What is Suprose?

Welcome to Suprose.

Why Su-prose? "Su" in Sanskrit is a prefix for "good". This is a place where we will discuss and analyze prose (with a South Asian Connection) - that which is good, awesome, excellent, and maybe rant about prose that could be better.

Whether you love prose, are a prose expert, or want to learn more about prose, or to put it simply want to have anything to do with prose, this blog is for you.

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Sunday, December 25, 2011

Anita Desai - A Classy Writer of Elegant Prose

Anita Desai is a writer who needs no introduction. I first heard her speak at a conference I was presenting at in Chicago in 2007. I had read her books and was charmed by her prose, but was truly taken with her Audrey Hepburn like personality and style, which are a perfect fit with the elegant prose she writes.
The biography below is from the website "Voices From The Gaps" --
Born to a German mother and an Indian father on June 24, 1937, Anita Desai spent much of her life in New Delhi. Growing up she spoke German at home and Hindi to friends and neighbors. She first learned English when she went to school. It was the language in which she first learned to read and write, and so it became her literary language. When asked why English remains her literary language, she said, "I think it had a tremendous effect that the first thing you saw written and the first thing you ever read was English. It seemed to me the language of books. I just went on writing it because I always wanted to belong to this world of books" (CLC).
Desai received a BA in English Literature and graduated with honors from the University of Delhi. She started publishing her work shortly after her marriage to Ashrin Desai on December 13, 1958.
Desai is part of a new literary tradition of Indian writing in English which dates back only to the '30s or '40s. She explains that this is because "at one time all literature was recited rather than read and that remains the tradition in India. It is still rather a strange act to buy a book and read it, an unusual thing to do" (CLC). Her new style of writing is also different from that of many Indian writers, as it is much less conservative than Indian literature has been in the past. For these reasons, she says, she is not widely read in India, mainly in Indian universities if at all.
Throughout her novels, children's books, and short stories, Desai focuses on personal struggles and problems of contemporary life that her Indian characters must cope with. She maintains that her primary goal is to discover "the truth that is nine-tenths of the iceberg that lies submerged beneath the one-tenth visible portion we call Reality" (CLC). She portrays the cultural and social changes that India has undergone as she focuses on the incredible power of family and society and the relationships between family members, paying close attention to the trials of women suppressed by Indian society.
Desai is praised for her broad understanding on intellectual issues, and for her ability to portray her country so vividly with the way the eastern and western cultures have blended there. She has received numerous awards, including the 1978 National Academy of Letters Award for Fire on the Mountain, the first of her novels to be brought to the United States. The story is of a remote, isolated woman and her equally withdrawn great-granddaughter as they are forced together in hills surrounded by violence and fire. In 1983 she was awarded the Guardian Prize for Children's Fiction for The Village by the Sea, an adventurous fairy tale about a young boy living in a small fishing village in India. She was awarded the Literary Lion Award in 1993, and has also been named Helen Cam Visiting fellow, Ashby fellow, and honorary fellow of the University of Cambridge.
In addition to her writing, Desai has raised four children: Rahul, Tani, Arjun, and Kiran. She has been a member of the Advisory Board for English, and of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, as well as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. She has also worked as an educator at colleges including Mt. Holyoke, Smith, and Girton College at Cambridge University.
In the first week of January 2012, Suprose will feature a Tête-à-Tête with this prolific writer. 

Don't miss this Tête-à-Tête to find out how to enter a giveaway and win one of three copies of - The Artist Of Disappearance by Anita Desai, her latest collection of three fabulous novellas. 

Read and listen to an NPR review of this book here --
Via @nprbooks: Desai's 'Disappearance': Three Tales Of Art And Time http://n.pr/sRZL4X

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

R.K. Narayan On Writing...

You become writer by writing. It is a yoga. -R.K. Narayan, novelist (1906-2001)

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Nieman Reports -- Thrity Umrigar on Fiction Writing and Journalism

A Literary Exploration of How Power Corrupts

This story is ‘about how the worlds of journalism and fiction writing are not as unimaginably different as one might think.’

