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Meet Ami Patel, 2024 Oregon Literary Fellow

We’re thrilled to introduce the 2024 Oregon Literary Fellowship recipients with individual features on our blog! Out-of-state judges spent several months evaluating the 500+ applications we received, and selected eight writers and two publishers to receive grants of $3,500 each. Literary Arts also awarded two Oregon Literary Career Fellowships of $10,000 each. The 2024 Fellowship recipients were recognized at the 2024 Oregon Book Awards ceremony on April 8. 

Ami Patel (she/her) is a 2024 Oregon Literary Fellow in Poetry and the recipient of the Writer of Color Fellowship. She is a queer, diasporic South Asian poet and young adult fiction writer. She is a Pushcart Prize nominee, a Tin House YA Fiction alum, and an IPRC 2023-2024 re/source resident. Ami’s poetry is published in Beloit Poetry JournalMossTinderbox Poetry JournalThey Rise Like a Wave: An Anthology of Asian American Women Poets, and others.

Q & A WITH LITERARY ARTS

What is the most exciting thing about receiving an Oregon Literary Fellowship?

It’s incredibly exciting to receive validation from my local literary community. In the last few years, I’ve lived a lot of life, full of grief, trauma, and transformation. My writing has been inconsistent and unfamiliar. I often wondered if I’d write again, or even enjoy writing again. But somehow I found myself writing a few poems along the way. Like many Fellows, I’ve applied for many years. This was my first year applying to the Fellowship with these new, confessional, vulnerable poems. It felt scary to put myself out there like that. So it’s a huge affirmation to keep writing and expanding my voice into those tender and terrifying little corners. 

How would you describe your creative process?

My writing practice has changed now that I have a toddler. Before, I loved sitting by one of our big windows, daydreaming, sipping a warm beverage, reading poems and articles, and self-crafting prompts to write to. Now, I sneak in words on my Notes app between playtime, mealtime, cuddles, and clean-up, listen to poetry podcasts on neighborhood walks with my kiddo, and write in the evenings when I’m not too fried. I often start with journaling, which sometimes leads to a line or two I hold onto, with the hopes it’ll later become a poem. 

What keeps you motivated and inspired as a writer?

My writing is influenced by other QTBIPOC poets, especially ones who explore lineage, queerness, community, and healing, such as Nikki Giovanni, Donika Kelly, Paul Tran, Natalie Diaz, George Abraham, Saeed Jones, Ocean Vuong, and Noʻu Revilla. The misalignment I feel as a queer person finds a home in the work of these writers. Many of them model the messiness of exploring their identities, experiences, and politics on the page through form, multilingualism, and subjectivity. They contend with their bodies, desires, and feelings in the oppressive and violent conditions of white supremacy and colonization. They also offer a hopefulness that inspires my writing, that queerness can find a home within and beyond the words provided to us, that the liminal can be freeing.

I’m also motivated by my family, particularly my two kids, one who is here and one who is not. I thought it was corny when parents said their kids taught them so much. But my kids really do! I have a newfound respect for writers who are parents and/or caregivers. It’s two of the most challenging yet sublimely human things to do: care for someone and create. And it’s compelling when those two things interplay with each other. I’m so curious to see how the vulnerability of parenting will continue to shape me as a writer.

What are you working on right now?

I’m working on my first collection of poems, which explores the often tumultuous, grief-laden, and joyous journey of my queer identity and queer family. There will be plenty of nature imagery! I’m also working on a YA Fiction novel about two queer South Asian teens who intern at an aquarium. It’s a bubblegum romance with lots of nerdy marine facts. QTBIPOC folks deserve to have awkward fake dating tropes without all the other micro (and macro) traumas of our world. It’s fiction, so I get to write into possibility!

Do you have any advice for future applicants? 

Like many previous and current applicants, I applied many times. I’m grateful for whatever precious alchemy that occurred this year for me to receive a Fellowship. I would definitely echo the advice to keep applying. Also, develop a muscle for rejection, in general. This is not an easy feat, and I’m not effortlessly comfortable with rejection, but somehow, I’ve managed. Inversely, celebrate your wins! And finally, this advice is to QTBIPOC, which is to be brazen in your writing. It doesn’t matter if your writing ‘fits’, or any other industry and genre nonsense. Telling our stories is part of our path to liberation. Even if I never publish most of what I’ve written over the years, I’m glad I wrote it. It helped me witness and be witnessed in my humanity.

EXCERPT FROM WRITING SAMPLE: ‘I FIND MYSELF QUEER IN SPACE’

i find myself queer in space

i have extracted myself from the sweet

terrors of this planet. the one that lies

about the soft landing of home. out here, the air is thick

as a horse. the sting is willing, and i’m selfish.

i offer my own absence. a black hole, no modern ability

to calculate what goes on in there, which is

i rage as much as i love. the way a lion craves the damp

of a gazelle. i am always gentle in the aftermath, a light

lick on the body of the one i choose. yet another hole, dark

as obsidian and even more precious. a calculation

in tongues. there is no possession, only an envoy

signaling the bone-chill of expanding. no flat note

of gravity, only an original instrument to fine tune

and it’s me, me, the glowing timbre of me.

JUDGE’S COMMENTS

“‘I rage as much as I love,’ writes Ami Patel in ‘i find myself queer in space,’ one of many stunning works of self-portraiture in this blazing group of poems that looks carefully at love, grief, anger, family and belonging. The speaker understands herself as ‘an apostle / of bees,’ a ‘little bird’ with ‘a warring gaze’ and a mouth ‘forged / in another dimension,’ ‘filmy as a Katrina duckling.’ Who could read these lines and not be enthralled by this poet’s incredible gift for the language of metaphor? Patel writes with gorgeous lyricism and startling imagery, drawing power from what is intended to inflict pain [ . . . ] And when she writes ‘I am limitless,’ I believe her.”

– Emily Skaja

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