This is no. 107 in a series of craft essays exploring the finer points of writing. Check back each week for a new Craft Capsule.
In September 2019, in the midst of an increasingly heated Democratic presidential primary, Camonghne Felix, the director of surrogates and strategic communications for Elizabeth Warren’s campaign, was longlisted for the National Book Award for Poetry for her debut collection, Build Yourself a Boat (Haymarket Books, 2019). I was familiar with Felix’s political work from Twitter, but until the longlist announcement, I had no idea she was also a poet. I welcomed her literary success for purely selfish reasons. At the time I only knew of a handful of people who were both authors and electoral organizers, besides Stacey Abrams, and I was desperately in need of more role models.
I have been a progressive activist for most of my life, but I didn’t enter the realm of electoral organizing until three weeks after Trump’s inauguration. My foray began alongside other Georgia writers attending the 2017 Association for Writers and Writing Programs conference in Washington, D.C., where we met with the staff of senators Johnny Isakson and David Perdue to air our concerns about the new administration.
That spring, while searching for agents for my first novel, The Parted Earth, I threw myself into getting out the vote in the AAPI community for Jon Ossoff’s campaign for Georgia’s sixth congressional district. I was in the midst of getting out the AAPI vote for Stacey Abrams and the rest of Georgia’s Democratic candidates in 2018, when I sold my book proposal for Southbound: Essays on Identity, Inheritance, and Social Change, to University of Georgia Press. In August 2019, while writing Southbound, I cofounded the Georgia chapter of They See Blue, an organization for South Asian Democrats. A few months later, I sold The Parted Earth to Hub City Press.
Most of 2020 and early 2021 is a blur. I was working through line edits and copy edits for both books simultaneously, while teaching in a low-residency MFA program, reporting on the elections for two news publications, and organizing both through They See Blue Georgia and the Georgia Biden-Harris AAPI Leadership Council. Page proofs for both books hit my e-mail inbox leading up to the January Senate runoff race.
It was a challenging but exhilarating time, and I’ve come away with a deeper understanding of what I’m capable of. First, I’ve learned I cannot produce new creative writing in the four months leading up to a major election. (I can’t even read books during this time!) I can revise and edit, but I can’t pen a new chapter. New creative work seems to inhabit the same space in my brain that organizing does, and when things heat up in politics, my creative writing imagination goes into some kind of hibernation.
Second, organizing produces an adrenaline rush that I can harness to get through the more menial tasks of publishing. On weekends it was not unusual for me to be out all day doing election work, return home, and then spend a few hours double-checking the style and form of my endnotes, verifying dates and quotes, and line editing.
And third, because Election Day mayhem and the lead-up to it is entirely predictable, it is not difficult to figure out how to write around it. To that end, I am in the midst of trying to complete a rewrite of my next novel this year, knowing that midterm elections next year will take up every free moment I have.
If you are a writer interested in becoming a community organizer, know that finding a balance is key. And most writer-organizers will tell you that the two disciplines are in conversation with one another. Writers write to shine a light on sociological, political, or cultural issues. Community organizers organize to help find solutions to some of these same issues.
For her part, Felix hasn’t slowed down. She continues to work as a political strategist. And in June 2020, three months after Warren dropped out of the presidential race, Felix announced her new, two-book deal with One World, an imprint of Penguin Random House.
I can’t wait to read them.
Anjali Enjeti is an author, teacher, and organizer. Her first essay collection, Southbound: Essays on Identity, Inheritance, and Social Change (University of Georgia Press, 2021), and her first novel, The Parted Earth (Hub City Press, 2021), were both published in the spring. The recipient of awards from the South Asian Journalists Association and the American Society of Journalists and Authors, she has written for Oxford American, USA Today, Harper’s Bazaar, and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, among other publications. She cofounded the Georgia chapter of They See Blue, an organization for South Asian Democrats, and served on the Georgia AAPI Leadership Council for the Biden-Harris campaign. She teaches in the MFA program at Reinhardt University in Waleska, Georgia.Thumbnail: Element5 Digital