Queer Author Julietta Singh Reveals The Inspiration Behind Her Memoir

Her biggest challenge wasn’t the intense reflection, but facing how attached she is to her iPhone.

Julietta Singh is, in her words, a “late bloomer.” Her memoir, “No Archive Will Restore You,” was released last November and was recently nominated for a Lambda Literary Award. Singh is more than a queer author; she is also an Associate Professor of English and Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at the University of Richmond. Both her academic and creative writing have been published far and wide.

Photo by Alexis Courtney

“I finished high school in Canada only through the benevolent gestures of an especially magical guidance counselor, who saw potential in me and added unearned credits to my transcripts,” Singh tells GO. “I was living in my older sister’s basement [after a failed college stint]…and working endless hours as a grocery store cashier and had no study skills whatsoever”

However, one misstep was not going to stop Singh from reaching that potential. Eventually, she was able to hustle her way into an internship in news radio.

“I was suddenly reporting live from budget day at city hall and covering grisly murder trials,” she tells GO. “I was bouncing between feeling entirely irresponsible as a reporter who understood very little about the politics I was reporting on, and feeling crushed by the brutal deaths of women I was covering.”

Going back to school, Singh earned her undergraduate degree in literature, a master’s degree in English Literature, and Ph.D. in Comparative Literature. She described her memoir as an “outgrowth” of her successful academic experience and “this queer act of teaching myself how to learn.”

“No Archive Will Restore You” is a collection of essays chronicling Singh’s journey into adulthood as a queer woman of color. Sexuality, violence, and eating disorders are all extensively covered.

“A lot of what I write about in this book are aspects of embodied life that are typically sites of shame and secrecy,” Singh tells GO. “I call [the book] a queer body meditation – a way of thinking against our socialization and training as bodies. We are taught that our bodies are and should remain sealed off from the world, that our natural functions are mostly shameful and that we are somehow separate from the environments and other bodies around us.”

Nisha Gopalan described the book as “a poetic and philosophical life hack,” while Singh called it “a radical act of re-crafting who you are…seeing what you’ve always been, even if it hasn’t been written into your ‘script.’” Singh began drafting the memoir while working on her first book “Unthinking Mastery,” which was released last year by Duke University Press.

“I think of both books as sister-texts,” Singh tells GO. “They are very different in style and form, but they share a spirit and were written alongside one another.”

“Unthinking Mastery” is an academic text on the concept of mastery over bodies, minds, and intellects. Naturally, researching and writing it was an intense experience. At the end of each day, she began to pen “little thought experiments” about the work she was doing.

“Eventually I finished Unthinking Mastery and realized that all of these fragments were trying to say and do something collectively,” Singh tells GO.

With that, “No Archive Will Restore You” was born.

 

Photo by Punctum Books

According to the author, writing this book was “invariably emotional.” Though the essays cover tough topics, she found her sexuality “one of the easiest, because mine was less a coming-out-of-the-closet narrative as it was the ongoing story of my being a late bloomer and growing at an alternate pace into my deepest desires.”

Singh’s biggest challenge was a lighter story: “my incredibly neurotic relationship to my iPhone, while I was falling in love long-distance.”

“I like to think of myself as ‘above’ these kinds of embarrassing truths, but wow, I may well be the queen of obsessively interpreting emojis,” she tells GO.

The title itself came about for Singh during these periods of intense self-reflection and observation of the past.

“The ‘archive’…comes from the idea that we are all made up by our histories – those we have lived through, and those that predate us but still deeply affect us,” Singh tells GO. “I wanted to think about compiling an archive for and of the body, an inventory of what it has lived through, how it has changed or transformed over time, how it has been altered by its contact with the outside world.”

This type of archival has special significance for women, “perhaps especially women of color,” Singh tells GO. “[These] lives are shaped by the intersections of patriarchy and racism, not to mention class, ability, access, that deeply affect our bodies and our relationships to them.”

After finishing “No Archive Will Restore You,” Singh submitted the manuscript to Punctum Books. Both she and the publisher were pleasantly surprised by the support the book received.

“It’s a misfit text to its core,” Singh tells GO. “[B]y which I mean it won’t fit easily into existing categories, and for this reason it’s especially wonderful to be recognized by the queer literary world.”

Julietta Singh has, above all, enjoyed connecting with her range of readers, regardless of their background. “It’s been incredible to speak with other queer women of color about what this book means for us,” she tells GO. “but it has also been amazing to talk to folks who share very little by way of identity with me, those whose body archives might look very different but are no less intertwined with mine.”


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