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Bhanu Kapil

Residency Sites: Plainfield, VT

I was born in England in 1968, to Indian parents, and grew up in a working-class, South-Asian community in Greater London. I came to the U.S. in 1990 and though some of the intervening years were spent in India and England, I have been living in Colorado since 1998.

My interests as a writer have been forged by this history of migration, of coming to understand a border as a site of both transformation and loss. My own work has often crossed borders of different kinds, both in terms of genre and the subjects I am compelled by. For example, as the basis for my first collection, The Vertical Interrogation of Strangers (Kelsey Street Press, 2001), I interviewed women of Indian origin wherever I met them during my travels in Europe, the U.S., and South America. I asked them one or more of twelve questions, such as “Where did you come from/how did you arrive?” and “Who are you and who do you love?” Their responses, as well as my own evolving answers, formed a root document for a work of poetry/prose.

My fascination with hybrid forms has led to a current project, Humanimal: a project for future children, in which I combine three texts, all centered upon what it means to live between/across worlds: a re-telling of the true story of “the wolf-children of Midnapure,” two girls found living with wolves in 1920s India; a memoir of my father’s transformation from an illiterate goatherd, raised in homelessness and poverty, to becoming the first Asian headmaster in the UK; and a section called “On Healing,” in which I interview a variety of people – psychiatrists, refugee workers, and trauma therapists -- on the effects and healing of violence experienced in childhood.

My journey to India to research the story of the wolf-children is recorded in a documentary forthcoming from the France-based Monalisa Production. In completing Humanimal, I found myself re-writing it through the lens of film, of what it was like to walk through a jungle lit by blue paper. This is what writing has always been for me: the encounter of the text with something it has not imagined yet, something from the outside, something that suggests a different way to imagine the world.

Forthcoming prose works, Incubation: a space for monsters (Leon Works) and Water-Damage: A Map of Three Black Days (Corollary Press), are similarly centered upon the figure of the immigrant: what it means to keep going, and what it means to stay.

As a teacher of writing, I have tried to develop spaces in which writing – its extensions and evolutions – feel completely possible. I support my students both in the space before writing begins and at the places where their work approaches some kind of limit, or break, and needs to transform.

As a resource for developing transformative work in all genres, I offer writing experiments and readings from diverse sources – inspired by everything from post-colonial literature to ideas of memory, architecture, and the figure of the stranger. Most of all, I want to know what the work on the page is gesturing towards, whether that is a variation of form, an intensification of the subject or the fibrillatory shift of an existing way of using language.

My passion as a teacher is to support the writers I work with in creating an incredibly rich, complex and unique vocabulary – a tool kit – for what happens when you reach a border of some kind in your writing, or want to find out what it’s like to cross one.

I am core faculty in the Department of Writing and Poetics at Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado. I live in a cottage with my son and an ageing hound called Miss Libby, who formerly lived in Texas. Every morning, I wake up, drink two cups of Earl Grey tea, and write.

Educational Background:

MA in English Literature with a minor in Creative Writing, SUNY Brockport; BA with honors in English Literature, Loughborough University, UK.