Language as a Moving Anchor: Jhumpa Lahiri’s Whereabouts, Asian/American Rhetorics & the Politics of “Linguistic Migration”

Dec 6, 2022

Published in Articles | Issue 5

Vani Kannan, Lehman College, CUNY

A couple years after Jhumpa Lahiri’s first novel The Namesake (2003) was published, I saw her speak at a writer’s conference at Columbia University. During the Q&A, a reporter from an Indian-American newspaper asked about Lahiri’s Indian upbringing and its impact on her work. Lahiri responded that when she was growing up, people always asked her what it was like to eat Indian food every day at home. However, to her, it was “just food.” 

This desire for Indian food to be “just food” is echoed in Lahiri’s latest novel, which features a narrator who could be described as “just a writer.” Written in Italian and translated by the author into English,[1]Whereabouts represents a departure from Lahiri’s typical focus on Indian diasporic life in the U.S. Instead, the novel dwells in the light and shadow of a lonely, interior writing life through a nameless, faceless narrator in an unnamed city.

Lahiri, Jhumpa. Whereabouts. Knopf, 2021.

Having followed Lahiri’s work closely since The Namesake was published, I was excited about her new novel and read it slowly, savoring its chapters. There is a familiar, gentle rhythm to Lahiri’s writing that is not sanitized but characteristically smooth and precise. Her rendering of the solitude of the creative process will be familiar to writers: the interior world, the sense that those around you cannot ever fully understand you unless they engage with your writing, and that, even then, they will never fully understand your experience. As I read it, I began to notice small things again, details around me that had faded into the background of daily routine. She puts words to the psychic space that writers inhabit with zero romanticization. Aesthetically, Whereabouts makes you see differently. 

And yet, politically, the novel troubled me. I was initially drawn to Lahiri’s writing because of its consistent engagement with Indian diasporic life. While her short stories and novels primarily focus on the hopes, dreams, and aspirations of middle-class desis [2]living between West Bengal, India, and northeastern U.S. suburbs, her work also touches on immigration politics, gender dynamics, internalized racism, second-generation tensions, and political histories like the Naxalite movement. Her writing resonates deeply with the sense of dislocation and pressure to assimilate that those of us raised in desi middle-class suburbs (and those, like me, from mixed desi/white families) have felt. And she offers beautiful renderings of fraught human relationships, particularly within multigenerational desi families. Given this focus in her prior work, what are the implications of Lahiri’s move in Whereabouts to create a character “unmarked” by racial or cultural signifiers? How do systems of power shape the privilege of “unmarkedness”? What are the politics of what Lahiri calls her “linguistic migration” from English to Italian and her shift in content from Indian diasporic experience to a cosmopolitan writing life?  

Whereabouts and Lahiri’s decisive break from “Asian/American”[3]or “South Asian-American” categorization are fruitful sites for cultural rhetorics inquiry given rhetoric scholars’ concern with “the rhetorical work of people of Asian descent within systems of power” (Monberg and Young). By putting Lahiri’s work into conversation with cultural rhetorics methodologies in this piece, I do not aim to critique her in a vacuum but instead understand the systems of power that shape her move from unmistakably desi characters and themes towards unmarked, nameless, place-less characters. Cultural rhetorics scholarship helps us unpack the problematic politics of place, language, and identity in Whereabouts and understand the political limits of Lahiri’s “linguistic migration,” un/markedness, and disconnect between narrator and environment. As a “delinked” alternative to un/markedness, cultural rhetorics scholars offer writing methodologies that draw from the epistemic salience of identity and language, situated always in relation to land. 

