Literary MagNet: Hasanthika Sirisena

by
Dana Isokawa
12.15.21

I like to think of myself as someone who continually questions truths,” writes Hasanthika Sirisena in their essay collection, Dark Tourist (Mad Creek Books, December). Sirisena does so, in part, by telling their own stories alongside those of other people whose lives do not fit neatly into hegemonic narratives. An essay about John Milton’s blindness and Sirisena’s experiences living with amblyopia, also known as lazy eye, probes assumptions about disability and beauty; a piece about a maid of honor to Queen Elizabeth I and Sirisena’s father’s secret wife draws out the tension between the public and private in marriage. Sirisena portrays how lives that do not conform to accepted standards can drive original art and a keener understanding of “the vastness of whatever it is that unfurls out of us: culture, history, time.”

Top: Hasanthika Sirisena (Credit: Julie Louisa Hagenbuch)

Dark Tourist is formally playful and draws on letters, lists, poetry, and visual art. In placing their essays, Sirisena, who is also a visual artist, appreciated journals that support multimodal work, such as the New York City–based Epiphany, which published Sirisena’s graphic essay “Abecedarian for the Abeyance of Loss.” Noting how rare it is for a print journal to take on the cost of reproducing art, Sirisena says director Rachel Lyon “took care with the visual images, invested in beautiful reproduction of what were elaborate drawings, and really showcased the work.” Epiphany publishes poetry, fiction, and nonfiction in its print biannual as well as on its website. Sameer Pandya guest-edited a recent issue on the theme of empire, featuring work by Kendra Allenby, nicole v basta, and Celia Bland, among others. The journal’s website is seeking submissions of poetry, short fiction, and essays on poetry, books, and/or music. Print submissions are currently closed.

When switching to writing nonfiction, Sirisena—who in 2016 published the story collection The Other One with the University of Massachusetts Press—was heartened to publish their essay “Lady” in the second issue of the Arkansas International. “I remember being impressed with the gorgeous first issue and the extraordinary care the editorial team was taking in soliciting work from established, midcareer, and emerging writers,” Sirisena says. Established in 2016 by the University of Arkansas Program in Creative Writing and Translation, the print biannual has published writers from more than sixty countries to “challenge notions of what counts as international and regional U.S. literature.” Submissions in poetry, fiction, nonfiction, comics, and translation open on January 20.

Sirisena published the first essay they ever wrote, “Pretty Girl Murdered,” which shuttles between personal narration and cultural and historical analysis of Sri Lankan feminism and ideas of femininity, in Women Studies Quarterly, a peer-reviewed interdisciplinary journal that features scholarship as well as poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction, book reviews, and art. Sirisena notes it was exciting to see their piece beside work by scholars and writers such as Grace M. Cho, Laura Kipnis, Marjane Satrapi, and Gill Valentine. Published by the Feminist Press since 1972, the print biannual will release a special fiftieth anniversary edition in fall 2022 examining its history as a space for thinking on women, gender, and sexuality. Submissions for the spring 2023 issue are currently open.

After receiving a “brutal rejection” for an essay about marriage, Sirisena admits they were shaken and uncertain about continuing to write essays. But a couple of days after submitting the same essay to the Kenyon Review Online, senior editor Geeta Kothari accepted the piece. Sirisena credits Kothari with encouraging them to keep writing nonfiction and notes that the piece raised their profile as an essayist. Published in print since 1939, the Kenyon Review also releases a separate online edition every two months; both the print and online editions feature poetry, fiction, nonfiction, drama, and translation. In 2022 the editors will release a print issue focused on work, another on climate; Emily Raboteau as well as Laura van den Berg and Paul Yoon will edit fiction portfolios. Submissions are currently closed.

After meeting Joanna Luloff, the coeditor of Copper Nickel, at the AWP conference and book fair, Sirisena submitted “Broken Arrow,” which braids together the narrative of Sirisena’s father working as a doctor in the American South with that of a plane carrying two nuclear bombs that crashed in North Carolina in 1961. “Joanna stuck with the essay all the way through,” says Sirisena, who published the piece in the print biannual’s fall 2017 issue. “She pushed me to reflect more deeply on the connections between the disparate strands while always believing essentially in the essay.” Edited at the University of Colorado in Denver by Luloff and poet Wayne Miller, Copper Nickel publishes original and translated poetry, fiction, and nonfiction. Founded by poet Jake Adam York in 2002, Copper Nickel champions work that “considers sociohistorical context.” Submissions will open on January 15.

 

Dana Isokawa is a writer and editor living in New York City. She is the managing editor of the Margins, the literary journal of the Asian American Writers’ Workshop, and a former senior editor of Poets & Writers Magazine.