Author describes the challenges of being an Indian writer

David Rafael Gonzalez
Editor-in-Chief

Mira Jacob, novelist and author of “Good Talk: A Memoir in Conversations,” spoke about generational divides and race on Wednesday at the One Book, One University lecture over Zoom.

“Good Talk: A Memoir in Conversations”, which was chosen for this year’s One Book, One University program, is a graphic memoir in which Jacob explores the topics of race and identity with her six-year-old son.

Jacob started the talk with a reading of a chapter in which she talked about her parent’s reaction to her desire to be a writer and her father who was diagnosed with cancer. In the chapter, Jacob fantasizes about a stoner family who have epiphanies about life while high on marijuana and how her family was the opposite of this lifestyle.

She said her parents, who emigrated to the United States from India, had a certain idea of acting while in the U.S.

“So one of the things that they came in with was this idea of: you have to be very, very good to deserve your spot in this country, and you have to keep your head down, and you have to work very very hard, and you must follow all the rules,” Jacob said. “They were also very funny and very lively and very adventurous, but there were things that they’d never do, like drugs.”

After her father was diagnosed with cancer, Jacob said that she tried to convince him to use marijuana. Her father ultimately agreed as a way to see her mother happy.

In the book, Jacob recalled a moment before her father died when her father said that he would not be alive to get to know his grandchildren.

“But we did have our epiphany because he was seeing into a future that he wasn’t going to be a part of, and he was gifting it to me in the same moment that he saw it,” Jacob said.

Shannon Mathews, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, moderated the talk and had a conversation with Jacob about the highlights of Jacob’s writing. Mathews said that Jacob grew an identity while in college, which stood out to her in Jacob’s book.

“For some of our first-generation students, there is a dichotomy that they live with: the conservative, put your head down approach of their parents or grandparents versus their view, and cultural critique that is illustrated in the book,” Mathews said.

Mathews asked Jacob how to balance this divide of generations.

“When you’re coming into your own, which I believe happens your entire life, it’s clumsy to own certain truths, and there’s a way you hit up against your parent’s expectations, wishes, and fears for you,” Jacob said. “It’s tremendously uncomfortable.”

Jacob said that being a writer was something her parents never wanted for her. After finding success for her first book, she jokingly told her mom that she had decided to go to medical school and become a doctor. Jacob’s mother responded with relief.

“She’s always going to be a little happier if I would’ve been a doctor because for her, it would have meant safety,” Jacob said. “For me, becoming a writer meant that there would be years where my parents and my mother would be scared for my financial stability and very worried for what that says about my fortitude and my seriousness in the world.”

Jacob said that because she was who she wanted to be now, she can have better conversations with her mother, leading to a different kind of closeness with her mother.

“I’m not her fantasy child, but there is something really rich and interesting and dynamic in the way that we are constantly getting to know each other,” Jacob said.

Mathews asked Jacob how failure played a part in writing her memoir.

Jacob said that she had started the book not wanting to do all the emotional labor required to talk about race, so she initially decided not to include how she feels.

She was told by her editor that she was intellectualizing something instead of coming to it with her heart, but she went back and rewrote parts of her book.

“It was really humbling to write those sections and to get back to the task of making myself accessible in that way,” Jacob said. “But I did it because I love the idea of being able to connect with people.”

After the conversation, the floor opened up for audience questions. Jacob was asked what her greatest obstacles were in writing the book, during the audience portion of the talk.

“When I was first trying to publish, I would write things, and publishers and editors would say when I would turn in things, ‘It’s kind of too Indian? And then the same piece from another editor would say, “It’s not really Indian enough,” Jacob said.

She said that all the people who told her she was too Indian or not Indian enough were all white. She eventually came to terms with the fact that she was not the white person’s fantasy Indian.

“Some people said ‘don’t ghettoize yourself with your ethnic writing,’ as though the experience of being in my body was inherently less valuable, as though somehow writing about my own experience had cheapened me,” Jacob said. “Getting over this was the hardest part.”

Mathews thanked Jacob for using her voice to bring up topics of race in the book and during the talk.

“As in your community of color, I applaud the fact that you’re pushing us to have conversations, and more and more of those good talks will help us expand our views and help us grow as a community,” Mathews said.

David Rafael Gonzalez can be reached at david.gonzalez9@laverne.edu.

David Rafael Gonzalez is a senior journalism major and LV Life editor of the Campus Times. He has been a three-time editor-in-chief and has also served as editorial director, LV Life editor and a staff writer.

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