The speculative fiction writer and the first Hugo Award nominee from India, Monidipa “Mimi” Mondal cannot help fielding questions about how it feels to be the only Indian on the Hugo Award 2018 longlist. “The Hugo Award is considered the most prestigious award in science fiction and fantasy, which means almost all of my idols have received or been nominated in the past years. It obviously feels overwhelming and surreal to suddenly see my name on that list.”
Her first book, Luminescent Threads: Connections to Octavia Butler, edited along with Alexandra Pierce, is currently a finalist for the Hugo Awards 2018, and longlisted for the Locus Awards 2018. They were nominated under the ‘Best Related Work’ category, an award given to the best work related to field of science fiction, fantasy and fandom.
Born and brought up in Kolkata, the Dalit writer and editor, who wasn’t really brought up within the Dalit community, says, “Luminescent Threads, which is co-edited with Alexandra Pierce and features works by over 40 writers, is hardly my work alone. It is a labour of love, a tribute to the author Octavia E. Butler, whose 70th birth anniversary the book celebrates. All of our lives had been touched by Butler in some way or the other. I never met Butler in person, but in 2015 I received the Octavia E. Butler Memorial scholarship to study at the science-fiction-and-fantasy workshop Clarion West, which takes place in Seattle every summer. This workshop is a very well-regarded stepping stone into international science fiction and fantasy, and the way I found myself to the place where I am today.”
Luminescent Threads: Connections to Octavia E. Butler was edited by Australian editor Alexandra Pierce and Mimi and published by the Twelfth Planet Press in 2017. “The book is not readily available in India, but we are trying to find an Indian publisher who may be interested in reprinting it,” says Mimi, who also holds an MFA in Creative Writing (Fiction) from Rutgers University.
Luminescent Threads is an anthology of memoir articles written like the authors are addressing personal letters to Butler, who passed away in 2006. Says the editor, “Nearly all the authors are women or non-white people, and they range from well-known authors to people who had never published before. They tell Butler how important her life and work have been to theirs, and the many ways each of them has negotiated being minorities in this genre,” says Mimi, who wrote her thesis and graduation project on the publication of science fiction magazines, which was probably her first step towards the United States.
Science fiction and fantasy is a genre that imagines the future. “We received our final submissions about a couple of months after the US presidential elections in 2016, and many of the letters are extremely political. The novels Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents, which Butler wrote in the 1990s, had built a political dystopia that looks very much like today’s America under Donald Trump. Butler’s science fiction and fantasy is very much entrenched in the experience of being Black, with a kind of depth and understanding that is often lacking in the works of white authors from her time. We had started compiling Luminescent Threads to commemorate Butler’s 70th birth anniversary, which was in 2017, but in the current political climate the book has turned out to be so much more,” says Mondal, who started writing science fiction and fantasy only when she came to the US in 2015 to attend the Clarion West Writers Workshop.
Besides Octavia Butler, her writing mostly draws from the works of several fantasy and magic realism authors. “In fantasy, I most readily learn from the works of contemporary authors like Nalo Hopkinson, N.K. Jemisin, Nnedi Okorafor, Neil Gaiman, China Mieville, Indrapramit Das, Usman Tanveer Malik, Kuzhali Manickavel, Shweta Narayan, Zen Cho, Seth Dickinson and Carmen Maria Machado,”
Mimi, who is trained as an editor, worked at Penguin Random House India between 2012 and 2013, grew up reading Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Salman Rushdie, Angela Carter, Umberto Eco and José Saramago, and Bengali authors like Satyajit Ray, Dakshinaranjan Mitra Majumdar, Narayan Gangopadhyay, Sunil Gangopadhyay and Nabarun Bhattacharya. “Finally, the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett has sustained me for years of my life, and probably made me interested in writing fantasy for the first time,” says the writer-editor, who studied English at Jadavpur University and went on to get advanced degrees in Scotland and the US, and currently lives in New York.
If not a writer, Mimi hopes to be a scholar. “I spent over eleven years of my life at universities, so I would probably have been a scholar. Hopefully someone who got paid to do research alone, because I don’t really enjoy teaching basic undergraduate classes. Or maybe a travel journalist, who got paid to write about beautiful, distant places. The fun part about being a fiction writer is that I get to do all of these things — research subjects that interest me; write about beautiful, distant places — without having to do the boring parts of the job. I don’t make a lot of money but I’m okay with that. Although it would’ve been nice to be able to afford an apartment which gets actual sunlight, so that I could grow flowers.”
For several years now, she has been writing some fantasy stories that are based in a early-20th-century India, surrounding a magical circus troupe called the Majestic Oriental Circus. Two of those stories, titled ‘Other People’ and ‘This Sullied Earth, Our Home,’ have been published by Juggernaut Books.
“I plan to publish a few more of those stories, whenever I finish them. I have two short stories coming up this year in the international science fiction and fantasy magazines Fireside and Strange Horizons, and a novelette in 2019 with Tor.com. There is also a fun collaborative fantasy story that takes place in Oxford, Rajasthan and Kolkata, coming up in an untitled anthology from Rebellion Publishing, UK. I did also start writing a novel but it is progressing so slow that there’s no news to give yet. One day, one day,” she concludes.