer Candace Feit spent a year documenting the lives of members of Tamil Nadu’s queer “Kothi” community. According to Feit, the community consists of a wide variety of people, including “married fathers who have male lovers, people born male who wear female dress and male-born people who wear traditional women’s clothing only during religious festivals or celebrations.” [Buzzfeed]

The Beauty of Pakistan: Historic sites like Lahore’s Shalimar Gardens and Minar-e-Pakistan and Islamabad’s Faisal Mosque all make The Culture Trip’s list of beautiful places that you should see. [The Culture Trip]

A Portrait of India in Portraits: Mumbai’s Delhi Art Gallery‘s new exhibit “Indian Portraits: The Face of a People” traces the history of 250 years of Indian portraiture. [Wall Street Journal]