Before moving into a discussion of cultural rhetorics methodologies though, I want to try to understand Lahiri’s resistance to identity-, language- and place-“bound” writing. For over twenty years, her work has been primarily engaged within the literary subfield of “diasporic/migratory literature” and scrutinized by critics for whether it conforms to the expectations of that genre. Writing about the critical response to Lahiri’s 2013 novel The Lowland, Ragini Tharoor Srinivasan describes the “predicament” of reviewing Lahiri: 

Readers look for multicultural content in her work, then find it overfamiliar and stale. They seek in her novels an account of minority struggle that confirms their expectations, but find her oddly self-contained characters resistant to voicing the pain they are expected to feel. To be sure, Lahiri does occasionally indulge in exotic spice references, but so what if the trees have turmeric leaves? In autumn on the East Coast, they do. Shouldn’t a writer be able to draw on a mélange of references without readers rushing to adjudicate their identity-based origins?

Given the white literary establishment’s concern that Lahiri’s writing is too reflective of her South Asian identity and, as such, clichéd (including a review that castigated her for the turmeric reference), it follows that Lahiri would push for an understanding of Indian food as just food. Another option, as cultural rhetorics scholarship has encouraged us to do, is to situate all food as “cultural,” even if some food (due to legacies of colonization and white supremacy) is unmarked or treated as “neutral.”[4]From Lahiri’s perspective though, her “linguistic migration” to Italian is actually consistent with the diasporic/migratory themes of her earlier work. In an interview about “immigrant novels,” she pointed to “the tension between alienation and assimilation” (Cummins) as a consistent theme in her work; this is certainly a tension navigated by the narrator in Whereabouts. Lahiri also positions “linguistic migration” as a method that second-generation immigrants might use to understand our families’ experiences of physical migration:

If you’re the child of immigrants you smell it, you can taste it, but you’re not really possessing it in some way, right? And I think my writing was born to be able to understand a little bit better, without ever fully actually experiencing it, but speculating, wondering, imagining, trying . . . moving into Italian, for me, was my version. (Lahiri)

Tanjil Rashid argues that Lahiri’s move to Italian sheds light on the racist double-standard of language in the literary world: “it’s always the same clique of grands hommes who spring to mind” when we think of shifting languages, Rashid writes, adding that “the Black or Asian writer is simply expected to adopt English.” In that sense, Lahiri’s move to Italian pushes back against the assumption that all great international writers will write primarily in English. 

Within this logic, Lahiri’s rejection of writing that can be easily marked as South Asian can also be read as resistance to being consistently pigeonholed by the western literary world—whether from those who deeply resonate with her depictions of diasporic life or those who fetishize them as describing a foreign experience. In this sense, we can understand the western literary world as producing the rejection of identity and place. In a review of Whereabouts published in The Guardian, Rashid captures this resistance to identity- and place-“bound” writing, linking it to Lahiri’s shift to Italian: 

Writers of colour know that publishers, academics, even lay readers, bring trite, postcolonial presumptions to their work and load them with the burden of minority representation. Perhaps, in Italian, Lahiri saw the possibility of writing the everywoman English denied her.

Writing in Italian, in other words, would provide a reprieve from critics who “insist on reading Lahiri in identitarian terms, questioning the ‘Indianness’ of her authorship and asking questions like ‘Is she a Bengali, Indian, Asian American, American, or a post-colonial writer? Is she simply a writer? Does what we name her matter?’” (Srinivasan). In this sense, Lahiri’s “unmarked” prose can be understood differently from master-narrative-affirming “unmarked” canonical literature, which does not seek unmarkedness but is assumed to be unmarked because of its adherence to white narrative norms. 

However, while “migrating” from English to Italian might have given Lahiri a sense of her parents’ experience of physical migration, it also marked a break from her narrative rootedness in Indian diasporic experience. One of the key ways this manifests in Whereabouts is through naming, or rather a lack thereof: none of the places or characters in the book are named. In an NPR interview, Lahiri justifies this choice by linking geographic and character anonymity to a sense of narrative freedom:

I think that if we take away the names of the places, the name of the city, it’s more open. I find it more liberating. I think that identity can be a trap at times. I think we can become too fixated on who we are and where we’re from. And I think this can actually – and does –  lead to a lot of very grave problems in the world and for our society and for the way we communicate and exist and coexist. (“Jhumpa Lahiri On Her Unique Use of Place”) 

