The Homegirl Project chatted with poet Pavana Reddy about her creative heritage, navigating social media, and her latest novel, rangoli.
interview by Sharanya Pogaku
SP: When did you first become passionate about poetry? Tell us a little about your journey. PR: I've been writing short stories since I was a kid, but I didn't really get into poetry until I read the work of Sarojini Naidu. Her work really opened my eyes to the art of words, and I have been hooked ever since. SP: How does your heritage impact your work? I grew up in a Fijian/Indian household - so my dad is from Fiji, while my mom is from South India. Most of my work is influenced by that feeling of being caught in the middle of two different cultures -so writing was my way of bridging that gap and answering my own questions.
SP: What challenges have you faced when putting your poems out there? Using social media to promote art is always tricky; you run the risk of people using your work without credit or attempting to pass poems off as their own. There's no way to avoid this unfortunately. I've learned to approach social media as the last step of writing - and I make it a point not to write for an audience. I started writing as a way to heal myself, if I ever feel like that is being jeopardized, I step back and take a break.
SP: How are you able to be so vulnerable in a world where people are constantly looking for ways to tear others down? This is a tricky question because I have definitely felt the shift in how comfortable I am sharing myself with the public since moving my work to Instagram. I'm not as generous with myself as I used to be, and this is because of the culture of online bullying and harassment. I've learned to deal with it by not engaging with those negative comments, and reminding myself of all the positivity I am given each day by readers. If I didn't have young girls telling me my work saved their lives, I wouldn't be able to continue sharing my work the way I do.
SP: What's your writing process like? How do you come up with poems and how do you edit them? My process is all over the place. I write all the time - sometimes via my notes on my phone or in a little notebook I carry around with me everywhere I go. I never force myself to write, but I do make a habit of sitting down and attempting to every day. Sometimes I write a poem and I'm happy with it right off the bat, but most of the time I can spend up to a year editing one tiny poem until I'm okay with it.
SP: What advice would you give young artists/poets of color? Practice practice practice. Sometimes I look back at my old work and cringe for days, but I always remind myself how far I've come with no other motivation than that little voice in my head whispering, "you can do better than this." Don't be afraid of failure or rejection, it's all part of the process and there is no avoiding it. Most importantly, trust in your voice and the importance in what you have to say. This world is full of people who would just love to rob you of your voice - don't let them.
SP: The key theme of The Homegirl Project is "female empowerment." How does this issue impact your own life? I credit a big amount of my growth as both a writer and person to the women in my life. I grew up in a single-parent household with just my mom, so the power we hold as women has been something I understood from a young age. Since my writing reflects my own life, it is only natural that I write for women first.