The name Matwaala evokes bonding and bonhomie, fun and funk, creative adventure and freedom, artistic assertiveness and non-conformity. A Hindi/Urdu word, it was the name of a radical literary magazine edited by the poet Nirala from Kolkata a century ago. Matwaala is used for someone who is drunk, but the word is used more often in a transferred sense, for someone who is a free spirit.
Concerned about the visibility of South Asian poets in the American poetry scene, university reading series, and representation in anthologies and syllabi, we were inspired to initiate a collective. Though the core mission may be perceived as idealistic or even somber, Matwaala, materialized in a weirdly magical way in Austin. The idea of a poetry festival emerged after an editorial project we co-edited for www.museindia.com. The issue focused on a project involving Diaspora artists and poets that generated the idea for sustained collaboration and initiatives. A festival was its magnification, and appeared, erected on a shoestring budget propelled by enthusiasm and faith in 2015. The first festival/collective drew to its fold a group of poets, Saleem Peeradina, Pramila Venkateswaran, Ravi Shankar, Sasha Parmasad and Varshs Saraiya Shah. Joie de vivre, friendship and a sense of community have become the hallmark of the festival that seeks to establish a paradigm based not on hierarchies but on solidarity, offering readings by established and emerging poets, youth forums, papers and panel discussions.
In 2019 Matwaala launched its website, branding, and e-anthology, hosted readings in NYU, Hunter College and NCC. It received sponsorship from Poets & Writers and hosted South Asian diaspora poets from the UK.