In another interview, Lahiri extends this resistance to naming place/setting to her decision not to assign her narrator a name. She calls names “containers” that can confine the “incredibly messy . . . wonderfully messy, complex thing” that is identity (Alberici). This represents a drastic departure from her 2003 novel The Namesake, which (as the title suggests) focuses on naming in the Indian diaspora. The main character, Gogol Ganguli, starts going by Nikhil (Nick for short) after he graduates from Yale, moves to New York City, and tries to assimilate into middle-class white American life. In a case like Gogol’s, identity is enacted through naming and renaming; both his identity and his name become epistemic, a source of cultural knowledge with social and political consequences (Moya). While The Namesake grapples with diasporic identity and intergenerational migration through naming, Whereabouts forsakes these themes through forsaking naming itself.

This orientation to language and naming seems consistent with the middle-class, cosmopolitan world that Lahiri’s characters inhabit across her works. This is a limited theorization of language and identity because those rendered hyper-visible are not granted the privileges of anonymity or mobility. Her migration into Italian from English is voluntary, not forced. This stands in stark contrast to many migrants’ relationship to these languages for the purpose of work, citizenship tests, schooling, and survival. The same is true of naming. Forsaking naming for the sake of freedom and anonymity, in Whereabouts, is a privilege for a narrator who can “pass” in the cosmopolitan, middle-class world she inhabits. Lahiri’s orientation stands in stark contrast to writers who have actively politicized naming. For example, Black feminist activist, educator, and writer June Jordan reclaims naming as an act of defiance against racism, colonialism, and sexual violence. When I first heard her recite “Poem about My Rights,” it helped me understand that claiming one’s name can be an act of revolutionary transformation in a context in which one is consistently labeled wrong: “I am not wrong / wrong is not my name / my name is my own, my own my own.” When your name (and, by extension, language, citizenship, and belonging) is constantly called into question, there is no freedom to move anonymously across linguistic and national borders. Jordan’s answer to structural violence is not to become nameless; it is to forge a radically internationalist, Black political identity. The poem seamlessly connects embodied experience, localized struggles, and internationalist anti-imperialism, connecting the act of naming to the liberation struggles in southern Africa, the CIA, racism on college campuses, and sexism in families. 

Read in the context of Jordan’s larger political organizing work, multi-genre creative brilliance, and pedagogies politicizing Black linguistic practices, her theory of naming sheds light on the politically problematic nature of Lahiri’s unnamed “everywoman,” who can be interpreted as de facto white or white-passing, and her “linguistic migration,” which can actually be understood as a form of linguistic assimilation to a European canon. Lahiri’s prose, in its English translation, fits neatly into standard-edited (white) literary conventions. Her move to Italian does not represent a political rejection of English, which we see in the work of writers like Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o; in Decolonising the Mind: The Politics of Language in African Literature, he advocates linguistic decolonization and writing in native languages to push back against the linguistic imperialism of English and French, and to find a deeper rootedness in the politics of land and liberation on the African continent. 

In an interview, Lahiri does argue that we should dislodge linguistic singularity from the contexts in which we write: “translation creates the illusion of a monolingual landscape” (Lahiri). However, acts of translation from one standard, edited version of a language (English) to another (Italian) also foreclose the possibility of narratively reflecting multilingual, translingual, codemeshed linguistic landscapes. In a study on Kenyan hip hop, Esther Milu describes artists’ translanguaging practices as a way to challenge English hegemony and engage in cultural preservation (378). Drawing on Anibal Quijano and Walter Mignolo’s writing on coloniality and the “colonial matrix of power,” Milu situates translanguaging in Kenya as a practice of “decolonial consciousness,” and a rejection of Europe as the center of knowledge-making (378-79). In Lahiri’s work, despite her critique of monolingual landscapes, we inhabit one. This serves as a reminder that not all “linguistic migrations” away from English are inherently aligned with anti-racism, anti-colonialism, or liberation. In the case of Whereabouts, both the rejection of naming and the linguistic “migration” to English reflect abstraction; while this abstraction engenders poetic, seamless prose for Lahiri, it also reinforces colonial traditions of knowledge-making. 

