From: ‘The Editors’
Subject: Your submission
Date: June 1, 2012 5:15 PM
To: ‘Randy Boyagoda’
Dear Randy Boyagoda,
Thank you for your recent submission. I’m writing to inform you that it has been accepted for publication. I’m truly sorry it’s taken us this long to get back to you. I hope this good news makes it worth the wait!
At 5:18 PM, June 1, Randy Boyagoda replied:
Excellent!!! I look forward to working with you. A couple of questions for now: When will it run? What will you be paying for it? Also, since submitting the piece last year, I’ve come up with some other ideas — can I pitch you on these now, or is it best to wait until we’ve wrapped up this one? Either way, so glad this has worked out!
At 5:20 PM, June 1, Kate Reed replied:
Just leaving for the day but will write back first thing in the morning!
At 5:20 PM, June 1, Randy Boyagoda replied:
Sounds good. BTW, do you get around by bike? Pretty sure I’ve seen a Google Image of you on a vintage Dutch commuter. I’m a fixed-gear guy myself. I think there’s still a good emasculation piece waiting to be written about hipsters and fixies. Also, the other day, I asked my 3 yr old niece ‘to hang up’ the phone. She had no idea what I meant. So would the magazine be interested in pieces about anachronistic ‘hang ups’ in the digital age or the gender politics (aka ‘nuts and bolts’) of urban bike culture? Looking forward to hearing from you in the morning about these queries and also about the piece you’ve accepted, R
At 5:23 PM, June 1, Randy Boyagoda wrote:
PS: Rereading my last message, I realize what I’m actually proposing are stories about shifting lexicons, which made me think also about the politics of language. Enough has been written about neocons, theocons, paleocons, etc. What about the people behind it all — the lexicons? How about a piece analyzing Right Wingers talking in highly-coded terms on Drudge, Fox, WSJ, Walking Dead, etc. Seems timely. What do you think? Until AM, Randy
At 12:00 PM, June 2, Randy Boyagoda wrote:
I’m checking in about the piece you’ve accepted and also about the other ideas I’ve mentioned. Please write back when you get a chance,
At 4:45 PM, June 2, Randy Boyagoda wrote:
Any word yet?
[These two emails are sent, twice daily, for three weeks, to no reply]
At 6:05 PM, June 23, Kate Reed wrote:
Sorry, it’s been crazy here. We lost our mg editor last week and we’re trying to close an issue. Will update you on the piece asap, okay? More soon, Kate
At 6:11 PM, June 23, Randy Boyagoda wrote:
Sorry to hear about the craziness! I’ve created a playlist to lift/ironize the mood around the office — Leonard Cohen’s “Closing Time,” Neil Young’s “Down to the Wire,” The Doors’ “The End,” etc. It’s available via the Dropbox link below. Don’t worry, I’ll sit tight for now about the piece you’ve accepted — probably running by September? Be strong, your readers and your writers appreciate what you do! Writing as both, Randy
At 6:20 PM, June 23, Randy Boyagoda wrote:
PS: Should I just swing by with some craft beer and pizza? I can still catch the last flight out from Toronto to JFK. Puts me at your office by 1 AM. It’d be great to meet you and everybody, finally!
At 1:05 AM, July 23, Randy Boyagoda wrote:
How are things? In the morning, I’m driving to Tennessee to go caving (it’s for a book; happy to discuss excerpt options). I’ll be staying at Joe Magnon’s Cave, Camp and Play/Clarksville, TN/(931) 394-0828. I’ve left instructions for immediate extraction if you call. FYI, I’ve also listed you as my “In case of emergency” contact. Can you confirm that’s cool?
I Will See You on the Far Side of the Darkness (working title),
PS: Other option: “What we talk about when we talk about caves.” Which do you prefer?
