An Interview with Moni Brar
Updated: Jul 27, 2022
As part of filling Station's brand new monthly interview series, we asked Issue 76 contributor Moni Brar about her writing, winning the Lieutenant Governor of Alberta Emerging Artist Award, and her advice to emerging writers.
Read the full interview below.
How does it feel to win the Lieutenant Governor of Alberta Emerging Artist Award?
Surreal! I’m genuinely quite shocked to have received this award. I feel incredibly honoured to in the company of other writers I’ve long admired (like the filling Station’s very own Managing Editor, Amy LeBlanc!). I also feel quite proud as a Punjabi-Sikh writer to receive recognition for exploring topics that are often cloaked in silence, shame or misunderstanding such as gender-based religious violence, labour exploitation, familial abuse, poverty, illiteracy, and mental health. Winning this award makes me feel hopeful that the landscape of Canadian literature is shifting to include more diverse voices and stories from BIPOC writers.
How do you plan to celebrate the award?
I plan to celebrate with those who made this award possible—my writing mentors, instructors, and peers. They’ve played a huge part in supporting me throughout my writing journey, and this award is as much about them as it is about me—maybe even more so! I wouldn’t be at this point in my writing without them. I’m excited to connect with them and celebrate our efforts and relationships!
Can you tell us a bit about the piece you published in issue 76 of filling Station?
The poem you’re referring to originated in my experiences in Afghanistan where I worked over the course of two years. I’ve worked in twelve developing countries, and Afghanistan was by far the most challenging as the legacy of war and disenfranchisement was palpable in every moment and interaction. It’s a place that still haunts me. While I was there, I occupied a strange sense of self. I was brown enough to be mistaken for being an Afghan, mistrusted for being a Punjabi, and tolerated for being a Canadian. I inhabited a place of unease and discomfort, but I was surrounded by exceptionally strong, self-assured Afghan women who reminded me of the power and fragility of hope. Coming from a family where clinical depression runs deep, I’ve always been fascinated with the concept of hope. During my time in Afghanistan, it was constantly at the forefront of my mind, and this poem explores the power it holds.
What are you working on and what's next for you?
I’ve just wrapped up research for my first big writing project. I travelled to places of significance from my childhood, mined archival content, interviewed old friends and neighbours, and spent time walking on land that I had not visited in decades. While the research phase was emotionally exhausting, it was also deeply healing to reconnect with a past that while mostly dark, also held glimpses of joy that I was unable to see before. In the coming months, I’ll continue to sift through my messy notes and the mountain of photos I’ve collected and begin writing. I’m really looking forward to the process of meaning making and seeing what writing comes out of it.
What advice would you give to emerging writers?
A lot of writing advice espouses the value of discipline, grit, and relentless effort. I’d like to offer emerging writers the invitation to take breaks, nurture their mental health (especially those writing about/through trauma), and be gentle with themselves. Your writing is important, but you are more important.
A bit about Moni Brar: Moni Brar has published in many of the most respected journals in Canada and received a number of the top writing awards. A Punjabi Canadian writer exploring diasporan guilt and intergenerational trauma, she is poised to make major contributions to the literary arts in Canada. She has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and multiple Best of the Net awards and was the winner of the SAAG Arts Writing Prize, runner-up in PRISM international’s Grouse Grind Prize, honourable mention in Room magazine’s Poetry Prize, and a finalist in the Alberta Magazine Awards and the Subnivean Awards. Her work can be found in Best Canadian Poetry 2022, the Literary Review of Canada, Passages North, Prairie Fire, Hobart, and the League of Canadian Poets’ “Poem in Your Pocket” postcard series.