I Exist. Therefore I Am won the State Literary Award 2019 in the short story category.
I Exist. Therefore I Am won the State Literary Award 2019 in the short story category.
Here’s what they said about the book.
I Exist. Therefore I Am Shirani Rajapakse
Nine short stories set in India, all well-written stories focusing on discrimination against women in India. Drink Your Milk and go to Sleep is a harrowing tale of gender discrimination and infanticide. The speaker is forced to abort a series of female babies as their sex is detected in the womb, but one survives to full term, only to be murdered by the mother. The second, Shweta’s Journey, is about a woman who is duped by Swamiji, a bogus religious guru who appropriates her wealth and proceeds to govern her life. The third, A Room Full of Horrors, focuses on two female students’ attempts to pay their tuition fees in an institution that feels hopelessly, and some may say maliciously bureaucratic, presided over by the gratuitously unhelpful patriarch, Mr Singh. Other stories address women on death row, women experiencing existential crises, and women caught in the snare of convention and patriarchal expectation. At her best the author’s style is direct and the stories have real force; they seem driven by a powerful sense of frustration and outrage. Poignant and moving, the book deals with issues that require more of a profile.
What better way to celebrate the 200th birthday of Walt Whitman than have an anthology of poems from poets that came after him. Over 200 poets are featured in Poets to Come. My poem “On a Saturday Morning” is on page 346. This is one anthology that is definitely something you must have.
My interview is up on Mandy’s blog. check it out here, or read below.
What inspired your latest book?
My latest book is a collection of short stories inspired by the time I spent in India. It’s about women and the issues faced by women living in contemporary India.
How did you come up with the title?
The title of the book, I Exist. Therefore I Am is also the title of one of the short stories in the collection. Each of my other previous books also uses one of the stories/poems as the title. I’ve done this as I wanted to have a title that exemplified what was in the whole collection.
Is there a message in your book that you want readers to grasp?
The message is that women need to be treated as equals and with dignity and the respect that is their due.
How much of the book is realistic?
Although fictionalized the stories are about real people and real lives. I’ve used examples of incidents that I came across to create my stories. The characters aren’t real but the issues these women face and the treatment they receive at the hands of society and of other women are very real.
Are your characters based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
They are based on people I read or heard about from others or from newspapers. I’ve come across women who have either gone through similar experiences that my characters undergo or have known women who have.
Where can readers find you on social media and do you have a blog?
My Book links are,
Do you have plans or ideas for your next book? Is it a sequel or a stand alone?
Yes. I’m planning on publishing a poetry collection this year. It is about the effects of conflict on people and how they live through it. As a people, we in Sri Lanka have gone through 30 years of bloody conflict that left no real winners. People from all sides lost. The poems look at what happened and speak in many voices. They discuss a variety of issues and viewpoints. I wrote it because I wanted to create a collection of voices for those in the future to understand, as well as anyone else to realize the futility of war. It’s like a documentation of what happened in verse form.
Of the characters you have created or envisioned, which is your favorite & why?
I don’t have particular favorites because I think all the characters are special and they serve a purpose in helping me tell my story.
Do you favor one type of genre or do you dabble in more than one?
I write both poetry and short stories. My poetry is free verse and the short stories are mostly literary fiction. I’ve also written a few stories that are fantasy or magic realism as well as a couple of children’s stories. Apart from the children’s stories the others are published in literary journals and anthologies but I don’t have enough to have a complete collection. I think it would be nice to have a complete collection of fantasy stories and also of children’s stories, but for this I need to write.
Do you plan your stories, or are you a seat of the pants style writer?
I’m mostly a seat of the pants writer, but I do plan a little. When I get an idea to write something I make a rough draft in my head. I let the sequence of the story or poem play in my mind like a movie and when I feel it is possible to sustain the story I start writing it down. But I don’t plan how the story evolves. That happens while writing.
What is your best marketing tip?
Marketing is the hardest aspect of writing and publishing. Moreover poetry and short stories are not easy to sell as there is a limited market compared to some of the popular genres. I prefer to get exposure for the book through reviews, interviews and word of mouth.
Do you find social media a great tool or a hindrance?
I think it’s a huge benefit because it connects us to writers and readers around the world not merely to promote our writing but also to discuss writing get help and advice and find like- minded people. I decided to self-publish because I found many writers doing this and I felt encouraged. I also learnt everything about self-publishing through other writers who were on the same journey as I am and it’s amazing how many people I’ve come to know through social media.
What do you enjoy most about writing?