At 3:45 AM, July 25, Randy Boyagoda wrote:
I’m wedged into a rock ledge at the lowest point of the cave, checking email. Can I be reached/can I reach? Seems like the core questions of every human life, from womb/cave to cave/NY magazine office. So just hit ‘Reply’ to confirm you are receiving emails from me. In the dark, in the fetal position, Randy
At 9 AM, August 1, Randy Boyagoda wrote:
Just checking in to see if you have any updates.
[This email is sent daily, for two weeks, without reply]
At 9:02 AM, August 17, Kate Reed wrote:
Thanks for your message. I will be away from August 17-20.
More soon, Kate
At 9:25 AM, August 17, Randy Boyagoda wrote:
Great to hear from you! By chance are you going to alumni weekend at Grinnell College? Your away-dates coincide perfectly, and I might have read something online about you graduating from Grinnell in 2007. I’ve always wanted to visit central Iowa and would be happy to drive down for a visit/maybe look at some edits. Hope you’re up for the same! Let me know where you’re staying, Randy
At 2:25 AM on October 22, Randy Boyagoda wrote:
FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, WHY WON’T YOU REPLY? IT’D BE EASIER TO HAVE MY HUMANITY ACKNOWLEDGED BY A NORTH KOREAN PRISON GUARD! JUST REPLY!
At 5:30 AM, on October 22, Randy Boyagoda wrote:
Hey, sorry about the last message. Down to the wire here (can I borrow that playlist?!) with our first pregnancy, and stress, sleeplessness, lower back pain, etc. are spiking for both expectant parents. Totally uncool to take it out on you — please don’t hold it against the piece you’ve accepted. Randy
At 12:45 PM on November 17, Kate Reed wrote:
I owe you some replies, sorry. It’s been crazy on this end. I’m about to go to an editorial meeting and your piece is under discussion for our next issue. Only, I can’t find it. Please resend. Thanks! More soon, Kate
At 3:40 PM on November 17, Randy Boyagoda wrote:
UCK! I’m at the hospital with my wife. This baby has ANTASTIC timing! I can’t send the ile rom this ucking public access machine with its ucking broken keyboard but 100% sure I can get home, send the ile, and get back to welcome/meet our irst-born (contractions are still ourteen minutes apart). INALLY! SO EXCITED, Randy
At 3:45 PM, on November 17, Kate Reed wrote:
Randy, congratulations! Don’t worry about the piece (it got bumped anyway) and best to your wife and the new baby. More soon, Kate
At 5:56 PM, on November 17, Randy Boyagoda wrote:
Kate, thanks. Randy
PS: I’ve attached the piece and will resend monthly until I hear from you.
At 2:05 PM on April 25, 2013, June Boyagoda wrote:
Dear Ms. Kate Reed,
My beloved son, RANDY BOYAGODA, is an excellent writer and a very good boy. YOU have UPSET him, his wife, and their beautiful new daughter Katherine by delaying the publication of his BRILLIANT article. This is your chance to publish a TRULY UNIQUE Sri Lankan William Shakespeare. Do so IMMEDIATELY or face TERRIFYING consequences. Regards, June Boyagoda
At 5:00 PM on June 14, 2015, Casey Jaynes wrote:
Hey Randy Boyagoda,
As I’m sure you know, Kate has left the mag for grad school. I’ve taken over her gig and wanted to let you know I’d be truly happy to hear new pitches. All best, Casey Jaynes
At 5:02 PM, on June 14, Randy Boyagoda wrote:
Hey Casey Jaynes,
I miss hearing from Kate but I’m truly looking forward to working with you. My first idea is for a “Dear Downton Abbey” column…
first published in The Millions
‘Salman Rushdie is not coming, sir. Don’t worry, there is no problems!” He was only half-right, the young rickshaw driver guiding me through the crowded streets of the north Indian city of Jaipur. I was there in late January for the Jaipur Literary Festival, a rollicking five-day event that has been billed “the greatest literary show on Earth,” and with reason: it annually attracts tens of thousands to hear from some 200 writers gathered from around the world. Salman Rushdie was one of this year’s headliners, until festival organizers received word from Indian authorities of an assassination plot against him. Rushdie pulled out, which instigated a series of events — bizarre, depressing, disturbing, and finally, sobering — that dominated both the festival and the Indian media for days.
