Dia Bhojwani (they/she/he) is a writer, editor, and all-round rascal from Mumbai, India. They've been published in Parallax Lit, Polyphony Lit, and Yuzu Press, amongst others, and their first book, The Pandemic Diaries, was published in January 2021. They have received awards from Lune Spark, Wingword, and the Seamus Heaney Center and received the Claudia Ann Seaman Award for Fiction. When not penning surrealist short stories or confessional poetry, they can be found binge-watching Nana and overdressing for the grocery store.
Hey Dia! I am super excited to interview you! I’ve read a few of your publications, and you have such a fantastic writing voice and style. So tell me, what made you get into writing?
Hi Carina! I'm so glad you enjoy my work—the feeling is mutual.
Reading made a writer out of me the way it does most writers. Storytelling has always made and unmade my life. When I was a toddler, I would ask my mother to read to me upwards of 7 times a day—you can't imagine what a relief it was to her when I learned how to do so myself! I immediately slipped into the throes of obsession, showing up at my classmates' birthdays with a paperback under my arm. A quick exchange of childish pleasantries, a stop at the snack table, and I was off to the nearest corner to read—usually with a plateful of nachos in hand.
I can't remember when I started clumsily stapling notebook paper together to make my own books, but I think I remember why. I had ambition before I had any skill and was thoroughly unconvinced that I was a child, so I immediately looked at what grown adults were publishing and decided that I would do the same.
The great thing about kids is that they're quick to enable each other's nonsense. Soon, I was distributing tattered leaflets to my second-grade classmates, the content always varying: modern fairytales, animal narratives, coloring books, style guides, all accompanied by garishly bright felt pen drawings.
I think the elaborate handbook on being a princess was what finally caught my English teacher's attention. Dry and sardonic, she was way better suited to teaching high schoolers than teaching us vowels, but we loved her anyway. She told me, "You should be a writer." I wasn't about to disagree with a woman with a perm that good. Ms. Raney has since passed, but I still haven't deviated from that path, if only out of respect for that hair.
I remember you saying that you don't like to limit yourself to a specific genre. Why does experimentation appeal to you? Do you think all writers should play around with genre?
The intellectual answer would be that, to me, form fits the story, not the other way around. I think different stories are served by different genres—my first novella, To Run, should have been a movie instead. There's a scene where the protagonist simultaneously realizes he's in love with his classmate and gets beaned in the head with a football that would have been incredible to see play out on the screen. But I don't yet know my way around a camera, so I play with poetry, essays, and theatre instead.
The blunt answer is that I'm very easily bored. Blame it on the neurodivergence—I need at least 10 different gears turning in my head for the machine to start operating! I love fiction, but I'd gouge my eyeballs out with an ice cream scoop if that were the only thing I did for the rest of my life. As Wilde said, to define is to limit!
As a fellow young writer, one of my favorite parts about writing is the community. Writing seems like such a solitary pursuit, but I've met so many good people through it. What about you? Why do you enjoy being part of the writing community?
When I was in the 6th grade, I transferred to a very small school. I'm graduating from there this May with a class of only 19! In an environment that is insular, everyone's strengths and weaknesses are established early on, and everyone is assigned their ecological niche in the adolescent jungle. My 'thing' was writing. Every speech, every play, and every copied English assignment became my responsibility. I grew very confident, and my work…. didn't grow at all.
So around the 9th grade, I started submitting my work to magazines and competitions, going to workshops, and eventually, building a network of incredibly talented, passionate, kind literary friends. (Yourself included!) My confidence has never been worse, but my creative growth has never been better!
Osmosis is the best learning tool. When I was younger, I was, at best, an assiduous observer of the writers I encountered online and, at worst, a complete stalker! I scanned portfolio websites and Linkedin pages, making lists of magazines I could submit to and programs I could attend (The days before I encountered Submittable and Chillsubs were the Dark Ages. I barely made it through without the plague.)
Now I've (mostly) exchanged internet stalking for the art of conversation. Simply talking to my friends about their craft helps me comprehend mine better. Book recommendations, workshopping, avid rants, and passionate debates—their help has been invaluable.
