SJ: I’m a novelist now, but my “day job” is as an associate professor of journalism and media studies at Seattle University. I was a journalist in India and Singapore and am a researcher in political communication—in American journalism, new media, politics, and social movements. All these jobs and roles have led me to see a lot of stories in different parts of the world up close and deep. I decided to tell one of these stories as fiction, which is why I took to creative writing and came to the Hugo House looking to learn.
SJ:The first one I ever took was a class by Cheryl Slean, years ago. That one taught me a lot and made me hungry for more. Then, classes by Ryan Boudinot, Michelle Goodman, John Douglas Marshall, and especially Peter Mountford were fabulous at different points of writing my novel. Peter was also a generous mentor and wrote a blurb for my novel. My most recent class was with Theo Pauline Nestor, on writing memoir, because that’s what I’m writing now. She’s been a tremendous resource and at the end of the first day of class I went and said to her: “Even if I don’t come back for the next nine sessions of this class, I have learned more than I could have hoped for, just today.” Of course, I came back.
SJ: In Peter Mountford’s class, I learned to keep in mind at all times what my characters want. And a simple tip, but invaluable, from Theo Pauline Nestor: write about that which is your own but also is universal. I’m at a writing retreat right now, doing just that.
SJ: Foreign is a novel about farmers’s suicides in India and is also the story of a mother following her son from America into the suicide fields of India, both of them on a journey of home and belonging and “foreign”-ness. The book has been described as literary fiction with a strong, true-to-life, contemporary political story. The book was published last year by Random House India and was a finalist for two literary awards. My agent in NYC is now looking for the best home for it among publishers here in the US.
SJ: Information and inspiration. That’s what I believe as a teacher and as a student. Some of these classes at Hugo House have filled me—this hard-nosed professor—with wide-eyed wonder. I’d say that’s what makes a good writing class for me.