Reading, writing, and activism

A local writer works toward a stronger community



Michael Hanlon

Writer Gail​ Hosking was at a rally in support of immigrant rights in Rochester last year when she spotted a familiar face. The quiet young man from her writing group—the one who didn’t say much—was in front of the crowd with a megaphone. Could this really be the unassuming yet talented writer Ravi Mangla?

It was Mangla, who, it turns out, is not only a writer but a community activist, co-director of the nonprofit group ROCitizen, and the communications manager at Citizen Action of New York.

An early start As a young man growing up in Pittsford in the early 2000s, Mangla became an avid reader, especially when he decided to leave high school before graduation:

“I became very invested in reading and books. Reading and writing became a refuge.”

He dove into literature and spent his free time honing his writing skills. His self-study paid off, and he received word of his first publication at age nineteen.

A host of prestigious magazines and journals, including the Atlantic, the Nation, the Kenyon Review, American Short Fiction, Salon, and the Paris Review Daily have featured Mangla’s work since that first teen publication. In 2013 he wrote a novel, Understudies, (Outpost19, 2013) about a celebrity who moves in down the street from a schoolteacher.

Hosking describes Mangla’s writing style as “sharply observant” and like many other fans of his work, is also impressed with the humor in much of his writing. Mangla says that he doesn’t actually set out to write a funny story or essay, but that humor is just “organic” to his writing: “I don’t think that I am going to write a funny story, but I’ve been unsuccessful writing seriously. If I try to write something serious, it feels wrong.”

When it comes to his writing process, Mangla has a very particular way of doing things. He writes everything in longhand at a café, then types it into his computer at a later date. He also refuses almost all offers to read publicly, despite requests from a variety of writing organizations and universities. This may seem at odds with his activism and political work, but Mangla is ultimately a very private person. He points out that when he needs to run a meeting or rally he tends to “feel vulnerable in a way I’m still not comfortable with.”

Like Hosking, writer Sonja Livingston is impressed with Mangla’s work and believes that his reserved personality ultimately contributes to his writing skills:

“Ravi is quiet and friendly. So much so you might forget he’s at the coffee shop with his book or his pen. This is a good trait in a writer, who makes keen observations his business, but it belies the ferocity of Ravi’s work, which is unflinching, intelligent, and precise. His words are a scalpel, with which he cuts and probes and lays the tender spots bare. He’s one of the most talented writers I know. Rochester should be proud.”

Rochester proud

Mangla is a Rochestarian through and through, and he is proud to call the Flower City home. “I love this city, and I want to stay here. I feel very invested in its progress, and I feel that it is artistically nourishing to me. There is a lot here that I feel feeds me as a writer,” he says.

His appreciation for Rochester also fuels his activism, and he wants the city to “rebuild as a more equitable community.” The key issues he has been working on recently include healthcare, environmental justice, public education, and voting rights. He also advocates for a reorganization of Rochester’s transit system to better serve more people in the community.

Hosking sees herself in Mangla and recalls her younger days as a budding writer and a volunteer with Amnesty International. She recognizes that his passion for writing comes from the same place that his passion to be an activist comes from—“a need to be a witness, to say it like it is.” Mangla is currently hard at work on a new novel about a documentarian arrested in a foreign country for supposed acts of sedition. As usual he is writing it out by hand in his journal at local cafés between rallies and community action meetings.

Learn more about Mangla at his website ravimangla.com.

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