Q&A with Alumni Award Recipient Jonaki Ray

Q&A with Alumni Award Recipient Jonaki Ray

This year is the fourth year the Iceland Writers Retreat has offered the Alumni Award. This prestigious award is funded in by generous IWR alumni and friends. It gives its recipients full or partial funding to attend the next Retreat, which will take place April 3 to 7, 2019 in Reykjavik. The winners are chosen based on both merit and financial need, and submissions were reviewed by IWR alumni volunteers. We received over 600 applications from around the world and the quality of submissions was extremely high. Over the coming weeks, we will be posting Q&A’s with this year’s recipients of the Alumni Award, today’s with Jonaki Ray. You can read our Q&As with Dan Musgrave and Lola Opatayo on our blog.

Jonaki Ray was educated in India (IIT Kanpur) and the USA (UIUC), and after a brief stint as a software engineer, returned to her first love, writing. She is now a poet, editor, and writer based in New Delhi, India.

Honors for Jonaki’s writing include a 2018 Pushcart Prize nomination for fiction by Zoetic Press, and a nomination for the 2018 Forward Prize for the Best Single Poem by Oxford Brookes University Poetry Centre.  She is a finalist in the 2018 Gregory O’Donoghue International Poetry Prize, and the winner of the 2017 Oxford Brookes International Poetry Contest, ESL. In 2016 she was longlisted in the Writers’ HQ International Fiction Contest and the RL Poetry Award, and shortlisted in the Oxford Brookes International Poetry Contest, ESL.

Her fiction and poetry have appeared in Southword JournalThe American Journal of PoetryRambutan Literary JournalLunch TicketThe Matador Review, ColdnoonIndian Literature (Sahitya Akademi), So to Speak Journal, while non-fiction essays and reviews have been published in The WireThe Times of IndiaThe Telegraph India, and Down to Earth, among others.

How did you find out about Iceland Writers Retreat originally?

I first found out about Iceland Writers Retreat from the Internet, while I was researching for an article about interesting writing residencies and retreats in India and abroad. I also found it among the best writers retreats list, decided to apply for it, and the rest, as they say, is history!

Have you ever participated in a similar kind of retreat? If yes, how did the experience benefit your writing?

Not really. I have been on writing residencies and workshops earlier. But a retreat like this where I get mentoring from writers I admire, time to write, and travel to such a beautiful country would be my first experience.

What are you most looking forward to about the Retreat?

All the above. I have always wanted to attend a mentoring session, and here I am getting five of them! I am really looking forward to meeting the other writers and participating in the tour as well.

What and/or who do you find inspiring?

I started reading mostly British authors—Hardy, Austen, Dickens—as a child. I now read in a more eclectic fashion. I have been reading a lot of women writers across the world lately, and I am inspired by Alice Munro, Grace Paley, and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, currently.

How has writing influenced your life?

Writing has made my life livable. I was educated as a scientist and started writing only after traumatic personal experiences. I then realized that our experiences can make us a part of a community through the world of writing, and by sharing and honoring those experiences, I can make a difference, and, hopefully, help others.

What do you find to be your biggest challenge in your writing life?

There are two big challenges in my writing life: First, finding the time to write. I work in a full-time job, have a commute of about two hours every day, and once you add the other “daily” stuff, it’s a struggle to summon the energy and time to write. The second is that with more than a dozen years’ editorial experience, I keep editing my own writing and find it hard to consider it ready to be shared or published.

Any final comments you’d like to share with our followers?

Keep reading, keep writing, and learn to deal with rejections on the way!

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