By Thrity UmrigarI published my first novel in 2001, a year after I completed my Nieman fellowship. In fact, I wrote the novel, "Bombay Time," during my time at Harvard. To be honest, I applied for the fellowship in part because I was hoping it would allow me time to write my book. And write it I did, even when it meant waking up at 4:30 on cold Cambridge mornings so that I could write for a few hours before starting my day as a Nieman Fellow.
But to start at the beginning: Once upon a time, not too long ago, there lived a journalist who wanted to be a novelist.

After almost 15 years of reporting on other people's words, thoughts and ideas, of never revealing her own opinions, feelings or beliefs, the journalist was ready to explore the interior life—to express what she believed and felt and held sacred. To tell the stories that she wanted to tell, and not the ones her editors thought were newsworthy.

And so, in 1999, I applied for and was awarded a Nieman fellowship. My apartment in Cambridge was so cold I wore light leather gloves while I typed on the HP desktop I had lugged all the way from Ohio. The ridiculous good luck that had gotten me the fellowship in the first place lingered by my side a little longer, and I found an agent and then a publisher while I was still at Harvard. Some of this stuff you can't make up.

But that's not what this story is about. It's about how the worlds of journalism and fiction writing are not as unimaginably different as one might think. About how, in the end, there are only two kinds of writing—good writing and the mediocre kind. The transition from one genre to another is not as difficult as some people think.

When I was a reporter, the artificial hierarchy that people drew between journalism and literature used to make me mad. Talk about journalism being a poor cousin to literature made me bristle. In order to blur these artificial lines, I tried to infuse my journalism articles with as much literary flavor as I could get away with. Years before someone coined the term "narrative journalism," I was drawn to longer, magazine-length stories—stories about human beings, not sources; stories that could be told with nuance and complexity, that illuminated something about the way we lived; stories that had "interiority."

It turned out to be wonderful practice for my current career as a novelist. First of all, journalism imposed a certain discipline, a work ethic, a workmanlike attitude toward making art, which I appreciated. There is nothing precious or coy or airy-fairy about journalism. With modesty, it bills itself as a craft and not as art. I try to bring that same muscular, proletarian attitude toward novel writing—it's my job, it's my calling, I try to do it as well as I know how. Saying this in no way diminishes the mystical, subconscious, almost sacred aspect of storytelling, those days when you can hear the angels singing to you and through you. But when I catch myself sounding pretentious about what I do for a living, when I hear myself use terms like "narrative structure," "story arc," and "archetypal characters" too often, I remind myself—all I do all day is spin yarns. The drunk at the bar down the street from my house probably does it better. Better yet, I imagine my former colleagues in the newsroom rolling their eyes at me. It works like a charm every time.

I believe that every life has a theme. When I was 6 years old, I began to write poems. These poems were usually addressed to my parents and took on the aggrieved tone of a child who had been refused something. It was my way of taking on the power structure, of trying to right a perceived injustice. Years later, my journalism took a similar path—whether I was writing about homelessness or AIDS or class and gender disparities, I was actually writing about power—who in our society has it, how it is used against those who don't, and what the strategies of resistance are.

My novels have similar concerns. I have written about the power that a rich family in Bombay has over the illiterate domestic servant who works for them, about an American couple living in India who assumes that the rules don't apply to them, about how adults abuse their authority over powerless children. Most recently, I have tackled the issue of Islamic fundamentalism, but from a non-American, non-9/11 perspective.

I guess you could say, this is my life's theme—the exploration of how power corrupts human relationships, the gap between the haves and the have-nots, and the endless struggle for happiness that human beings engage in.

So I try not to think too much about genre. What matters to me is the human heart that beats at the center of all great stories. When I look back on my writing life, I see that the vehicles may be different—poems, short stories, news stories, novels—but the passengers are the same. The passengers are always struggling to move from darkness into light; they are often inchoate and inarticulate, but fumbling toward greater human communication; and they are almost always held together by that shaft of grace that we call love.