As it played out, this controversy exposed a welter of concerns and frustrations over the political and cultural influence that religious sectarianism, wedded to extremist populism, wields today, not just across the emerging democracies of the new Middle East, but also within India, already the world’s largest democracy. And while these concerns and frustrations inspired heated and sharp debate in Indian newspapers and news programs, attesting to the intact vibrancy of the nation’s public life, they never fully abated for many, myself included. Instead, they were reframed and tempered by a firsthand experience of the dramatic climax to this latest Rushdie affair.
Rushdie’s fraught position in his native India owes, of course, to the satirical plays on Islam that figure in his 1988 novel The Satanic Verses, which remains banned from importation. Nevertheless, out of solidarity with Rushdie, four other writers attending the festival read from downloaded passages of Verses during their sessions. Complaints were filed with the local police; there was talk of legal proceedings against these writers and even imprisonment for their literary acts of protest. In haste, they left. Meanwhile, the credibility of the assassination storyline was questioned by Rushdie and others, amid speculation that his all-but-forced absence — especially in light of his attending the festival in 2007 without incident — was a politically motivated strategy to curry favour with Muslim voters during India’s ongoing state elections.
Indeed, the leaders of some sectarian Muslim organizations fomented anti-Rushdie sentiment even in the author’s absence. When word spread that Rushdie was to be interviewed via video-link as the festival’s closing event, a spokesman for one Muslim organization told The Times of India “We will not allow Rushdie in any form. There will be violent protests if he speaks.” Hours before the event, protesters entered the festival grounds; one promised the same newspaper “Rivers of blood will flow here if they show Rushdie.” It was unclear, until the last minute, if the interview would happen, or who would stop it and for what reasons. The atmosphere in the packed, open-air venue was tense and electric. I was seated about 10 feet from the video screen. As a member of PEN, the writers’ organization dedicated to defending the freedom of artistic expression, I considered this an obligatory act of witness. I admit it was also personally exciting; in a profession that demands sedentary, isolated efforts that often produce only limited, isolated responses, the opportunity to be part of a consequential public event was in and of itself compelling.
My excitement abated, however, when Ram Pratap Singh, the owner of the festival venue, informed the crowd of his decision to prevent Rushdie’s interview out of safety concerns. There was some applause, presumably from would-be protesters, but also boos and calls of shame, which I could understand, but didn’t join. I was too chastened by something Singh mentioned in justifying his decision. “Cancelling (Rushdie’s interview) is unfortunate but necessary,” he said, “to avoid harm to this property, all of you, my children, and youngsters here.” Suddenly, this man was not only a decisive player at the climax of a literary and political drama: he was also a father concerned for the safety of his children. Suddenly, unhappily, I was no longer able to conceive of these events exclusively from a writer’s vantage, and I privately accepted a decision that I politically rejected.
And isn’t this why we read literature and attend literary festivals? At our best, we don’t seek to flatter ourselves for laudatory taste and impressive allegiances, but instead to be challenged to see the world and its endless knots of problems from vantages that seem starkly different from our own, vantages that, in their complicated humanity, resist reduction to the singularities of politics or religion. In a heady week full of lively conversations and impressive readings, I not only discovered that a democracy can withstand puritanical and muscular challenges made possible by the system’s very nature. I also found myself sympathizing with a banal, even cowardly decision to prevent a fellow writer from speaking, because I couldn’t deny the plainly human frame of this explosive political event, or the irreducibly human limits of my otherwise lofty commitments to free speech and artistic expression. Before coming home to my own children, this, unexpectedly, was the most meaningful literary experience I had at the greatest literary show on Earth.
Novelist Randy Boyagoda is vice-president of PEN Canada, the author of Beggars Feast (published by Perera Hussein in Sri Lanka) and the father of three.
This article first appeared in Ottawa Citizen.