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Central Point native earns Fulbright award

Courtesy photo Central Point native Jessica Mehta reads at Annie Bloom’s Books in Portland.

Over the years, Central Point native Jessica Mehta’s poetry has gained considerable attention, from community members who gathered at Portland’s esteemed Powell’s City of Books to judges who awarded her a gold medal at the Independent Publisher Book Awards in New York.

But now Mehta, who splits her time between Hillsboro and Seattle, is set to travel to India after receiving the Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program award from the U.S. Department of State and the Fulbright Scholarship board. She will depart for India next May and stay for nine months.

“The Fulbright, along with a couple of other awards, are some of the most recognized and prestigious — for many fields, but for writers in particular,” Mehta said. “The award itself is supposed to be about transplanting the awardee into another part of the world for this total experience and fostering relationships between the two countries.”

According to her project proposal, Mehta will curate an anthology of Modern Indian English Poetry — poetry written after India gained independence in 1947 — with students, faculty and staff of CHRIST University in Bangalore. She also plans to curate additional works with a community organization, the Bangalor Writers group. These efforts will culminate with a published anthology that contains a forward written by Mehta.

“When I write and curate anthologies, my thoughts are always with the readers,” she said. “I want them to be a part of it. … I want it to spark debate and their own research into what these poems are saying.”

Mehta’s project will also conclude with a literary festival, which will be recorded and streamed to audiences in India and America.

Her travels will be preceded by a poetry reading at the Josephine Community Library scheduled for November. Mehta is excited to participate.

“Southern Oregon and Portland metro area will always be home,” she said. “Every time I’ve gone for an extended period of time, it’s the landscapes that I miss. There’s just a sense of inherent comfort here.”

Mehta attended Jewett Elementary, Scenic Middle School and Crater High School before moving away when she was 15.

Mehta, the daughter of a white mother and Cherokee Nation father, said she grew up in a “typical small town” and felt safe riding bikes with her friends.

“But there was always this sense of being an ‘other’ because of having a Native father,” she said. “That didn’t really stick out to me until I was a teenager, but it was always kind of in the background.”

By that Mehta meant that she never felt she fully belonged to where she lived or the heritage of either her mother or father.

“I think it’s a major driving force in my writing. A lot of it is about self-identity in post-colonial America,” said Mehta, author of “The Wrong Kind of Indian,” based on her life as a child and navigating “the challenging bridge across” the age of 30.

Mehta’s work — as a Ph.D. candidate who is married with two adopted children — “cements this constant lifelong evolution of figuring out where my place is in the world.”

But, “I will always consider myself a poet first in everything I do creatively,” she said.