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Author Interview: Priya Ramsingh

July 25, 2018

WOTS is coming up fast…but just not fast enough! So we’re joining the Dufferin Grove Farmers’ Market with The Word On The Street Pop-Up! We sat down with Priya Ramsingh, who will be joining us to read at the event.

Be sure to join us there on August 2!


WOTS: Let’s start with the title: Brown Girl in the Room. What inspired it? What does it mean to be the “brown girl in the room”?

Priya Ramsingh: The inspiration for the story came from life experiences – both at work and play. Some were mine, some were observations of other people’s experiences. As a writer, I like to observe people’s behaviour and I’m fascinated by their actions. Humans are very interesting.

Anyone who feels marginalized is the “brown girl in the room”. Women of colour have told me that the story is all too relatable and realistic – perhaps too much so it doesn’t seem like fiction. But it also resonates with people who are not visible minorities. At one of my readings, an older, Caucasian woman said she really related to the subway scene because she was from a working class home and often felt the way Sara did when she encountered girls similar to the ones on the train.

Nearly everyone, men and women from various cultural backgrounds were touched by the scene at the school where the teacher is talking about Canadian citizenship.


WOTS: Tell us a bit about your process. How did you start writing? Do you have any favourite stories about when you were just starting out?

PR: The story had been milling around in my mind for a while. I don’t remember exactly when I started to write it but I know that it was a cathartic experience. It was begging me to come out and so I had no choice but to write. When I stopped for a time, it nagged me and I knew I had to finish it. It needed to be told.


WOTS:  Brown Girl in the Room is set in present-day Toronto, and the motto “Diversity is our strength” seems to play a role within the story. Was this contextual setting important to you when writing?

PR: Absolutely. The setting is key to the story. The irony is that we live in a city that wants to celebrate diversity and uses it as a brand. In fact, Toronto was the most cosmopolitan city in the world for a very long time and perhaps still holds that title. But we have a long way to go until the residents really believe in the brand.


WOTS: What are your favourite places to write? Any quirky must-haves when it comes to sitting down and writing out your experiences?

PR: I do my best work in the morning in my home office. I don’t have any quirks to be honest. Just me, a cup of coffee and my computer. I do need lots of light however and my home office has big windows.


WOTS: You knew you wanted to be an author since the fifth grade, but you spent 20 years in corporate communications first. Did that experience inform who you are as a writer?

PR: Yes, I had to live before I could write. That’s a quote from Ernest Hemingway and it’s so true. I can’t speak for all writers but I know that I need to draw from real life in order to create believable characters and stories that touch readers.


WOTS: What would you say to other writers trying to write their first book?

PR: Keep writing. The hardest part for me, is to get started. It’s so easy to procrastinate but when you sit down in front of your computer, just let your thoughts guide your fingers. Write it all down and go back later and polish. Keep polishing until you can live with your work. A good editor will catch things that you can’t see. And a good publisher will see the potential in your work.