Neyat Yohannes on “Even This Page Is White” by Vivek Shraya

even-this-page-is-white.jpgBorn in Edmonton, but based in #the6, Vivek Shraya is a an artist whose works span across the mediums of music, film, and writing. She’s put out ten albums, four short films, and three books.  An accolade queen, Vivek is  a three-time Lambda Literary Award finalist for her books God Loves Hair, She of the Mountains, and What I LOVE about being QUEER. She’s also a 2016 Pride Toronto Grand Marshal,  a 2015 Toronto Arts Foundation Emerging Artist Award finalist, and a 2015 recipient of the Writers’ Trust of Canada’s Dayne Ogilvie Prize Honour of Distinction among many other impressive marks of excellence.

Vivek’s most recent effort is her arresting debut poetry collection, even this page is white. It begs a cover-to-cover reading in one revelatory seating. For the brown reader, these poems trigger vigorous nodding and for everyone else,  this is a meditation on race and identity that demands accountability.

As its title suggests, this book—among other things—is a study on color. With sections bearing  titles like “whitespeak” and “brown dreams,” this isn’t a collection that tiptoes around race. It stomps around in heavy duty doc martens with lines like:

on the dip in his spine
even the colour of my pleasure
is white. body you betray me
the only brown i make

for sewer but for him
for him my brown body
makes white makes nice
if my cum was brown
would he still eat it? (13)

Vivek asks questions brown readers didn’t even realize they so desperately wanted the answers to. She dedicates this collection to “anyone who has lost a friend from saying the word race” and carves a space for everyone who has ever felt like an other.

Because the internet and pop culture are so present in contemporary lifestyle, Vivek embraces this reality and uses references as a tool. In omar, she writes:

yesterday i forced myself
to watch aziz having sex on master of none listen
to him moan not cringe but absorb
a brown body having giving pleasure (95)

This admission speaks to the fact that people of color are only now beginning to have a sliver of a chance to take on three-dimensional roles in mainstream television. To see an Asian-American  actor—Aziz Ansari—in a lead role and to witness him participate in normal human activities like sex has been so foreign for so long to the brown viewer. It’s no wonder that it might be unsettling for a beat before it can be absorbed. After so much erasure, this instance of a brown person publicly giving and receiving pleasure for the world to watch—fictionally or not—is so brand new and Vivek describes the way it feels with such splendid accuracy.

In one of the shortest but most direct poems titled thank you for naming all of your privileges she simply writes, “now what?” This feels like a call to action. A reminder to privileged readers that merely taking in this collection and agreeing with its sentiments will not enact the change they’re rooting for as allies. A message of the utmost significance.

(Arsenal Pulp Press, Poetry, Paperback, Oct. 2016)

Head over to Vivek’s site to learn more about her past, present, and future film, music, and writing projects. Check out her web store where you can snag your very own copy of even this page is white. For her twitter musings, follow Vivek here. You can follow her music-related news here.

Also, keep an eye out for Vivek’s first children’s picture book, The Boy & the Bindi, which will be published in the Fall of 2016 by Arsenal Press. Plus, her book on recording artist MIA–to be published in the Fall of 2017 by ECW Press, as a part of their Pop Classics series.

NEYAT YOHANNES is an Eritrean-American writer who’s from LA, but just moved to the Bay. By day, she doles out ice packs to kids who don’t need it as an elementary school office lady turned unofficial nurse. She spends the rest of her waking hours writing, attempting to be more formidable like Whitley Gilbert, and trying to keep Drake lyrics from constantly spilling out of her mouth. You can read some of her published work here. She tweets as @rhymeswithcat and occasionally blogs here.

Vagabond City Literary Journal

Founded in 2013, we are a literary journal dedicated to publishing outsider literature. We publish art, prose, reviews, and interviews from marginalized creators.