Who You Are in the Books You Read

What does it mean to see yourself in a book?

As a gay South Asian woman, this is a very important question to me. As a writer, this question is, in a way, a central focus of my life. Representation is vital; as someone who grew up with limited representation, I want to help facilitate a different future for the children growing up today. As we take each step into an unknown future, we should at least know that we are trying to positively change things for the next generation. 

There have been various books that have touched me, but there are three that truly impacted me in my adult life. Ada Limon’s The Carrying, Danez Smith’s Don’t Call Us Dead, and Kabi Nagato’s My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness all shaped my early college years. When I read each of these books, there was a certain point that I would have to set it down because my tears would be overflowing. It is through the words etched onto off-white pages that I felt seen by someone. These writers didn’t know who I was but had nonetheless found a way to reach out and remind me that I exist– that I’m alive with my own stories to tell the world. 

Cover of The Carrying by Ada Limon

I’ve spent a lot of time wondering what it was that was in those books that jolted my emotions so vividly. Was there something notable about the vocabulary? Was there particularly elegant use of punctuation or cadence? Was the imagery intensely vibrant?

While these books do indeed have something special to them (to be a writer who can weave words is a talent), I found the answer to my wonder elsewhere. These writers wrote unequivocally, unapologetically, as themselves. They wrote from their experiences, their lived emotions, feelings, and truths, without leaving a shadow of insincerity. Their works are raw; they touch on difficult topics and experiences. They recount the beautiful, the dirty, the painful, the joyous, and the hopeful. This hope is something personal; from the ways they were treated in the world, these creators write collections that plants seeds for the future.

I want to write as myself. I want to write for myself. I want to write for others… But I don’t want to write for others’ approval. 

I want to be the kind of writer who can be unapologetically me in my work; I want to record the macabre, the mundane, and the hope that ebbs and flows through my life. It was bits and pieces of Limon’s, Smith’s, and Nagato’s work that stuck with me; none of their life stories align completely with mine, but there were moments that fit in with moments from my own life. We are all made up of a myriad of identities, memories, and experiences. Even if we are not all the same, there are reminders, pockets of glimmering light, that can remind us that we are not alone… That there are others out there that have been through similar things and have felt similar emotions. I hope that from the various puzzle pieces of my own life, my future readers may find some kind of solace. To achieve this though, I’ve learned that I have to be free enough to put myself into what I write. In doing so, writers create stories that capture the realities of existing in this ever-changing world.

By: Ehani Schneiderman

Ehani Schneiderman is a senior studying literature and anthropology at The New School. She hopes to connect with others through writing, poetry, and cultural exchange. When she isn’t nose deep in a book or word document, you can find her paddle boarding in a bay or scuba diving out at sea.

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