Thrity Umrigar, a 2000 Nieman Fellow, is the author of a memoir and five novels, including the bestselling "The Space Between Us," published in 2006 by HarperCollins and "The World We Found," to be published by HarperCollins in January 2012. For more about her and her books, go to www.umrigar.com.

The full article is available at http://www.nieman.harvard.edu/reports/article/102705/A-Literary-Exploration-of-How-Power-Corrupts.aspx

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Nieman Reports -- Gaiutra Bahadur on Writing As A House That Shelters You!

Writing a Life, Living a Writer’s Life

‘At one point, my mother, a woman who is anything but acid, told me: “Get a job, and get a life.” She said this out of love and concern because all I ever did—all I ever do—is work, seven days a week, practically every waking hour.’

By Gaiutra Bahadur
"In exile, the only house is that of writing." Theodor Adorno, the German philosopher and critic, conceived that metaphor. I encountered it in a book I was reviewing, and I decided to use the words, translated from German, as a tagline for my website. Full disclosure: except for the nine words that begin this essay, I have never read any Adorno. I hear his prose is difficult. Yet these particular words of his made perfect, intuitive sense to me. I know I can't really compare his exile, that of a Jewish merchant's son from Nazi Germany in the 1930's, to the rootlessness I was feeling at the time. Still, I identified, deeply.

What am I an exile from? I come from an immigrant family, twice over. But immigration is not the same thing as exile. As any Cuban will tell you, exile involves a dream of return to your homeland—one you were forced to leave. It's a matter for debate whether my family had to leave Guyana in 1981. I didn't have a say, in any case. I was only 6. 

But when I left The Philadelphia Inquirer in 2007, I truly had no choice, being one reporter among many dozens laid off by a new corporate owner. Suddenly I was an exile from a newsroom, part of an early wave replenished many times over as the entire newspaper industry entered crisis mode.

I was among the fortunate few. A few months after my layoff, I was selected as a Nieman Fellow. For a time, this gave me shelter, a nice one as far as shelters go—warm, well stocked, even kind of glamorous, and the companionship of fellow travelers. But like all shelters, it was temporary. As spring arrived, I surveyed the job market, then decided that instead of re-entering an industry in serious upheaval I would pursue a book project. With half of my Nieman stipend saved, I set off for England to dig in archives for a story I wasn't sure I would find well documented enough to tell.

I wanted to write nonfiction exploring the mystery of my great-grandmother, who left Calcutta, pregnant and without a husband, to work on a Guyanese plantation in 1903. The details of her exit from India, with their hint of trauma or scandal, were not unique. Her story was the story of hundreds of thousands of Indian women who ended up in British colonies worldwide as indentured servants, semi-forced laborers who replaced slaves on sugar estates. Talk about exile. These women knew exile. 

Getting Started

The journey I was about to embark on was nowhere close to theirs in daring or sacrifice. 

During my Nieman winter break, I had made some forays into the British Colonial Office archives in London and then to India to ensure the story was substantial enough to take a risk. It was. I didn't, however, realize how great the risk would seem to the publishing industry, then facing its own crisis. 

It took more than a year for my book proposal to sell. Five editors at five houses liked the proposal well enough to pitch it to acquisition boards. Others said they liked it, but didn't bother to pitch. The consensus seemed to be that the story wasn't commercial enough for anyone to take a chance on during what turned out to be the start of publishing's crisis years. An editor at a major trade house complimented me and the subject matter, saying it was "a story well worth telling, a story well worth hearing." But she concluded: "I'm sad to say I found very few problems with the proposal and the story itself—my only worry is more on our end, how we'd bring this to a big enough audience." 

Another rejection letter read: 
We ultimately felt that, while an engaging, global and beautifully written memoir, the audience for this would be small and difficult to reach … We all loved her writing, though … and would love to see her pursue a bigger story or subject in the future.
When my proposal was on the market in 2009 and 2010, publishing was purging its own employees, enlarging a parallel community of exiles. Established writers and books on more mainstream topics were still being contracted, of course. But there didn't seem to be great room for new voices or for risk—for first-time authors, like me, wanting to take on "difficult" subjects. I'm not saying that my proposal was perfect or that all rejections were as kind or gently written as the ones I've quoted. I'm saying it cuts to hear that the story of your people is not "big," even when worthy and well written—and it disappoints to hear that "big" seems to mean mainstream and marketable, even to publishers whose mission statements declared otherwise.

