In the linked essays that make up her debut collection, This Is One Way to Dance, Sejal Shah explores culture, language, family, and place. Throughout the collection, Shah reflects on what it means to make oneself visible and legible through writing in a country that struggles with race and maps her identity as an American, South Asian American, writer of color, and feminist. This Is One Way to Dance draws on Shah’s ongoing interests in ethnicity and place: the geographic and cultural distances between people, both real and imagined. Her memoir in essays emerges as Shah wrestles with her experiences growing up and living in western New York, an area of stark racial and economic segregation, as the daughter of Gujarati immigrants from India and Kenya. These essays also trace her movement over twenty years from student to teacher and meditate on her travels and life in New England, New York City, and the Midwest, as she considers what it means to be of a place or from a place, to be foreign or familiar.
Shah invites us to consider writing as a somatic practice, a composition of digressions, repetitions—movement as transformation, incantation. Her essays—some narrative, others lyrical and poetic—explore how we are all marked by culture, gender, and race; by the limits of our bodies, by our losses and regrets, by who and what we love, by our ambivalences, and by trauma and silence. Language fractures in its attempt to be spoken. Shah asks and attempts to answer the question: How do you move in such a way that loss does not limit you? This Is One Way to Dance introduces a vital new voice to the conversation about race and belonging in America.
You’ll find that these meditative memoranda don’t end when they are over but continue to work their magic, an alchemy that transubstantiates both memory and memoir. Here are the maps for here, steps stenciled on the finished dance floor, a Little Giddings
rag that brings us back to where we started and there to know the place for the very first time.
—Michael Martone, author of Brooding
Sejal Shah’s lyrical This Is One Way to Dance
deftly explores the intricacies of identity, culture, family, and what it means to be ‘American’ in our increasingly diverse nation. The writing is vivid, Shah’s observations are nimble and wise, and the result is a book that is both thoughtful and thought-provoking.
—Dinty W. Moore, author of Between Panic and Desire
This is a marvelously observant memoir, not only of Shah’s parents’ generation and their arrival in the United States, but also of her own generation’s search for love, for a notion of home and belonging. While this memoir is frequently heartbreaking, it also dazzles with incandescent humor. One of the most nuanced, wise, and tender portraits of immigration I have ever read.
—Kiran Desai, Man Booker Prize-winning author of The Inheritance of Loss
If a queer text is an unsettled one, crossing cultures, crossing genres, then this book of essays rescripts what we think we know about identity—Indian American and other. A phenomenal first book that travels decades in its excavation, Sejal Shah’s This Is One Way to Dance
was well worth the wait. The body in ecstatic dance is a bridge and also an estuary in this prose, equally ecstatic in its precision and its vulnerability—a collection that calls us from any depth. Shah is a master storyteller who keeps us knowing differently. This Is One Way to Dance
is bold and brave. A collection for a new century.
—Dawn Lundy Martin, author of Good Stock Strange Blood
'Oh, there we are,’ I found myself thinking more than once reading Sejal Shah’s beautiful memoir in essays. Each of these pieces captures what it means to be a citizen of a country that may never claim you as its own, to imagine your own brilliant fullness beyond its peripheral gaze.
—Mira Jacob, author of Good Talk: A Memoir in Conversations
This is a sensitive, poignant collection.
The poetic, probing debut from short story writer and essayist Shah forcefully tackles the complicated intersection of 'identity, language, movement, family, place, and race'. . . . In this sterling collection, Shah has created a striking self-portrait.
Shah’s essays favor questions over answers; the book’s comfort with not-knowing and ambiguity is an antidote to the unearned certainty of American whiteness. Her writing is lyrical and fragmented, and it couldn’t be any other way: the language brilliantly skirts genre in ways that mimic the liminality, grief, and identity contained within each piece.
—Kelly Sundberg, Guernica
Shah navigates the shifting terrain of various labels . . . and what it means, ultimately, to belong.
—Rudri Bhatt Patel, BOMB
A narrative and lyric collection of linked essays that movingly reflects on growing up as the daughter of Gujarati immigrants, filled with as much dancing and joy as sorrow and pain.
—Victoria Chang, Los Angeles Times
Dancing, spinning, and twirling don’t fix a body in place; they worry boundaries and borders. These elements define Shah’s forays into creative nonfiction. . . The essays themselves, written, rewritten, and revised across different moments in time, become simultaneously a mode of invention and of excavation.
—Amit R. Baishya, World Literature Today
In these essays, Shah writes about dancing and food, growing up in western New York, moving through predominantly white spaces as an Indian American woman, friendship, language, and the places that have shaped her. Her prose is deft and graceful. Some of the essays are lyrical and meditative; others delve directly into a particular idea or experience. Her writing is so assured, her voice warm and open.
—Laura Sackton, Book Riot