An Interview with Harsimran Kaur
Updated: Sep 5, 2022
Harsimran Kaur is a recent high school grad from Punjab, India. She currently works as an editor-in-chief for The Creative Zine. Her writing appears in Jellyfish Review, BULL, In Parenthesis, Milk Candy Review, Big Windows Review, Hobart After Dark, CHEAP POP, Okay Donkey Magazine, JMWW, and elsewhere. An alumna of The Adroit Journal Summer Mentorship Program, her work has been recognized by the Royal Commonwealth Society and the New York Times. She loves clementines and Lana Del Rey.
So, how did you start as a writer? Were there any specific influences that made you think, “this is what I want to do?”
“It’s funny because I never really had a eureka moment when it comes to writing. Since I was little, I’ve always enjoyed reading books and getting fascinated by how some odd combination of 26 letters could make so much sense to me. I used to write all these books — some of them got published and some remained buried within the depths of my Google Drive. I’ve always been captivated by new concepts, ideas, thoughts and as someone who comes from a place that has no formal creative writing education in place, I naturally felt my fascination towards it. Outdoor games were never really my forte so I remained home all day and finished my homework as soon as I could only to find myself enchanted by the magical world of Roald Dahl later! Such bliss.”
Do you have any writing rituals? How do you get the ideas flowing?
“I don’t really have any writing rituals — I just look for inspiration from pop culture, dream pop, Twitterature, Instagram Reels, and subliminality or the space between two em dashes. I start with images and follow my thread: a set of breadcrumbs, a trail of broken branches, footprints, crumpled candy wrappers…”
I know that you are the founder & editor-in-chief of The Creative Zine. What made you start that?
“My town has this thing called a Writer’s Retreat in which all the town’s indie writers assemble in this warm and cozy room filled with long bookshelves every other week, which would follow the spill of conversation (and tea!) into the late hours of the night. I had the privilege of attending some of the events hosted by them and I got engrossed in their readings and words. Eventually, I started working as a co-editor for the Writer’s Retreat magazine which just made me think if I could reach out to any regional organization in the state of Punjab in order to uplift their voices to a much larger platform and to my surprise I found none. So that’s how The Creative Zine came into being, I guess. Along with my friends, I started out The Creative Zine as a literary organization that promoted the written word. Given that Punjab has one of the lowest literacy rates in India, I just knew that such an organization could show the glimpses of Punjabi language and culture to the world. We now publish works written by both regional and non-regional authors.”
How is it leading a team of writers & editors? What are your responsibilities? Are you enjoying this community you have made?
“It is exciting! As an editor in chief, my work involves editing, producing and designing the issue and even giving it finishing touches. I’m always moved away by the impeccable work that comes my way — it’s like I’m shown this fully emerged plant that has such lovely leaves and flowers that they take my breath away! I always learn and unlearn what it means to be a writer as I continue to read the words of other writers.”
How does it feel to read all these works by teen writers? Is it inspiring?
“Oh yes! I am always inspired and moved away by reading the work of my brilliant fellow peers! I learn a lot from their writing and vision. The young writer’s community is very inclusive and I’m so grateful to have gotten the opportunity to find a sense of place where I could thrive.”
What are your aspirations and goals for your future as a writer?
“I’ve always wanted to be someone but I didn’t know that becoming someone would mean Google Doc lurking at the illegal hours of the night. What I’m looking for is growth. Writing stories makes me grow as a person. My goal is to continue this growth as the feeling of jampacking words together on a page is very comforting to me. It makes me feel whole, in one way or another, even if they say a story can’t really be considered finished.”
I would love to know more about your book, “Clementines On My Poetry Table.” You self-published that when you were only 16, correct? Can you tell me about the process of getting that published?
“In middle school, I had a major TFIOS era where all I did was stay indoors and read YA titles. I often wrote these little stories (that are now stuck in my middle school Google Drive — no, they’re not escaping anywhere haha.) I only took writing seriously in high school because that was the time I started showing my stories to my friends and teachers. They appreciated it and encouraged me to publish my work so that a wide range of audience could access and comment on it. And that’s how I got introduced to the world of publishing and self-published my debut poetry collection at fourteen. Next came a magical realism novella in 2019. My audience was limited to my school and community and I never really tried going beyond that because I didn’t have access to writing resources. So I started interacting with various writing communities online and then 2020 happened. I was stuck inside, all day listening to Sufjan Stevens and growing clementines. Then, my creative juices flew naturally and fruitfully so “Clementines on My Poetry Table” was self-published in May 2021.
I’m still fascinated by having my books published. It’s like I’m saying: “Here, take a look at my little island of sentences, this is something that’s going to add meaning to your world.” It feels so baffling to me now. Now that I look back at it, I feel like I was so daring for a sixteen year old!”
My favorite piece of yours has got to be “We are the Orphans,” published in the Incandescent Review. I especially adore the character building that went into this piece and how you showed such vulnerability. Can you tell me more about how it was crafted?
“Thank you! I think “We are the Orphans” certainly has to be the favorite piece that I’ve ever written. It is a story of loss, of abundance and of vulnerability. I think part of the reason what makes the story come across that way is the tone and the style of writing. Lately, I’ve been trying to depict a lot about the subliminal and the lack thereof through my writing. I like these spaces between my characters and the rest of the world, both literally and metaphorically. Maybe my characters are just escaping. They escape through the medium, the environment I put them in. They’re unreliable, they’ve skeletons in their closets, they never close their closets. Time plays a vital role in my stories because that’s what makes them dynamic. Time is a catalyst for change. This change comes from within my characters. The plot doesn’t seem to move at all on its own. My characters move it. This stream-of-consciousness semi-word associative prose poetry style really resonates well with my characters because they’re the archetype to fit inside the little worlds that I create for them. They long for forgotten times, the nostalgia of the past, the moments bygone. They seem lost in the present. But it’s good for them. They’re making sense of themselves through getting lost. They transform, build, and re-build. This metamorphosis of identity is important to my story as it introduces another narrative layer of conflict: anxiety, estrangement, alienation, existentialism, and honestly, madness. It’s almost disorienting. I wonder if it is natural or imposed.”
What are you working on right now?
“You mean how many raw inhabited ideas my Google Doc beholds? Probably a lot, including the ones I dream about, haha.”
I know that you attended the prestigious Kenyon Young Writers Workshop & The Adroit Journal Summer Mentorship Program. Can you tell me about the workshops & mentorships you are attending & why they are beneficial to you as a writer? How does it feel to bridge the gap between the teen writing world & the “real” writing world.
“Studying fiction under my mentor, Ben Loory was such a rewarding experience for me. I’m grateful to have learnt a lot, both from his profound conviction and dynamism. The Adroit Journal Mentorship Program was one of the first formal creative writing studies that I got to do and I couldn’t recommend the program enough. Through the weeks leading up to the end of the mentorship, I’ve been both challenged and motivated for more. The program did a great job of reinforcing my interest in the written word and everything it stands for.”
What is some advice you would have wanted to hear when you first began writing?
“This is such a great question! Like many young writers, I struggle a lot with imposter syndrome. I wish someone told me to trust myself and my writing, to be confident in it. To believe in myself when no one else does because that’s what all the fuss is about, right?”
Any lit mag/book/author recommendations for emerging writers?
“Elizabeth Ellen is my favorite writer. She’s so cool! One of the only people who can fit Tyler the Creator and Camus within the same paragraph. My favorite book as of now is Helen Dunmore’s Your Blue Eyed Boy. Literary Magazine - Smokelong Quarterly.”
Thank you for your time!
The Creative Zine: https://www.thecreativezine.org/