Rinku Sen is a journalist, former president and executive director of the racial justice organization Race Forward, and co-president of the Women’s March board of directors. Before moderating “How Have Women’s Protests Changed History?,” the first of a three-event Zócalo/Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County series, Sen stopped by the green room to talk about the art of the quick comeback, watching British mysteries, and her creative process.
When are you at your most creative?
Early in the morning, between 8 and 10, and late at night, around 11—which means I don’t get that much sleep.
Does anything else fuel the creative process for you?
I have a write-in group that meets four days a week in the mornings, for an hour and a half. We all call in on Zoom, check in about what we’re going to work on for that day. Then we work for an hour and ten minutes, or so. That discipline of opening that group every day, or most days, and having some company for my writing time really helps me keep going.
[The group] started right at the beginning of the shutdowns. I am on the board of Hedgebrook, the women’s writing residency, and as shelter in place started, two alums started to do their own version, but they’re on the West Coast and they didn’t start until 1 in the afternoon. So I just started my own. We’ve been going very consistently. I’ve only missed one day since late March.
What superpower would you most like to have?
The quick comeback. I am a person who walks away from a conversation and thinks about all the things she could have said, but they just don’t come to me in the moment. There are just people that can think really fast—and it’s not just thinking, it’s the honing in on what needs to be said right then, and what the point is. I wish I had that superpower.
What are you reading right now?
Right now I’m reading Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo. It’s a great book about a group of Black, queer women artists and their community. And it’s written kind of untraditionally, more like poetry than prose, which I find makes me read slower, which is a good thing.
When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be a teacher and a writer. Growing up I didn’t have any political inclinations; that didn’t come until I was out of high school. So I thought I’d be an English teacher, and I thought I’d write novels while I taught them.
What would you say was the most important year of your life?
The year we immigrated to the United States from India. So that would have been 1972. It was the year I learned to speak English, and it was the beginning of a whole new identity in our family.
My father passed away a long time ago, more than 20 years ago, but on the five-year anniversaries, usually my mom and sister and I note that it’s been, say, 45 years. Sometimes, we have a little discussion. We don’t really do much of a ritual or anything, but at 50 we might.
Where would we find you on a typical Friday night?
In front of my television, on my couch. I might be watching a British mystery—I loved Foyle’s War—or I might be watching a movie with people of color in it. That’s our only requirement for a Friday night, that there be people of color in it.
How do you procrastinate?
I procrastinate so much. Cleaning, paying bills, I could do pretty much anything. I’m a knitter, so I might say I’m going to knit two rows, and then two hours later, I’m like, maybe I should write that piece now. I’m a terrible housekeeper, but when I’m procrastinating and on deadline, little corners of my place get really clean.
Have you figured out any good ways to sleep?
I’ve figured out the temperature needs to be low, 68 to 70 if I can swing that. I have a lot of props. I have a mouthguard. I have an eye mask. I have a pillow for in between my knees. So, I feel like I go to bed with a lot of stuff around me in my effort to get more than six hours a night.
What keeps you up at night?
The threat of fascism. Also if I’m in the process of writing something or trying to figure out a new strategy, I’m often in my bed late at night trying to sleep, but thinking about that project instead.
You’re in Austin now. What’s the best thing you’ve had to eat since moving down there?
Food I’ve cooked myself. One night I roasted a whole sea bass, and it was amazing. And another night, I made shrimp Creole, and that was also delicious.