A central quality of this colonial European tradition is the abstraction of knowledge-making from land. Walter Mignolo famously flipped Descartes’ “I think, therefore I am” to the land-driven framework of “I am where I think” (235). Cultural rhetorics methodologies encourage a deep engagement with land as central to any knowledge-making process, including writing. A relational engagement with the land deeply restructures our understanding of rhetorical practice, as Andrea Riley-Mukavetz writes in “Developing a Relational Scholarly Practice: Snakes, Dreams, and Grandmothers”: 

I am encouraging you to acknowledge whose land you are settled on because I believe it is a crucial step to land-based methods, and it will, hopefully, impact how you understand your relationship to land, and those multiple, constellated histories should impact your orientation to research and writing. (549)

Riley-Mukavetz’s writing, which emphasizes the importance of cultivating a relationship with land/place, simultaneously encourages us to interrogate the implications of colonial abstraction from land/place. Building a relationship with land/place also requires what Jaquetta Shade describes as a practice of relational accountability, whereby we must “honor our relationship with it through respect, responsibility, and reciprocity” (885). In Shade’s decolonial framework, respect, responsibility, and reciprocity are all active practices of relationship-building and require deep rooting in the stories and relationalities that shape the land.  

In Whereabouts, land does not become visible through such relationalities—let alone through the land’s Indigenous legacies, ecological attributes, or even more recent histories of Italian peasant revolts or anti-fascist traditions. Instead, we learn the landscape through stunning—yet ahistorical—descriptions of rugged countryside and a post-apocalyptic rendering of “ruined villas, empty piazzas, turbulent seascapes . . . an environment suffused with ineffable gloom” (Struhl). Despite the novel’s abstraction from both people and place, in interviews with Lahiri, we learn that the city of Rome was centrally important to this book: “The book was born in Rome and set in my head in Rome and written almost entirely on return visits to Rome” (“Jhumpa Lahiri On Her Unique Use of Place”). However, we do not learn Rome through this novel; the narrator has lived there her whole life but still does not know people intimately. Instead, we learn her interior life, set against a backdrop of piazzas, cafés, apartments, trains, cars, and the sea. While the book’s title Whereabouts suggests that place is central to how we should understand the novel, the reader remains abstracted from the concrete elements and histories of place. Instead, we experience a series of interior dispatches across space-time from a lonely narrator and a narrative style that both pays precise attention to the setting and seeks to transcend it. Inhabiting the where of thinkingin other wordsis quite an individual practice for Lahiri’s narrator; a solitude and sheltering from larger political contexts that is only possible with levels of privilege and access. 

This renders the narrator alienated from any of the salient political contexts that surround her and shape her environment. In one passage, for example, she sits in a park eating a sandwich while protests rage at the center of the city and helicopters circle overhead. Thinking of the years in which Lahiri was working on the novel in Rome, these protests could have been the 2015 anti-immigration rallies, the 2016 protests against same-sex unions, or electoral protests that same year. However, the narrator in Whereabouts remains firmly separate from these larger contexts and struggles; they do not puncture her solitude. Instead, people and politics serve as tableaus against which she repeatedly rediscovers that she is alone. Lahiri’s narrator searches for words to capture this sense of loneliness (disoriented, lost, at sea, at odds, astray, adrift, bewildered, confused, uprooted, turned around) and makes a home with these words: “I’m related to those related terms. These words are my abode, my only foothold.”

In Vox Jo Hsu’s book Constellating Home: Trans and Queer Asian American Rhetorics, we are introduced to another option for dealing with this sense of alienation and dislocation from home. Hsu theorizes “homing” as a narrative strategy employed by queer and trans Asian Americans, as “a shared practice—a way we maneuver toward and with one another to establish conditions for belonging” (44). Extending this strategy to the praxis of writing, Hsu describes it as “a method of locating buried intimacies, as a theory of how our worlds come together, and as survival—a process through which diasporic subjects continually reinterpret events that have shaped their places of origin and connect with (real and imagined) sites of belonging” (146). In Hsu’s formulation, the alienation and dislocation of existing in marginalized subject-positions gives rise to collective practices of survival and an ongoing creation and recreation of home both through community and narrative. For Hsu, this work is deeply historical and requires wrangling not only with the Indigenous legacies of the spaces/places they call home but also with the long histories of labor, migration, and state violence that shape Asian diasporic life in the U.S. 

