Herb (hardyharhar) wrote,
Herb
hardyharhar

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I'm on a roll

I've posted to this thing two days in a row now, so why stop there.  Here it is, my Statement of Intent:

            I once traded my soul for an Ayn Rand novel and soon found myself at the 1992 Republican National Convention—a turban-headed token on the Astrodome jumbotron—cheering for Patrick J. Buchanan.  Cheering, yes, for Pat Buchanan's "Culture War" and his vision of an exclusive America.  My short-lived fervor for the GOP was followed by many years of cynical apathy, until Kurt Vonnegut finally restored my hope and sanity.  I offer this tale as an example to anybody who doubts the power of fiction to sway minds.

            "Activist" is a bad word these days.  We hear disparaging news reports about "activist judges" and "activist shareholders," as if passivity were an infallible virtue.  Well, my name is Herb and I am an activist fiction writer.  I took Harold Pinter's admonishment for artists to accept their social responsibility in his 2005 Nobel Prize acceptance speech to heart.  I want to tell stories that effect people to move, or at the very least, to think and talk about how we relate to each other and our world.  To that end, I am working on my first novel (untitled) as part of my MFA thesis at the University of San Francisco.  This piece attempts to shine a light on American Sikhs and put a human face on the generic "protestors" who are too often dismissed as ill-informed malcontents in the mainstream media. 

            My fragmented post-modern picaro Jazz (Jasbir) has left his career of photographing faux-fruit-laden designer china on Madison Avenue to arrive back, broke, in his hometown of Houston.  The year is 1999.  Bill Clinton is being impeached; Enron's new (tax-payer funded) stadium is the lynchpin in a massive urban renewal project; the big protest at the WTO meeting in Seattle is still in its planning stages; and a shady mafioso named Scorpion from Jazz's old gurudwara (Sikh temple) owns the hottest nightclub in town.  Despite the boom-time economy, Jazz waits on Deepak Chopra-reading day traders at a corporate chain restaurant until Scorpion offers him a job doing guerilla marketing for his nightclub.  Jazz's love interest, a "Mary Sue" character (to borrow a term from fan fiction), concurrently draws Jazz into her carnivalesque band of anarchist pranksters who wreak havoc on the local malls and SUVs.  Jazz's first-person narrative is situated within a montage of other popular, primary texts such as press releases, newspaper articles, community newsletters, a story in the form of a pornographic Penthouse Forum letter, a story in the form of fan fiction, recipes and rap songs.

            I see my novel as a contemporary revision of The Great Gatsby and Brian de Palma's film Scarface for its portrayal of a ruthless (yet charming) businessman who is willing to do whatever it takes to achieve "the American Dream."  Because of my novel's depiction of affluent ennui and decadent nihilism in a minimalist prose and narrative style, I sometimes describe it as an updated Less Than Zero (by Bret Easton Ellis), which is, in my reading, an updated Play it as it Lays (by Joan Didion). 

            In its portrayal of a Sikh community staking its claim on Generican-ness, it draws on a long tradition of hyphen-American writers including James Baldwin, Ralph Ellison, John Okada, Philip Roth, Rudolfo Anaya, Amy Tan, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, Bharati Mukherjee, Jessica Hagedorn, Leslie Marmon Silko and Sherman Alexie.  For its meta-fictional pastiche-style and pop-culture appropriations I owe a debt to Donald Barthelme, Colson Whitehead, and Italo Calvino.  And the moments when characters "break the fourth wall" to address the reader directly or acknowledge their existence as characters in a work of fiction are a tip of my hat to the plays of Luigi Pirandello and Thornton Wilder.

            I am currently excited to read the work of Ishmael Reed and Toni Cade Bambara because  I expect to find much affinity with these writers for their political engagement and, in Reed's case, his playfulness and knack for absurdity.  I like J.M. Coetzee for his formal experiments and his weaving ethical arguments into the body of his novels through "Socratic Dialogues."  Paul Beatty's The White Boy Shuffle and Han Ong's Fixer Chao are two recent satires I strive to emulate, both for their scathing wit and heart-wrenching gravitas.

            Finally, naturally, my work falls within the rich purview of English-language South Asian literature, and within that tradition I feel most closely aligned with Hanif Kureishi.  Like Kureishi, I explore regional (Punjabis vs. Gujratis vs. Pakistanis) and class (recent immigrants vs. more established immigrants vs. their American-born brats) distinctions within what is often presented as a monolithic "model minority," and my characters explore (some depraved and deviant) American subcultural identities.

            My story "Applied Algebra" (after Donald Barthelme) appears in the USF online literary magazine Switchback, and on the basis of that I was chosen to represent my program at the 2007 LitQuake Festival in San Francisco.  The Babylon Salon has invited me to be a featured reader at their next quarterly reading.  Last fall, in the spirit of "do-it-yourself," my classmate and I inaugurated a new literary 'zine in our program, which we call Segment.

            This spring (2008) I will TA an undergraduate course in Post-Colonial Literature with Professor Tracy Seeley.  I would like to use this experience as a springboard into a teaching career.

            I will complete a first-draft of my novel by the time I wrap up my MFA program in August 2008.  Following that, I would like to compose at least one subsequent draft while living in Houston--I need to inhabit the same space as my characters while actively working on this project.  At the same time, I do fear getting mired in the cultural bog that is Houston, so I see your program (and its affiliates Nuestra Palabra and inprint) as a swath of higher, drier ground on what can feel like a suffocating landscape.  I look forward to talking -isms with Tony Hoagland and swapping recipes with Ms. Divakaruni.  I hope you agree that the Creative Writing Program and I both have much to gain from one another.

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