We had the good fortune of connecting with Gayatri Sethi and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Gayatri, what inspires you?
I’m deeply inspired by truth tellers who are radically open or honest about their humanity. This is why I’m drawn to a life of writing creative non-fiction and studying poetry by diasporic South Asians. I find deep wells of inspiration while reading Black feminists and global abolitionists: bell hooks, Angela Davis, Alice Walker, Toni Cade Bambara, Assata Shakur, Arundhati Roy, Mariame Kaba (to name a few). I return to their words often during these complicated times of relentless injustices. I seek out prescriptions for living in their works even as I read abolitionist scholars and activists more. In my book, Unbelonging, I write extensively about who, what and where I seek inspiration. I especially look to younger folks in my communities who are living lives of unapologetic collective liberation for hopeful inspiration. They keep my hopes alive.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I am an educator, writer, and community organizer. I teach and write about Social Justice, Global Studies, and Comparative Education. I taught for many years as an alternative academic at Atlanta area colleges, Agnes Scott and Spelman. Born in Tanzania and raised in Botswana, I am of Punjabi descent, multilingual, and polycultural. I’ve lived in the Atlanta area longer than anywhere else and my family by marriage is from Atlanta.
I reflect on these lifelong experiences of identity, immigration, and belonging in my debut non-fiction book titled Unbelonging.
I created this book after leaving academia and deciding to pursue a life as an independent educator and consultant. The book addresses many of the topics I spent most of my professional life studying and teaching about: diaspora, immigration, decolonization, and globalism.
As a reading advocate and supporter of marginalized writers, I am also the co-founder of the Desi KidLit community, an initiative to build solidarity among South Asian diaspora writers for young people. When I am not reading a hefty stack of new releases or recommending reads on Instagram as @desibookaunty, I visit college campuses (virtually) to offer readings and presentations about my book. I dream of resuming international travels and community gatherings safely once again.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
I adore this question! I’m a long-time Decatur area resident now, so I have a few beloved spots to share! I’d begin the day with vegan treat and delicious chai at Dulce Vegan in Kirkwood. The folks there have been so incredibly kind and generous to my family over the years. We would then make our way to Brave and Kind bookshop, a Black owned independent store, to browse reads and indulge my book collecting habit. This bookstore is such a welcoming and inviting space owned by a dear friend, Bunnie Hilliard. We would then proceed for a leisurely lunch at Chai Pani, Decatur. They’ve been serving up some of my most craved foods since I visited them on their opening day. It’s our go-to spot for gatherings with friends. We would conclude the day with a visit to the APEX museum in Sweet Auburn. The founder, Mr. Moore, has been an incredibly supportive guide and mentor to me. I tend to bring guests here so that they learn the often overlooked civil rights history of Atlanta in a well curated space. If we have energy, the day would conclude with a leisurely stroll through the Atlanta Botanical Gardens. We’ve been members there since our children were born. We visit frequently with friends to enjoy the peaceful beauty there. I’m so incredibly glad that all these beloved businesses and organizations have survived and overcome the stresses of these last few years.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
As a debut author, I’ve relied on the generous support of writing community members and readers. Many folks have generously reached out to assign Unbelonging on their syllabi, invited me to their campuses to speak about its themes, and even donated copies to educators. The generosity of our reading and writing community has carried me through the unexpected travails of releasing a book with a small press during an extended pandemic. I am thankful to all the folks who’ve shared and amplified my work, especially by offering book reviews on online platforms. There are too many names to name. I am especially thankful to independent bookstores like my local Atlanta area spot, Brave and Kind bookshop, for supporting debut local authors like me.
Mango and Marigold Press Additional images available here: https://gayatrisethi.com/media-kit/