Scaachi Koul - 'Everywhere feels a little foreign, and a little like home'


Scaachi Koul is an extraordinarily talented writer and we should protect her at all costs. Her ability to mix humour and vulnerability is a masterclass in writing that takes readers on vivid visceral journeys. Whether she’s in situ, dying of heat at a never-ending wedding in Jammu or she’s describing the trolling she received when she tried to diversify the content she was commissioning, whether she is navigating space as a women of colour or as a sister or friend, she has this brilliant wry gift of making complicated relationships be fun, funny, sad. She is a brave brilliant writer and her essay collection One Day We’ll All Be Dead And None Of This Will Matter is out in Canada and the US. It needs to come out in the UK, because desi kids need her. Follow her on Twitter. She will make you laugh daily.

Hello. Okay so as an author I find the email Q&A the bane of my life, because the compulsion to cut and paste answers to the same old questions is strong. What has been the biggest bane of your authoring life so far? 

I don’t mind the Q&A except for the fact that I do not think I am interesting, certainly not interesting enough to think of new answers to multiple similar questions. I guess what frustrates me the most is how condescending some of this process is, namely when you’re a woman and you’re not white. I get asked all the time how I made the book “relatable,” as if I am a literal alien who recently learned how to type and wrote a book to explain my bizarre, unknowable existence to all of you people for a price. It’s just a lot easier to ask me questions like that than it would be some white guy. They get to be the median. (Is that what a median is? I’m...dumb.)

How has the jump from online essayist to book writer been for you? What has been the biggest change in your writing that you've noticed?

When you write for the internet, you a) get a near-immediate response and idea of how your work is landing and b) your pieces can exist in a different context. If I write for something on the internet, it lives in the context of how the world is working at the time, and how current events are affecting the zeitgeist. With a book — the hope, at least — you’re writing something a little more timeless that lives in its own vacuum. The only tangible context are the other essays around it. That’s complicated in its own sense because you need unifying themes, but it changed the way I was looking at the work.

Your essay on the wedding in Jammu was particularly emotive because it really gets to the tension between wanting to embrace custom while at the same time feeling alien from it. It feels like the perfect essay for young diaspora kids to read. There isn't really a question here. Just a thought. You can react to it or not.

The older I get, the more I realise how lost I was and am as a kid of the diaspora. I’m still not really sure where to land. I cover that theme a lot, about belonging when you live in that gap between, because there’s no easy answer. Everywhere feels a little foreign, and a little like home. Wouldn’t it be nice instead of feeling like we belonged nowhere, we felt like we just belonged everywhere? That would be nice.

I love the excerpts from various email exchanges with your dad. What has been his reaction to the book?

My dad loves attention so at this point, he’s only grumpy that the press has died down since its Canadian and US releases. He hasn’t read the book and he won’t; he knows there’s stuff in there that’ll upset him. But he likes being the centre of attention. He likes that people know a version of who he is.

Your essay on the awfulness of being a woman of colour online is both upsetting as it is serious. Do you feel you still have the same relationship with the internet now? How much do you find your presence is a form of performance? I feel like, as more people have followed me, I've found myself less likely to be myself and more 'an author'. How about you?

Nah, my internet persona isn’t that much of a performance. As soon as I feel like I’m creating artifice, I usually decide that’s a good time to log off. My Twitter is a curated version of myself. She is louder and annoying but, they’re still elements of my existence.

Who are some of your favourite essayists and their best work?

David Sedaris, David Rakoff, Amy Sedaris (I Like You is grotesque and wonderful), Leslie Jamison, Sam Irby, Simon Rich, and Jon Stewart’s first essay collection, Naked Pictures of Famous People.

Your writing is hilarious. Can you spot how you construct humour? Like, what is the formula for a Scaachi joke?

I do not think of humour like this and I hope no one else does. That said, throw a dick in there, everyone likes laughing at something about dicks.

Tell me about how your writing has developed over the years?

I started writing for some Alberta teen magazines when I was in high school. They paid $25 a piece and I started writing essays there, stuff about my upbringing or about fights I was having with my mom. I remember thinking I was an excellent, flawless writer and I was deeply precious about my prose and likely a real pain in the ass to edit. I am…still a pain in the ass but I think less obnoxious about having my work edited. That’s maybe my best advice: Kill your darlings, and don’t be a bitch about it when people are trying to bring out the best in your writing.

When was the point you thought 'I'm good at this…’?

Depending on the day, jury’s still out.

How does Hamhock feel about the moniker Hamhock?

He gets what he gets.

There's been a huge call for more diverse voices in the media in recent years. Well a louder one. And it seems to be making a difference. And you were certainly a huge part of that by actively calling for more diverse voices to pitch articles to you. Do you think that all the stuff happening now will sustain because there are whispers, as there always are, that while diversity is fashionable, we'll have it?

I really don’t know. All I know is I’m tired of talking about the same five things without seeing any of the gatekeepers to these jobs or positions making any changes. We don’t need more “awareness.” Most of us are very aware that you need to hire diverse people. They just need to do the thing. I don’t know how else to make them do the thing.

I'm always concerned about the information I put out into the world, especially about my kids. Is there anything you've put out into the world you wish, now, you hadn’t?

I used to post a lot of pictures of my niece, Raisin, years ago when my work wasn’t as public and, consequently, my life wasn’t as public. After some internet rage, I had to delete all of them and be a lot more careful about the footprints I make for her before she’s even old enough to be online. She should be allowed to make her own internet mistakes without her niece blasting cute-ass photos of her all over Instagram.

Okay, what are you currently reading and binge-watching and what's your favourite podcast?

My Favourite Murder, You Must Remember This, and Reply All are all great podcasts. I’m currently reading Elizabeth Crane’s We Only Know So Much. I watch literally all television known to man because TV is the best, but I just finished The Keepers. You should watch it. It’ll fuck you right up, like good content should.

Follow Scaachi here.

By her book here.