Lahiri has a very different project in Whereabouts–one that is more focused on the relationship between the narrator and her solitude and, by extension, the relationship we each must arrive at with our own solitude. Indeed, in interviews with Lahiri, she describes the writing process as “an act of conscious solitude and withdrawal” (Lahiri) that will eventually end and lead us to reengage with others (“Jhumpa Lahiri On Her Unique Use of Place”). However, throughout the forty-six short chapters of Whereabouts, the narrator’s social encounters do not seem to puncture her loneliness or satisfy her longing. We meet her aging mother, two-faced lovers, friends with whom she navigates an unbridgeable distance, and neighbors she does not know well. We register her disillusionment with the romantic relationships around her—a couple who visits, another who fights on the street, another who she watches as they shop together for luggage. We learn about her grief over her father’s passing. She navigates mundane crises—losing her patience and snapping at someone at a dinner party, breaking a plate, spilling glue on her hands. She describes the mirror as her enemy. We gain a sense of her as middle-aged, weary of the physical signs of growing older, and feeling stuck. And we consistently return to her alone, with the recurring chapter title “In My Head.” As she muses in measured prose towards the end of the novel, her surroundings do not define her; she locates her only foothold in language itself: 

[W]hen all is said and done, the setting doesn’t matter: the space, the walls, the light. It makes no difference whether I’m under a clear blue sky or caught in the rain or swimming in the transparent sea in summer. I could be riding a train or traveling by a car or flying in a plane, among the clouds that drift and spread on all sides like a mass of jellyfish in the air. I’ve never stayed still, I’ve always been moving, that’s all I’ve ever been doing. Always waiting either to get somewhere or to come back. Or to escape. . . . Is there any place we’re not moving through? 

Here, the narrator is caught in what Nedra Reynolds in Geographies of Writing might describe as the tension between movement and dwelling. And in this tension, language offers the mediating force between narrator and place, becoming a moving anchor serving as connective tissue to place—what rhetoric scholars might call the umbilicus connecting us to the spaces we inhabit and pass through, nourishing us and bringing us into physical being (Conrey). Relationality, in this framework, is not among characters or between narrator and place but between the character and her solitary modes of expression and meaning-making. 

In the end, then, I understand this book primarily as a meditation on language and retheorization of language as place, from an interior space of isolation. To return to Mignolo’s flip of Descartes, Lahiri’s writing in Whereabouts pushes us to think about language as the tool and writing as the material practice through which we might be where we think. Cultural rhetorics methodologies push us to then sink deeper into the land where we think, develop a relationship with it, and understand it as agentive in shaping our thinking and work, in community with others. This pushes against Eurocentric notions of writers as abstracted from their contexts and also against an understanding of writing and knowledge-making as inherently solitary. Within a cultural rhetorics framework, even if we engage in the labor of writing alone, it is still shaped by practices of relational accountability.

Perhaps it is the abstraction from relational accountability that gives Whereabouts its heaviness. Even with its narrative beauty, I found it depleting to read—in the same way that the book’s narrator, in one scene, describes feeling depleted by watching a beautiful sunrise alone. Perhaps this is because each chapter, meditating on place and setting, spatializes the narrator’s melancholy in a new way. And perhaps it is because, as someone researching Asian/American rhetorics, I am looking specifically for models of what it is to carve out expansive and accountable practices of writing rooted in Black and Indigenous land liberation struggles, rather than a narrative voice that rejects identity and place. This book made me confront the tension between seductive Eurocentric notions of “good”/“beautiful” writing and the cultural rhetorics frameworks that have deeply reshaped my thinking about writing and knowledge-making over the past five years. Reflecting on Lahiri’s journey as a writer asked me to grapple with the kind of writer I want to be, the kind of writing space I want to co-create with students, and how I want them to understand the relationship between identity, land, and knowledge-making. And I am left with a renewed appreciation for cultural rhetorics scholarship, which has asked me to consistently rethink the orientation I bring to writing as a mixed desi/white person, raised in the U.S. and continuously rebuilding my relationship with the land I live on/with. 

