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“Everyone’s talking about leaving America after Trump’s victory. But I want to go back to America to fight for my American-ness,” Pulitzer Prize winning poet Vijay Seshadri said during the Panel discussion titled “Americana”.
Held on the first day of Dhaka Lit Fest 2016 the panel was moderated by prominent Bangladeshi English language poet and academic Kaiser Haq.
The panel included American author and translator Jeffery Yang.
Discussing the American identity, both Yang and Seshadri agreed that it is multifaceted and was never limited or defined along ethnic lines.
“Look, the fact that I have been in America since the time of Eisenhower, that’s not what makes me American. It’s something deeper than that,” Seshadri said alluding to the “birther” phenomenon in American.
“Birther” challenged the legitimacy of Obama’s presidency because of his birth out of continental United States. Although the birthers assert, falsely, that President Barack Obama was born in Kenya.
The speakers think that Trump’s presidency marks a great change in America. But they also hope to remain optimistic. “America is still young and therefore flexible as a country to absorb these immense changes, in the way European countries can’t. They are just too old,” Vijay Seshadri said.
Yang and Seshadri agree that Trump tapped into the anger and indignation of the disenfranchised middle class. But Yang added that there are immensely poor pockets that are totally forgotten by the establishment. “I think the poor pockets in the US are absolutely forgotten. There are places like Pine Ridge where people do not have electricity. I think the election result is the reflection of that reality,” Yang said.
When asked how that reflects in their writing Yang said “everything becomes a part of the fabric of poetry, whether you are writing or editing, it all seeps into our writing.”
Seshadri recounted a story relating to the question. He was once asked by an indignant audience member why India is not present in his writing. He replied saying “India in my writing is like God in Pascal’s universe. It is everywhere present but nowhere apparent.”
Seshadri thinks that the US does not have a communal violence problem like India, despite the apparent racial tension. He thinks that there is a sense of general American-ness that permeates throughout the American society.
When asked what the role of an author or poet is going to be in a post Trump world, Seshadri said that the writers will have to find their role.
Yang said “It’s hard to know exactly. I work as an editor in two publishing houses. You try to do as much as you can that’s concrete and try to do things locally. We feel challenged financially. But I think what I do is part of what role I should play.”