When Luna Hou, a junior at UNC, arrived at Indigena Collective’s 14th reading event and first ever open mic in August, she was greeted with red fairy lights, a standing mic and a welcoming literary community.
She braved the stage, compelled to share an excerpt of a fictional piece inspired by her relationship with her Chinese American heritage.
Indigena Collective, founded by poet Ina Cariño, is a reading series that showcases new and established writers with historically marginalized backgrounds. The collective recently began incorporating open mic sessions at the end of the programmed readings, inviting any willing audience member, like Hou, to the stage to perform.
“For me that is very fulfilling to be able to showcase their voices," Cariño said. "In the room, it's just very unpredictable who will be there, but so far, I've been very lucky and grateful.”
Cariño started the collective in late 2019 after having trouble finding a dedicated space for writers of color, including those who identify as queer and transgender, as well as creators with disabilities.
“In this industry which is so hard to get a foothold in, I think it’s really admirable that the point is to try to uplift voices that are harder to hear,” Roshni Iyer, an English major at N.C. State University who read in August at the collective, said.
When Iyer was younger, they had limited access to books that featured South Asian characters. Now, as a writer, they said they are incorporating their Indian heritage into their stories.
According to Iyer, writing is a unique medium that provides more insight into its characters than visual media like film.
“You can see their thoughts and the lines they draw from their experiences,” they said.