Two Tibetan women selected to South Asia Speaks 2021 mentorship program

VOA senior Journalist Tenzin Sangmo(L) and English literature student Tenzin Kunkey(R)

DHARAMSALA, 15 Jan: Two Tibetan women have made it to South Asia Speaks 2021, a mentorship program for early-career writers in South Asia.

Tenzin Kunkey and Tenzin Sangmo were chosen along with 18 other candidates out of some 500 applicants for the program mentorship program aim to help early-career writers living in India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh and the Maldives to find their voice.

While Kunkey, who studied English literature from Ethiraj College for Women in Chennai made it to the program for her love story set among the Tibetan diaspora in India,  Sangmo, a Voice Of America (VOA) Tibetan journalist was selected for her six feature stories about the lives of Tibetan exiles in India.

South Asia Speaks has eighteen mentors who will each mentor one writer over Zoom. The pilot project for writers based in South Asia will commence from Jan 2021 and last for twelve months.

The mentorship is for South Asia based early-career writers who are yet to publish a book with an exception to the self-published writers and those who have so far only contributed chapters or essays to books.

The monitors will help they mentees for their projects which can be a book of fiction or non-fiction, a translated work, or a series of reported pieces.

Stunned and shocked, that’s how Tenzin Kunkey described her feat to Tibet Express.

“My adult life hasn’t really seen a lot of success and when I did see the mail saying that I have been selected for the mentorship writing program and paired with Mr Mahesh Rao, I was stunned and shocked,” she said and added that “I’m still in that mode and quite scared that I might mess up this opportunity but I know something about myself now, that I don’t really give up, not easily.”

Mahesh Rao, the author of The Smoke is Rising, who won the Tata First Book Award for fiction and was shortlisted for the Shakti Bhatt First Book Prize and the Crossword Award will now mentor Kunkey.

Rao, her decorated mentor, has stated in a tweet that he’s thrilled to be working with her.

Kunkey, credited her friend, Niranjani Iyer for her achievement, “I got to know about this particular program of South Asia Speaks from her and she pushed me to apply for it in the first week of December last year,” she said.

“My interest in the arts and theatre performance led me to associate with DRIFT, Dharamsala Residential International Festival for Theatre, and the mastermind magnanimous Niranjani Iyer”

On her love story set among the Tibetan diaspora in India that earned her a seat at the program, she said, “When Niru asked me what I wanted to write about, the first thing I blurted was ‘a love story’. Growing up as a dramatic little child, I loved reading and gobbled down all of the Mills and Boon I could find in the little library that Gen Dadon la set up for us who lived at TEACH, in Kollegal, but realised only later that there is not a single book with a great Tibetan love story.”

Shedding more light on her story that she will now write under the mentorship of Rao, she said, “Why not a love story, telling the stories of our lives lived as refugees born outside of the land where our parents were born, stories of those who ran away from Tibet to escape the oppressive regime of Communist China colonizing our forefather’s land..maybe such characters falling in love would make a nice story.”

Elated to be mentored by Rao, she said that “I want to bring in the Tibetan elements to the common theme of a love story and I think if I can do a nice job it might work.”

Sangmo, on the other hand, credited Pankaj Mishra, an Indian essayist and novelist who was the recipient of the 2014 Windham–Campbell Prize for non-fiction for her entry into the program.

“I was introduced to the program my Mr Pankaj Mishra,” Dharamsala based VOA journalist said.

She said that her project includes two feature stories on Tibetan General Election, Tibetan democracy, Tibetan women, Arts and on the concern of Tibetans with regards to His Holiness the Dalai Lama ageing.

The senior Tibetan journalist who usually anchors VOA news in Tibetan says this time around, she will be writing in English as a freelancer for the program.

She will be mentored by McKenzie Funk, a decorated journalist whose work appeared in Harper’s, National Geographic, Rolling Stone, GQ, Outside, and The New York Times.

The mentorship will take place via Zoom for a year from Jan 2021. During the course of the programme, mentees will receive six calls, each lasting 30 minutes during which mentees are free to discuss any aspect of their ongoing project.

The mentorship project for early career South Asian writers was started by Sonia Faleiro, an Indian writer of narrative non-fiction whose debut novel The Girl was published by Viking in 2006.

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