But craft aside, it's just a boon to have a community of people who know how hellish and exhilarating this can be. In a world where capitalism doesn't love the arts and where literary creativity is neglected, merely having people that comprehend the immense struggle it takes to commit themselves to write—and the beauty that drives us to do it—is such a gift. Whether you're reeling from a rejection or celebrating a dream publication, we're in your corner. We're the nerdiest, esoteric cheerleaders to ever shake a pom-pom.
It's Senior season for us, which must be so stressful. How are you balancing coursework, college applications, and creative writing?
Balance… it's been years since I've heard the word. *My eyes go distant as I shotgun my 5th cappuccino* (I'm so sorry about the spontaneous role-playing.)
If you are capable of submitting to magazines alongside your college essays, I am absolutely terrified of you. I'm in no way capable of that. My hair would turn white! My keyboard would give out!
My lovely Adroit Mentor, Lindsay, helped me get comfortable with the idea that there'll be creative fallow periods. Just giving myself grace and allowing myself to step away from my work left me with the cognitive capacity to return to it when I was ready.
Writer's block is a real struggle for me. So, what do you do while experiencing writer's block? How do you get the ideas flowing?
I try immersing myself in art that makes me uncomfortable, whether through oddity or sheer novelty. I've found that old surrealist short films are incredibly inspiring—think Un Chien Andalou or Meshes of the Afternoon. I also have a google doc for my favorite poetry and essays that I often take recourse to—there's more Chen Chen and Melissa Febos in there than you could imagine.
What are your aspirations and goals for your future as a writer? Are you focused on being published?
I'm eternally frustrated that there are only 24 hours in the day—there's so much I want to do and never enough time to do it!
I used to pursue publication with dogged zeal. Now, I'm letting projects come and go more organically. I don't want to work towards publication for the sake of publication—I'm letting my ideas gestate for as long as they need while I focus on honing my craft.
One of the primary goals I've been working towards for the past two years is elevating my poetry. I envy prose writers who've made the shift seamlessly—Ted Kooser and Mary Oliver are the only things keeping me afloat!
I'd also like to experiment with screenwriting. I've won directorial awards at small-scale competitions at school, but I'm looking to really delve into the meat of filmmaking with a far wider scope. I plan to film an adaptation of one of my plays this summer!
What is your favorite piece that you have ever created? Why? Also, what are the inspirations behind it?
starboy/voidgirl. Gloriously tragic and tender, it is an exploration of gender dysphoria and queerplatonic love with a galactic twist. Told through a series of vignettes structured like a rocket launch countdown, it's the most brutal and beautiful thing I've ever written and the first story that explores my genderqueerness. I studied aerodynamics, ballistics, and spacecraft design to do it justice. No one but my Adroit Mentor and my mother has read it yet, but I hope I can bring it to the world soon. It means everything to me.
What are you working on right now?
I may be writing my first proper play for a certain Mumbai-based acting troupe! Stay tuned.
Do you have any recommendations for teen writers to become more comfortable in the writing world, i.e., workshops, mentorships, writing communities, etc.?
Start small. Start at home. Look for creative writing opportunities at school or in your city. Joining or starting a club to connect with local young writers would be great! Then delve into the literary magazine world. Chillsubs is gonna be your mother, your lover, your best friend. If you're a middle schooler looking to upscale your craft, Johns Hopkins CTY's Young Readers Courses and Incandescent Summer Studio are absolute gifts. If you're a high schooler, you have the obvious candidates—Adroit, Kenyon, Iowa. Ellipsis Writing is terrific too! If you want to scope out the other side of the editor's desk, try volunteering for a small-scale teen-run literary magazine, and scale up as you build editorial experience. Polyphony Lit's Editorial Workshop is incredible. But if you're intimidated by the idea of scaling the ladder, don't worry—start where you are.
I know that a lot of teen writers are nervous about sharing their work. What advice would you have wanted to hear when you first began writing?
You are your first and most important reader. No literary magazine editor, competition judge, or literary Mentor is more central to your work than you. Keeping an audience in mind is vital, but you're in the front row.
It doesn't matter if everyone in the audience is clapping if you aren't. Write for you first. Write yourself feverish, write yourself sore, write yourself alive. Applause comes after.