Raj Chakrapani (MFA creative writing '17) is the winner of a Fulbright Study/Research Arts grant to Romania for 2020-21
Hometown: Cerritos, California
Award: 2020-21 Fulbright Study/Research Arts grant to Romania
Degree: MFA creative writing
Could you give me a brief synopsis of what you'll be doing with your Fulbright?
I will be translating from Romanian into English an anthology of contemporary poetry from women and Roma writers. The anthology will also have interviews and manifestos (from the poets themselves) which will provide context to the poems. My aim is to represent poets who write in experimental styles, from marginalized perspectives, and who challenge the canon of Romanian and European poetry.
What drew you to this field of study?
I spent three years as a Peace Corps volunteer in Romania and during this time I remember reading Mircea Eliade, Gellu Naum, and Mihai Eminescu, to name a few Romanian writers who stuck in my mind from that time. Years later when I was at the Iowa Writers' Workshop writing poems in English I took two translation workshops by the International Writing Program. I met Andra Rotaru, a Romanian poet, who was part of the International Writing Program cohort when I was in the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. I made a film with Andra Rotaru about the whole International Program Writing which is on the IWP website. The film in many ways paved the way for a life-long artistic collaboration with Andra Rotaru, which so far includes film, translation, and a literary magazine. I also had the good fortune to attend many events from the translation program run by Professor Aron Aji, director of the UI MFA in literary translation. During these events and workshops, I felt included in the discussion of international literature even though at the time I did not consider myself a translator, let alone someone who might read in another language. The discussions about translation didn't take anything for granted about the author of the text. I knew I was an international writer, that is to say, even though I wrote in English my poems drew from experiences in India, where my parents are from and from Romania, where I spend a great deal of time.. It took me some time to figure out how to develop this connection to bilingual poetry, first I had to let go of the idea that I could work in only one genre.
"I'd like to reach out to immigrant communities and heritage speakers in the U.S. who may feel excluded from the wealth, grants, and scholarships that support artists."
How do you envision this will influence your future career?
I want to nurture creative writing communities in the spaces where I live which is part of the work I will be doing in Romania. As an immigrant whose parents and extended family expressed skepticism supporting my career in the arts, I did not become a writer through an academic process. I'd like to reach out to immigrant communities and heritage speakers in the U.S. who may feel excluded from the wealth, grants, and scholarships that support artists. I will apply for a PhD program that blends translation, creative writing, and digital media.
What advice do you have for future students interested in applying for a Fulbright?
For me, it boiled down to the strength of the project. The idea for my Fulbright came from a close relationship to Romania and awareness of the politics involved in the publishing industry and how difficult it is for me to discover writers who look like me or writers from Europe who are not from "major" languages like Spanish, French, and German. Karen Wachsmuth was extremely enthusiastic about my application and put me in touch with a small army of advisors and students who helped me through the whole process which took longer than I expected. I affectionately think of her as Momma Karen.
Are there individuals you'd like to thank for their investment in this process?
My first thanks go to my wife, Anca Roncea, who will be a co-translator for the project. She holds an MFA in poetry from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and an MFA in literary translation from the University of Iowa. She is a Fulbright fellow from Romania to the USA. I'm grateful to my Indian parents and my Romanian in-laws for their emotional support. Karen Wachsmuth and Fulbright mentor, Spanish and Cinematic Arts Professor Kathleen Newman, went over revisions of my application and put my poetry language into State Department speech. Aron Aji expressed enthusiasm about the project from the beginning and pushed me to think more about mother tongues. Madhu Kaza's Kitchen Table Translation is what drew me to translation as a way of hospitality.
Students are encouraged to begin their funding searches and applications at least six months to one year in advance. Schedule an advising appointment with Karen Wachsmuth to discuss your interest in an international fellowship or begin an application (as a UI undergraduate student, graduate student, or alumna/us).