I consider Lahiri’s work as part of a cultural rhetorics scholarly conversation because Whereabouts offers a theory of language, writing, identity, and knowledge-making—whether we agree with it or not. While Whereabouts does reflect back to us the literary market’s simultaneous pressure to brand and sell Asian/American diasporic identities and delegitimization of so-called “identity-focused” writing, and while it is aesthetically beautiful and engaging, it does not address deeper political questions–nor do Lahiri’s interviews. In that sense, to return to the questions posed in the introduction, Whereabouts asks us to think about unmarked Asian/American writers and the option of either assimilating to unmarkedness out of a desire to transcend identity or engaging in the messy, ongoing work of building a deeper relationship with land, place, and language, opening up multilayered, transnational histories to engage in our work. Such engagement in Asian/American rhetorics will bring us into closer relation with other minoritized rhetorical traditions. Resisting specific identities and place-“bound” writing, while opening up certain narrative possibilities, also forecloses others. In Lahiri’s case, I would argue, the Cartesian abstraction from land/place/naming brings her work into closer relation with a white European canon.

As Lahiri suggests in interviews, the solitude chronicled in Whereabouts cannot be sustained: “And then the book is written and I begin to realize that the dream is going to be over now, and I’m going to have to wake up from this book, and that’s when I start to break that veil of solitude” (Lahiri). Language is magic and method, but it cannot supplant social life. The novel leans on the metaphor of a child jumping from log to log on a playground to describe the narrator’s fear of taking the next step and leaving the “cocoon” of home; by the end, we are glad that she does. We can understand Lahiri’s “linguistic migration” through the lens of this same metaphor: an uncomfortable leap that opens new possibilities but one that is not the compulsory or coercive adoption of an imperial language. It is, in the end, a choice. 


[1] Whereabouts is the first book published by Knopf that was translated by its author (Khatib).

[2] People of South Asian descent who live in the diaspora.

[3] Monberg and Young use the slash/solidus, drawing on the work of David Palumbo-Liu to illustrate “the distinction installed between ‘Asian’ and ‘American’ and a dynamic, unsettled, and inclusive movement.” They write that “Palumbo-Liu’s solidus also reflects his effort to ‘reconceptualize the nature of national identity as at once less stable and more dynamic.’” 

[4] See Powell et al.’s “Our Story Begins Here: Constellating Cultural Rhetorics.”

Works Cited

Alberici, Emma. “Jhumpa Lahiri: ‘I’ve Never Lived in a Place Where I Felt Completely Accepted.’” The Sydney Morning Herald, 24 September 2021.

Bratta, Phil and Malea Powell. “Introduction to the Special Issue: Entering the Cultural Rhetorics Conversations.” Enculturation, 20 April 2016.

Conrey, Sean. “Listening for Phoné, a Film.” Enculturation 1 June 2016.

Cummins, Anthony. “Whereabouts by Jhumpa Lahiri Review – Hypnotic Disappearing Act.” The Guardian, 26 April 2021.

Hsu, Jo. Constellating Home: Trans and Queer Asian American Rhetorics. Ohio State UP, 2022.

“Jhumpa Lahiri discusses Whereabouts with Yiyun Li.” Brookline Booksmith, 11 May 2021.

“Jhumpa Lahiri On Her Unique Use of Place In ‘Whereabouts.’” NPR, 27 April 2021.

Jordan, June. “Poem about My Rights.” In Directed By Desire: The Collected Poems of June Jordan, Copper Canyon Press, 2005. 

