Menaka Raman-Wilms: Balancing Art and Journalism

Reading The Globe and Mail each morning, I noticed a familiar name in a by-line.  Could this be the same woman who, in 2016, won the first Alice Munro Storytelling Award?  I did a bit of web research, having worked as a journalist myself, and fired off an email.  Menaka replied and we set up a time to catch up.

The award for a young writer, under 30 years of age, was a partnership between the Foundation and the Alice Munro Festival of the Short Story as part of the Annual Literary Short Story Competition for Emerging Writers.   After she received her award, Menaka organized two fundraising vocal recitals in partnership with The Arts and Letters Club, with proceedings supporting the Regent Park School of Music.

I learned Menaka has been busy, balancing a career in journalism with creative writing and other artistic pursuits over the past five years.  Already having earned a bachelor’s degree in English and political science as well an MA in creative writing she was working a tech start-up in Toronto.  She began writing for the start-up’s website then moved into customer management.  But something was still missing …

So she applied to a number of Canadian journalism schools in 2018.  During her two-year Master’s degree at Carlton University, she completed an internship at CBC’s London bureau before going to Berlin for her research project.   She speaks basic German so it was natural for her to spend a couple of weeks in Berlin and to complete a documentary about three Syrian refugees who work as tour guides in the city (https://soundcloud.com/user-820443494/welcome-to-berlin/s-WMqlE3tVF1r?fbclid=IwAR1TwppL-YxEmgc0gHPtvw8D6zRIYiiL0M7pF2cAdJ-Vb42qizXCnDPUZWY).

Menaka has continued her creative writing.  In 2019, “Black Coffee” was short-listed for the CBC Short Story Competition (https://www.cbc.ca/books/literaryprizes/black-coffee-by-menaka-raman-wilms-1.5083159).  “The Smoking Room” was published online in Broken Pencil Magazine in 2018 (https://brokenpencil.com/fiction/online-exclusive-fiction-the-smoking-room/) Last year she completed the manuscript for her novel, The Rooftop Garden. It’s a story about two childhood friends who create an imaginative world in which the climate crisis has caused oceans to rise and swallow cities. As adults, one of them goes missing from his Toronto home, and the other travels to Berlin to find him and bring him back.

In addition The Globe and Mail, Menaka has worked at CBC Radio programs As It Happens and Cross Country Checkup, and interned at Ideas.  She is based in Toronto now but plans to move to Ottawa this summer.  “I’m trying to balance creative writing and journalism writing as well as get back to singing,” Menaka said.

by Marianne Fedunkiw

Photo credit:  Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

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