Author to speak Oct. 21 as part of Chippewa Valley Book Festival

Patel’s short story collection, praised by N.Y. Times, NPR, examines acceptance, stereotypes
​Jerry Poling | October 4, 2019

An emerging voice in Indian American literature will discuss his acclaimed short story collection at University of Wisconsin-Stout as part of the Chippewa Valley Book Festival.

Neel Patel is scheduled to speak from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 21, in the ballrooms on the second floor of the Memorial Student Center, 302 10th Ave. E. The event is free, and parking in most UW-Stout lots is free after 4 p.m.

The title of his talk is “Making the Unseen, Seen: Giving Voice to Diverse Characters in Fiction and Beyond.” He will include time for questions and afterward will sign copies of his book, which will be for sale.

Neel PatelThe Chippewa Valley Book Festival has 20 events over seven days from Monday, Oct. 21, to Sunday, Oct. 27. UW-Stout’s Literature Committee is sponsoring Patel’s appearance.

Patel, who grew up in Champaign, Ill., and lives in Los Angeles, authored “If You See Me, Don’t Say Hi,” published in 2018 by Flatiron Books, a division of Macmillan; the paperback edition came out in July.

It was a New York Times Editors’ Choice pick and named a Best Book of 2018 by National Public Radio.

The Hindu newspaper said the main characters in the 11 stories, speaking in the first person, struggle with both isolation and social acceptance, or the “desires to be both seen and unseen.”

“Each story sands down the rough stone of a character’s propriety until we get to the smooth, soft center of that person,” according to the Asian American Writers Workshop.

Patel’s experiences growing up “as the only Indian kid” in his hometown and as a first-generation Indian American emerge in his fiction. Those characters, however, “aren’t reduced to the status of model minorities or 7-11 owners. Instead, they’re introduced through a panorama of character studies — tentative, tenuous and stray observations of people humbled by their emotions,” the Times said.

The Hindu said Patel’s stories range “from love to acceptance to battling the family and the self all while turning stereotypes on their heads.”

In addition to addressing his identity as an Indian American, Patel hid his identity as a gay man for most of his life.

Chippewa Valley Book Festival logoThere’s something about turning 30 that’s feels very empowering. For me, the most pivotal moment was accepting and loving myself as a gay man. For years I was both ashamed and terrified of it. I lived in a constant state of anxiety,” he told Literary Hub. “When I accepted that part of myself, I began to accept everything else in my life, and I realized that what people think of me doesn’t matter.”

Patel is working on a novel and a television series.

The UW-Stout event will begin with remarks from interim Chancellor Patrick Guilfoile. Professor Lopa Basu, from the English and philosophy department, will moderate.

UW-Stout has been a sponsor and venue for the festival since 2018, with support from the Chancellor’s Office and the College of Arts, Communications, Humanities and Social Sciences.

Basu and Jerry Poling, assistant director of University Communications, are members of the book festival’s Authors and Events Committee.

In addition to his presentation, Patel will speak at 11:15 a.m. in Harvey Hall in a creative writing class taught by Professor Kevin Drzakowski.

The festival also will feature a UW-Stout alumna, Carolyn Porter, who authored “Marcel’s Letters.” She will speak twice during the festival, at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 22, at the Fall Creek library and at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday, Oct. 23, at the Menomonie Public Library.

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Neel Patel


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