While searching for a course in the Fall that would satisfy my writing requirement for my degree, I came across “Build the Podcast” and was immediately intrigued and decided to sign up for it. Fast forward to September, and I now have the privilege of working with my incredibly talented and passionate classmates and professor to help market Sweet Om Atlanta, a podcast that was created in 2018 and originally centered around a plethora of fictional South-Asian characters and their lives as they navigate through various challenges at a small, liberal-arts college in the south.
Today, the formatting of the podcast has been changed to fit the needs of our class, with each episode containing a “featurette” to go along with it, or a brief episode that dives deeper into the difficult topics discussed in the main episodes, some of which can be pertaining to the LGBTQ+ community and identity issues, cultural clashes, mental health during the pandemic, and navigating relationships (platonic and romantic) in college. In order to get a little more information about what listeners can expect from the new direction of Sweet Om Atlanta, I drafted up some questions and sent them over to my professor for “Build the Podcast” and the creator of Sweet Om Atlanta, Dr. Reshmi Hebbar.
Q: Can you give a little background info on how Sweet Om Atlanta and how it came to be?
A: The podcast called Sweet Om Atlanta came about because I wanted a chance to write about my community (South Asian Americans in the South) in a safe and easy way that would allow me to train as a fiction writer. My students in English inspired me by all the work in creative writing they were doing–submitting to the Tower (Oglethorpe’s literary magazine), performing at “Night of the Arts.” I felt that there was a community I wanted to tap into at Oglethorpe, but I wanted to bring South Asians with me, too. So, I set up a series of meetings with South Asian students on campus in the Fall of 2017 and Winter of 2018 and talked with them about the kinds of ideas they had on their minds. I mixed those themes with some of my own original writing and started a series featuring people of all ages. The idea was to use the South Asian students as actors to read the parts I wrote. We even held auditions. All the readers have since graduated (alumni like Pritali Amrutkar, Nipun Shukla, Serlin Singh, Asim Javed, Mounica Kota, etc.). We even had faculty readers like Dr. Seema Shrikhande and former Oglethorpe professor Dr. Humayun Kabir. But the idea was to bring people out of their comfort zones–Science majors trying Theatre and Writing arts–while building a community project across campus. I used original music for the first “Season” of episodes from Oglethorpe students of every ethnicity, including Grammy-nominated Oglethorpe alumnus John Burke. I had a Studio Art major (Kimberly Farmer) design graphics for the character images for the first season’s episodes. In the Spring of 2018, “Season 1” was finished and distributed on SoundCloud and shared with faculty but without a formal launch. Season 2 was recorded with the help of Theatre-major student-director Kevin Dew in the Spring of 2019.
Q: What made you decide to start a class around Sweet Om Atlanta?
A: By the Spring of 2019, so many people I had originally worked with had left and graduated. I was simply waiting for the right platform and time to reboot the project again. I was also coming up on a sabbatical in 2020, and I made plans to write and publish more fiction so that I could gain credibility to offer a Writing course where we could build creative podcasts. I decided to try and teach a class on podcast-making in Fall 2021 in order to recruit talent to produce, market, and score the series based on the existing content that had not been formally released. Oglethorpe is big on interdisciplinary learning. Building a podcast is one of the most interdisciplinary tasks I know; more than anything, I wanted to show students interested in English and Writing that there are skills that one can practice and master–problem solving skills that require asking the right kinds of questions–that can make them capable leaders in their post-college, professional lives.
Q: What would you like listeners to take away from Sweet Om Atlanta and the featurettes?
A: That’s a great question. I hope listeners take away the fact that people are essentially the same no matter what cultural baggage they may carry. If they listen to Season 1, they’ll hear teenage angst as well as a young woman’s fear about expressing her sexual orientation. They’ll hear a father worrying about his job security in a Trump-era America. The featurettes are mini podcasts that students in my class are producing to shed light on the universal questions in the fictional series: what does it mean to belong to a minority identity while being a college student, what does it feel like to have to perform two sides of an identity all the time, what does it mean to belong to the LGBTQ+ community on a college campus. Like good students in a class, I hope listeners of student featurettes take away common themes between the fictional content about South Asians in Atlanta and the ideas that so many young people hold inside as they sit in college campuses and continue the hard work of growing up.
Q: Where do you see Sweet Om Atlanta going in the future/what are your long-term goals for the podcast?
A: I will be happy if the podcast gets a Season 2 launch and run and then look forward to taking the podcast class in new directions after that. I think the fictional podcast “Sweet Om Atlanta” could continue if there was interest in building a consortium of South Asian voices across several area colleges–not just Oglethorpe. I might try something like that if there were interest. But I hope next year the “Build the Podcast ” class will be able to focus on a new long-term student creative project brought to me by students themselves.
Be sure to check out Season 2 of Sweet Om Atlanta now on SoundCloud, and follow @Sweetomatlanta on Instagram for episode updates and behind the scenes content from the class!
You can find all episodes on their website.