From late March until last week, the Harvard Creative Writing Collective hosted a series of poetry readings led by South Asian authors.
The South Asian Poetry Series invited poets of South Asian descent to visit campus, hold readings of their work, and participate in dinners with students and faculty.
Isabel T. Mehta ’24, the series’ lead organizer, said she was first inspired to organize the readings when she heard her teacher Vidyan Ravinthiran, who teaches English, read the one of his poems for the CWC.
“I was blown away because I was in the presence of a South Asian person reading poetry that she had written professionally,” Mehta said. “Being exposed to a South Asian person with a similar background to mine who did this for their career was just mind blowing.”
Ravinthiran helped Mehta organize the events but paid tribute to Mehta for bringing the poets to Cambridge.
“When we get a reading, I’m sure I’ll really enjoy it,” Ravinthiran said. “But it’s absolutely his achievement, and I think that should be clear.”
To organize the first event in the series, Ravinthiran put Mehta in touch with poet Srikanth Reddy ’95, who agreed to read his work to the group. Mehta said many poets were eager to participate in the series when invited.
“Here’s the other thing, poets don’t get a lot of attention – even the very, very good ones – and so they respond to emails very quickly and they respond to everything,” Mehta said.
Mehta also expressed disillusionment with the accessibility of creative writing spaces in general within the College.
“That’s a really big thing: Being a creative writer at Harvard can be a very daunting thing because most of the spaces that allow you to create, to do creative writing, are very exclusive,” Mehta said.
In response to his observations of exclusion, Mehta joined the CWC and organized these events to create a more inclusive space and increase the visibility of South Asians in areas like English.
“Why don’t we try to get more of these people out? Mehta said. “Not just from Harvard, but try to get them from other areas.”
Creative Writing Collective board member Aarya A. Kaushik ’24 said the poetry series includes optional dinners with the poets before each poetry reading.
“It was just a wonderful experience to see these poets in a more casual environment before going to poetry reading and getting to know them a little better,” Kaushik said.
Kaushik said the poetry series was successful thanks to the support of members of the Creative Writing Collective and students on the Harvard campus.
“We were really happy and a bit surprised, but pleasantly surprised to see that the turnout is definitely not just the Creative Writing Collective,” Kaushik said. “We saw a lot of campus people and even more than that, not just South Asian students or Diaspora students on campus, but students from all walks of life coming to these poetry readings.”
The collective may continue the poetry series given the success of this semester’s iteration, according to Kaushik.
“We would always love to hear them re-read some of their work,” Kaushik added. “Two hours seems like a long time, but honestly, it’s slipped away with these poets, so we’d like to have more events with them, and maybe continue the South Asian poetry lecture series.”