We had the good fortune of connecting with Dena Igusti and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Dena, is there something that you feel is most responsible for your success?
I think the most important factor behind my success is being truly honest in my writing. When I first got into poetry, while I met people who had so many parallels to my ide3ntity, it was hard learning to write about being Indonesian AND Muslim AND queer AND a survivor of FGM AND a born and raised New Yorker affected by gentrification. It constantly felt like every poem I wrote had to only highlight one aspect of my identity and conform to previous narratives surrounding that one aspect of my identity. While I didn’t lie about anything, I definitely felt like I wasn’t “enough” of anything because my upbringing wasn’t one singular thing.

I learned over time that by catering my writing to others and not to myself, not only was I hurting me, but I was hurting my own communities by writing them in one-dimensional ways. All of my identities inform one another, and not including one means compromising myself as a whole. Now, I write with specificity in mind, and noticed people relate more to that than when I tried to generalize myself.

Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
When I got into poetry in college and met more poets of color as well as Indonesian artists outside of my community that I learned I didn’t have to compromise myself or my narrative. Because I wasn’t bound by any expectations or shame in poetry, I delved into my identity. Through poetry, I am able to describe and visually show through form, style, and line breaks the ways I feel disconnected, and to showcase that there is still significance in fragmented information. I try not to fill in those missing gaps between my narrative. Rather, I hone in on what I do and do not know, how to build on both, and how to create entirely new information that combines and transcends these binary components.

I recently came out with my debut collection, CUT WOMAN, published by Game Over Books last year. It’s a collection that navigates grief, anticipated loss, and longing as a non binary Indonesian Muslim survivor of female genital mutilation.

I was in a really bad place when I started writing this collection. In 2017 I was coming to terms with the trauma I endured from being a survivor of female genital mutilation. I came back to NYC from college to find a lot of neighborhoods I grew up in/with disappear along with the people I knew and loved due to gentrification. I found out some people I grew up with died/were dying at an early age, including my first boyfriend in middle school. I was so afraid of dying but I also didn’t want to exist. Indonesia was going through another earthquake and no one cared about my people dying and only about the safety of white tourists. I felt like I was in a constant state of loss and anticipating new loss. I didn’t know how to write about these things other than exactly how I felt and processed them, so I did just that. I didn’t intentionally write a collection. I wrote a series of things that I was going through and they all centered around the same things and I put them all in one book.

What I want it to do ultimately is let people kind of disperse binary and boundary and understand the ways in which we navigate things all seep into each other. There are never set stages in life or in death.

I want people to understand how to interrogate the before and after. What does it mean to live in the moment right before you realize everything else isn’t going to matter? What is it like living in that exact moment right before the actual aftermath of whatever you experienced?

Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
I love taking my friends to places they don’t immediately think of when they think “NYC.” I grew up a gritty gothy nerdy foodie, so I tend to lean to those things when I take people out.

When it comes to food, Queens and Lower East Side are always my go-tos, so I’d recommend a dollar slice in St. Marks, oxtail in Liberty or Jamaica Ave, Indonesian food in Elmhurst, or chicken over rice with white sauce and hot sauce two blocks from my house.

Of course everyone knows Strand and Barnes & Noble in Union Square when it comes to bookstores, but I’d encourage people to venture to other amazing spots: Forbidden Planet for all my comic book lovers, Berl’s Brookyn Poetry Shop, and Kew and Willow (Kew and Willow was the first bookstore that carried my book CUT WOMAN, so I have a special place in my heart for that store).

During the day, I LOVE going to Governor’s Island during the summer. It’s a $3 round-trip ferry, and the view is absolutely beautiful. Usually there’s an artist exhibition, a festival, or theater performance happening and those are always fun to watch, but walking around and taking in the fresh air and architecture is also pretty cool. At night, hitting up queer bars like Mood Ring or heading to an event I saw on an Instagram flyer is always a great time.

Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
I’d love to dedicate my shoutout to my book, CUT WOMAN.

In a post-colonial world shaped by what is and what will be lost, what is there left to celebrate? In Dena Igusti’s debut collection Cut Woman, Igusti is overwhelmed by the loss of their people. The loss includes but is not limited to: the deaths of Muslims around the world due to xenophobia and Islamophobia; the deaths of Indonesians as a result of post-colonialism, state violence, environmental racism, and overall media negligence; the mortality of friends, lovers, and family facing economic disparity and gentrification in New York City; the loss of their body that could’ve been their body if they didn’t undergo female genital mutilation. They know that one day, their time will be up too. Rather than stay in mourning, Igusti tries to turn these wakes, both current and future, into the biggest celebrations of their life.

Website: https://denaigusti.com/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/dispatchdena/

Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCFtDuqIw25RIErMzUxU0cxg

Other: CUT WOMAN https://www.gameoverbooks.com/product-page/cut-woman

Image Credits
Image credits: ESTHERFROMNEWYORK Ray Jordan Achan Converse All Stars

Nominate Someone: ShoutoutDFW is built on recommendations and shoutouts from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you or someone you know deserves recognition please let us know here.