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'Very cathartic': Reading series uplifts voices of diverse creators

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Luna Hou, a Junior majoring in English, smiles on Tuesday Nov. 7, 2023. Hou is a volunteer reader and performer for the Indigena Collective.

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.

Growing up, Cariño had a different experience from Iyer, who had limited access to books with characters they related to. They said their mother surrounded them with Indigenous Filipino folktales and Tagalog writings. That exposure inspired their current writings about displacement and living in the Filipino diaspora, they said.

“Literature helps you feel seen, helps you feel connected to other people that share your heritage around the world,” Tuesday Pil, an N.C. State English major who read at the collective in August, said.

Like Cariño, they often write characters who represent different parts of growing up in the Asian American diaspora, highlighting their struggles with identity, language barriers and loss of homeland. Pil said she enjoys writing fiction, particularly for children.

“I feel like it's important for a lot of kids to feel that they are important to the literary canon, that they can be like main characters in their own stories and heroes in their own stories,” Pil said.

Hou described the collective as a supportive and intimate community, a space where others could relate to her stories and provide more personalized feedback. Hou said it allowed her to see herself represented in the words of other people. 

For her, performing felt like a new medium, one that was more involved and engaged than just publishing.

Hou said that when an author publishes a piece, they don't have the same level of interaction with their readers. After the collective's events, Hou said the attendees and performers talked about the readings, exchanged social media accounts and shared ways to find more of each others' works. 

In the future, Cariño plans to expand the collective by paying artists and hosting writing workshops and craft talks. A new sponsor, VAE Gallery, a community center and art gallery in downtown Raleigh, will allow them to apply to arts grants and funding despite not being a nonprofit organization.

Until then, all participating speakers are voluntary, performing without compensation.

“It's very freeing and very cathartic to just be in the same room with a bunch of people that inspire you,” Pil said.

@dthlifestyle | lifestyle@dailytarheel.com

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