On September 6, the Supreme Court of India scrapped Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, effectively decriminalising homosexuality in a judgement that quoted the gay pride anthem “I am what I am.”
Queer South Asians growing up in the United States have long had to suffer from the narrative about homosexuality being an American idea; that their queerness is a result of living in the West. While the scrapping of Section 377 has no legal impact on the South Asian diaspora in the US, some believe the striking down of this colonial norm helps queer Indians abroad convince their families that being gay is not a Western idea, since this is something that many parents seem to believe.
Nishant Shahani, professor in the Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies program at Washington State University in Pullman and author of Queer Retrosexualities: The Politics of Reparative Return, credits the recent Supreme Court of India judgment for bringing LGBTQIA+ issues into public discourse, facilitating discussions on heterosexuality not being the default setting. “When I left India in 1999 for a master’s in the US, there wasn’t any public discussion on homosexuality,” he says.
“Queer South Asians in the US have to navigate both homophobia and certain structures of racism,” says Shahani, adding that queer Indians in the West are not spared from preconceived notions of India being a land of Bollywood and snake-charmers.
David Alexander Jones started writing the early versions of his book series, “The Memoirs of Elikai,” when he was 8 years old.
“When I was younger, I was obsessed with fantasy, like ‘Sailor Moon,’ ‘Power Rangers,’ ‘Dragon Ball Z,’ and I always wanted to create my own story,” he said. “I wanted to be able to express what those shows meant to me, and so I started forming it.”
Now 26, Jones, a junior at Washington State University, has taken what he said started as essentially fan fiction and created the bones of an eight-book series. “The Memoirs of Elikai” is a young adult fantasy series, following the life of Danny Elikai as he’s faced with the decision between his free will or letting destiny take the reins. The first book in the series, “Children of the Solstice,” was published in June.
Jones said juggling being a student and a writer was difficult, as he knows he must maintain a good grade point average to be a candidate for the master’s program he wishes to enter. Jones is studying English at WSU, and he plans to pursue a master’s in library sciences and technology.
Two Hollywood production companies have optioned WSU English instructor Buddy Levy’s Conquistador: Hernan Cortes, King Montezuma, and the Last Stand of the Aztecs, with plans to turn the epic tale into a TV series.
Overbrook Entertainment, a company whose partners include actor Will Smith, and MOTOR optioned the book after discussions started last fall.
Published by Bantam Books in 2008, Conquistador chronicles the demise of the Aztec Empire as Hernán Cortés imprisons its leader, Montezuma, and captures what was then the most populous city in the world in what Levy called “the costliest single battle in history.” Some 200,000 Aztecs died.
“I knew from the beginning when I wrote it that it had cinematic value,” said Levy. “Not necessarily from my writing, though I hope that’s part of it. It’s just a whopper of a tale.”
The project now faces the usual challenges: financing scripts for a pilot and other episodes, getting the interest of A-list talent for premier roles like Cortés, Montezuma and their interpreter, La Malinche, and finding a time when the principals are free. Levy himself is rushing to finish Labyrinth of Ice, a book about the Lady Franklin Bay Expedition that saw 18 of its original 25-man crew perish in the Canadian Arctic.
Peter Chilson, professor of English at WSU, assisted the Ontario, Oregon, school district as a writer-in-residence during the 2018 Summer Seminar—a four-week-long summer school program molded around providing migrant students with extra writing assistance as they step into the future.
The hope is that the students will use the time this summer to craft a personal story that can be used to apply for scholarship essays and job applications.
Chilson helped migrant students improve their writing, specifically on developing characters and their own voice in the prose they write, “So that they can share their experiences with an audience that is important to them.”
“Their stories are about journeys. They’ve been through some intense experiences,” he said.
WSU professor instructs prison art program to benefit California inmates
Through her work at California’s second oldest prison, Washington State University professor of English Anna Plemons is helping incarcerated men take on leadership and teaching roles to benefit their families on the outside.
As an instructor in a statewide program called Arts in Corrections at New Folsom Prison, Plemons helped develop a 24-part curriculum to teach inmates literary principles they can use to teach their children, grandchildren, spouses or other loved ones how to express themselves.
“Over the course of the last almost 10 years, I started to realize there were a lot of people who were incarcerated who were looking for ways to do positive things,” Plemons said. “I also realized a lot of them were interested in being positive role models or influences in their own families outside the prison.”