Khatib, Joumana. “Writing in Italian, Jhumpa Lahiri Found a New Voice.” The New York Times 21 April, 2021.

Lahiri, Jhumpa. In Other Words. Vintage, 2017.

– – -. The Lowland. Knopf/Random House, 2013. 

– – -. The Namesake. Mariner Books, 2004.

– – -. Whereabouts. Knopf, 2021.

Mignolo, Walter D. “I Am Where I Think: Epistemology and the Colonial Difference.” Journal of Latin American Cultural Studies, vol. 8, issue 2, 1999, pp. 235-245.

Milu, Esther. “Hip Hop and the Decolonial Possibilities of Translingualism.” College Composition and Communication vol. 73, no. 3, 2022, pp. 376-409. 

Monberg, Terese Guinsatao and Morris Young. “Beyond Representation: Spatial, Temporal and Embodied Trans/Formations of Asian/American Rhetoric.” enculturation issue 27, 18 December 2018.

Moya, Paula. Learning from Experience: Minority Identities, Multicultural Struggles. U of California P, 2022.

Powell, Malea, Daisy Levy, Andrea Riley-Mukavetz, Marilee Brooks-Gillies, Maria Novotny, and Jennifer Fisch-Ferguson (The Cultural Rhetorics Theory Lab). “Our Story Begins Here: Constellating Cultural Rhetorics.” enculturation 25 October 2014.

Rashid, Tanjil. “Whereabouts by Jhumpa Lahiri Review: A Fascinating Shift.” The Guardian, 6 May 2021.

Reynolds, Nedra. Geographies of Writing: Inhabiting Places and Encountering Difference. Southern Illinois UP, 2007.

Riley-Mukavetz, Andrea. “Developing a Relational Scholarly Practice: Snakes, Dreams, and Grandmothers.” College Composition and Communication vol. 71, issue 4, pp. 545-65. 

Shade, Jaquetta. “Constellating ‘the Nourishing Arts,’ Decolonial Theory, Land, and Indigenous Food Sovereignty Activism through Story, Relations, and Making.” Journal of Global Literacies, Technologies, and Emerging Pedagogies, vol. 5, issue 2, Nov. 2019, pp. 874-894.

Srinivasan, Ragini Tharoor. “Lahiri, High and Low.” Public Books, 20 January 2014.

Struhl, Abigail. “On Our Nightstands: July 2021.” Public Books, 30 July 2021.

Thiong’o, Ngũgĩ wa. Decolonising the Mind: The Politics of Language in African Literature. James Currey Ltd. / Heinemann, 2011. 


Thank you to Toivo Asheeke for brainstorming, conversation, and feedback on an early draft of this piece, and to the editors and anonymous reviewers at constellations for their generative reviews of my initial submission. Finally, gratitude to Jaquetta Shade-Johnson for her mentorship, conversation, and support as I revised this piece.

About the Author

Vani Kannan, PhD, is an assistant professor of English at Lehman College, CUNY, where she also serves on the steering committee for Women’s and Gender Studies. Her work has appeared in journals including Present Tense: A Journal of Rhetoric in Society, Writers: Craft & Context, enculturation, and Studies on Asia. 

About the Mentor

Jaquetta Shade-Johnson is a citizen of the Cherokee Nation and an Assistant Professor of English and Digital Storytelling at the University of Missouri-Columbia, where she teaches courses in rhetoric and composition, Indigenous literature, digital storytelling, and Native American and Indigenous studies. Her research at the intersections of cultural rhetorics, Indigenous studies, and environmental humanities is primarily focused on how Indigenous communities make meaning through rhetorical, embodied, and storied relationships with the land. She currently serves as faculty advisor for the MU Indigenous student organization, Four Directions; as a founding editor in the editorial collective for Spark: a 4C4Equality Journal, a digital, open-access, peer-reviewed journal addressing activism in writing, rhetoric, and literacy studies; on the editorial board for Peitho, the journal of the Coalition of Feminist Scholars in the History of Rhetoric and Composition; and on the executive committee for the Conference on College Composition and Communication (CCCC).

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