I don’t know if there’s any particular aspect about writing that I like more than others. I just like to write. It’s like being able to direct my thoughts onto a blank canvas and create something beautiful out of the jumble of ideas and words that are there. Writing poetry or fiction is hugely liberating as I can express what I want or write about something that may not be possible to do as a fact. It’s like painting, but with words.
What age did you start writing stories/poems?
I wrote my first poems and short stories when I was in university as an undergraduate student. These were experimental works and I never planned on publishing them. There was a short period after my post grad study in India where I was doing nothing and I wrote some stories and poem that were better than the ones I wrote earlier. But it was really much later that I started to write seriously and this is where the bulk of my work is from.
Has your genre changed or stayed the same?
It has stayed the same for the most part, but I’ve dabbled in other genre, like fantasy. I’ve also written a couple of short stories for children but these aren’t published.
What genre are you currently reading?
Right now I’m reading contemporary romance. Sometimes reading outside the genre I write can be more relaxing.
Do you read for pleasure or research or both?
Both. Right now I’m reading for pleasure.
Who is your best supporter/mentor/encourager?
My lecturer from undergrad study Dr. Lakshmi de Silva was someone who encouraged me to write even when I didn’t know I wanted to write. Through the years she has been a huge supporter of my writing and I tend to discuss my work with her. She is also the only person who first sees my writing before I send it to anyone else.
Where is your favorite writing space?
In front of my computer. It’s a mess with papers and books all over the table but that’s where I write.
Do you belong to a writing group? If so which one?
I belong to several writing groups on Facebook where we help each other with advice about writing and publishing.
If you could meet one favorite author, who would it be and why?
Alice Munro and Carolyn Forche. I like the way they write and it would be nice to just talk to them about writing.
If you could live anywhere in the world – where would it be?
Right here where I am as this is the place I’m most comfortable. But if I could travel to anywhere in the world then the list would be endless. I think travel opens up your mind and give you opportunities to learn and experience diversity in all forms and this is good not just for writing but in general too. I’d like to visit several places, like Russia, China and some parts of the US like Colorado or Alaska and spend some time there, maybe a few weeks just taking in everything. But I wouldn’t want to move anywhere.
Do you see writing as a career?
Yes. It already is.
Shirani Rajapakse is an internationally published, award winning poet and short story writer. She won the Cha “Betrayal” Poetry Contest 2013 and was a finalist in the Anna Davidson Rosenberg Poetry Awards 2013. Her collection of short stories Breaking News (Vijitha Yapa 2011) was shortlisted for the Gratiaen Award. Her critically acclaimed poetry collection Chant of a Million Women (2017) won the 2018 Kindle Book Awards. It was chosen as an “Official Selection” in the 2018 New Apple Summer eBook Awards for Excellence in Independent Publishing and received an Honorable Mention in the 2018 Readers’ Favorite Awards. Her second collection of short stories, I Exist. Therefore I Am (2018) is about women in modern India. Rajapakse’s work appears in many literary journals and anthologies worldwide. Rajapakse read for a BA in English Literature from the University of Kelaniya, Sri Lanka and has a MA in International Relations from JNU, India.
Reviewed by Maria Beltran for Readers’ Favorite
I Exist. Therefore I Am by award-winning poet and author Shirani Rajapakse is a heartrending collection of women’s stories from the different classes and parts of India. Drink Your Milk and Go to Sleep, the opening story, is not only gut-wrenching, but it is also a horrible eye-opener to the way a lot of women in India are being forced to live their lives. And just when one might think this is the worst story of all, one after the other the terrible tales demand to be read. There’s one woman burned by a spiteful mother-in-law, an old woman abandoned by her family, and a smart young woman treated as a slave by her husband. This is a book of fiction that feels as real as the latest news coming out of India regularly.
Shirani Rajapakse’s I Exist. Therefore I Am is an unforgettable journey into the world of Indian women and the wretched situations they face for simply being born women. Lyrically beautiful and brutally disturbing, each of these women’s stories will leave a strange aftertaste in all readers, men and women alike. I Exist. Therefore I Am is a powerful social commentary on a patriarchal society that has persisted until the 21st century, and exposes the religious and cultural differences existing in our midst. As Shirani Rajapakse’s words continue to tell her stories with vivid imagery and troubling metaphors, one cannot help but be affected by it all. And when we finish reading and go on with our own lives, I will not be surprised if that strange aftertaste lingers longer than any of us ever expected.
Two of my poems are included in this anthology that celebrates the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Anne Frank. Congrats to all the other writers featured here and thanks to the editors for putting together this amazing collection.
February 4, 2019