This could be Hugo
By Mimi Mondol
For Mimi Mondal, being nominated for one of the most prestigious awards in science fiction/ fantasy (SFF) has had an unexpected downside: instead of her work, it has drawn attention to her identity.
That's because Mondal, who was nominated for the Hugo Award along with senior editor Alexandra Pierce in the Best Related Work category for an anthology of essays and letters to the eminent sci-fi writer Octavia Butler, happens to be both Dalit and queer. The combination is pure headline gold, of course. And its even relevant, since Butler was a pioneer African-American in the writing of speculative fiction. But Mondal isn't keen to play the part.
Being turned into a Dalit icon while not many people talk about my actual work reiterates the exact stereotype casteists bring against us all the time, that we will take any opportunity for attention while nobody ever sees any work. I am not an activist by profession, but Dalits don't have to be either activists or nothing, Mondal says.
With the nod to her anthology, titled Luminescent Threads, and another nomination for the magazine Strange Horizons, edited, among several others, by lawyer Gautam Bhatia and scholar Aishwarya Subramanian, the Hugo Awards recognised India's contribution to the genre.
Luminescent Threads has also won a Locus Award and has been nominated for a British Fantasy award. I've been extremely stunned the past few months, she says. I'm not the best Indian SFF writer internationally, and the unspoken understanding we always had was that not many people in India would ever read or hear of us.
Luminescent Threads is anything but a passive tribute to a dead writer. The letters speak of the hope Butlers work gave to those who faced oppression, and the prescience she displayed in predicting today's politics.
In her own fiction, too, Mondal writes about the oppression of Dalits, women and the underprivileged. Mondal's characters are strikingly relatable, but that's no surprise, she says. People have always related more closely to fantastical characters because they represent archetypes that are true about their narratives in life, while a more realistic character can become un-relatable for just one detail that differs from you, she says.
The reviewer is a researcher and archiving consultant