Vivek Shraya, the author behind God Loves Hair, recently visited the KQED studios to record an episode of The Writers’ Block, which will be released next week (listen to Vivek’s reading here). Until then, get to know him a little better with this Q+A, in which he talks about his favorite Madonna record and what it felt like returning to India for the first time in over a decade.
What’s the first book that made you fall in love with language?
Vivek Shraya: Written On The Body by Jeannette Winterson. I didn’t know that words could be used like that, could sound like that.
You’re on stage at a karaoke bar. What are you singing?
VS: “None of Your Business” by Salt N Pepa. I know the lyrics by heart!
In God Loves Hair, you explore what it’s like to be both queer and a person of color, a minority within a minority. Do you find it difficult to feel as though you fully belong within either minority because of this duality? Do you find that you are accepted for who you are moreso in the queer community or amongst South Asians?
VS: I have definitely felt isolated in South Asian and gay spaces and this is partially because of the duality you refer to. Gay bars in the city I grew up in felt like spaces for white boys and I was always perceived by my peers as a bit of a freak in the South Asian communities my parents belonged to. But being the son of immigrants also plays a role in this feeling of not fully belonging. For example, the way I still don’t feel brown enough in South Asian spaces because I don’t listen to Bollywood music or don’t fluently speak any Indian languages.
One of the things that is explored in God Loves Hair is the way I surprisingly found acceptance in the religious organization I used to frequent. I would say this was because this space was gendered differently, where a boy who loves to sing and dance isn’t perceived as gay/feminine, and because the other followers present were from a variety of backgrounds, across and outside the South Asian diaspora.
I read that you love Madonna so, if you could only pick one Madonna album to listen to for life, which would it be and why?
VS: BEDTIME STORIES. Hands down. In her discography, it’s kind of the underdog, the record that gets lost between the S.E.X. book controversy and her Kabbalah reinvention. It’s an emotional record with these incredibly beautiful, insightful, vulnerable moments but it’s also really sexy.
Who’s your number one queer icon?
VS: Michael Stipe (lead singer of R.E.M.). I distinctly remember being a teenager, devouring a Rolling Stone interview where he talked about the fluidity of his sexuality. That article changed my life. Plus, he is gorgeous.
You recently returned to India after more than a decade to tour with Tegan and Sara. What was that like?
VS: I have never had the urban India experience before so it was exciting to explore the major cities, see the big tourist attractions. Having the opportunity to take my music and book there, via shows and readings, made the trip that much more special and significant in my life.
What was your first concert?
VS: August 1996. Fellow Canadian Alanis Morissette. I slept through the opening act.
What are you listening to these days?
VS: Today I am obsessed with Patrick Wolf’s new single, “The City.” The new Kanye West record, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, is still blowing my mind. It makes me want to stop making music and keep making music at the same time.
If you had to live in one city for the rest of your life, which would it be and why?
VS: A couple years ago, I would have said Paris. It’s such a romantic city. But this is a question I have been asking myself a lot lately. Toronto and I have a very functional relationship. I dream of living in a city I love the way Carrie Bradshaw loves New York.
Look for Vivek Shraya’s episode of The Writers’ Block next Wednesday, February 9, 2011 at kqed.org/writersblock. And be sure not to miss each episode as it becomes available by subscribing to The Writers’ Block podcast!