This is about when Adorno's words struck such a chord. I had put everything into the pursuit of a story that no one seemed to want. To top it off, the United Kingdom border control office denied me a one-year business visa because, it said, book research didn't constitute a valid business purpose. The officer in Edinburgh who detained me when I tried to enter on a tourist visa instead told me frankly that the meager state of my bank account probably accounted for the rejection. "Plenty of people come here to hole up in nice houses on the Isle of Skye and write," she said.

By then my Nieman stash was gone. I hadn't put it into health insurance. I hadn't put it into the bric-a-brac of a middle-class life: evenings out, eating out. I didn't even put it into an apartment or a house. Everything I had went into research for the book, mostly at archives in the United Kingdom and the West Indies. I had no lease, no mortgage, no permanent address. I lodged or, once or twice, lucked out with a housesitting arrangement. I rented rooms cheaply from friends, friends of friends, mothers of friends, and strangers who looked kindly on starving artists, and acquaintances who believed in what I was trying to do. In my year and a half there, I lived in eight different flats in London.

When I wasn't working on the book, I was working on freelance book reviews or magazine articles or pitches for them or fellowship applications or teaching Saturday morning English classes to 13-year-olds who didn't want to be there, all to replenish the bank account that the border control lady had found so distressing. At one point, my mother, a woman who is anything but acid, told me: "Get a job, and get a life." She said this out of love and concern because all I ever did—all I ever do—is work, seven days a week, practically every waking hour. And who can blame her for thinking that a woman in her mid-30's should not be living with her parents? Who can blame her for thinking her amply and expensively educated daughter should maybe have a place of her own? Or that she should have the time to do things other than work (like, ahem, get married and procreate something other than a book)?

I'm not sharing the sordid details to make you feel pity. Don't. I chose this life. It is exactly what I want to do, and on most days I am thrilled to be doing it. I feel blessed. I have supportive friends and family and colleagues. I have co-publishers I respect and trust: University of Chicago Press and Hurst, an independent press based in London. And somehow I still have enough money to pay for five more months of rent at a writer's studio in Manhattan and subway and train fare to get there. 

I'm writing this so you know this is the hardest thing I have ever tried to do. It takes soul-risking hustle and soul-exposing humility, a combination that comes from being rejected repeatedly yet somehow still believing that the ultimate goal is bigger than you or your bruised ego. It takes passion—a downright obsessive love for your subject and belief in its value. And it takes being blessed. It's not something to undertake just because you think books might be a better bet than newspapers right now. 

When I was on staff in a newsroom, I was a workaholic. What I did was who I was. And so I made the mistake of identifying my job with a home country. It wasn't. It's still true to say that what I do is who I am. But now I know that this transcends any particular employer, as compelling as health insurance and a biweekly paycheck can sometimes seem. Writing is not a job. It's a vocation, a calling. If you're lucky, it can be a house, too—the thing that shelters you in seasons of transition and constant address changes. It's not the kind of house that Google Earth can locate, but I know exactly where to find it. I make words there every day, words that I believe in, words that I hope will make a contribution, words that have a reality well beyond the imaginary homeland of a newsroom. 

Gaiutra Bahadur, a 2008 Nieman Fellow, is writing her first book, "Coolie Woman," which is scheduled to be published in 2012. An excerpt appeared in the Spring 2011 issue of The Virginia Quarterly Review and was reprinted in the Indian magazine The Caravan.

The full article is available here --

Friday, December 2, 2011

Rudyard Kipling -"If"

Listen to this poem narrated by Kipling, each time you need a little bit of motivation and push to keep you going! Or just listen to it to enjoy!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Tête-à-Tête With Kamala Nair

I have to admit I was skeptical when I picked up my review copy of The Girl In The Garden. To read or not to read... I did read and I was pleasantly surprised. The elegant prose and it's similarities to The Secret Garden, were what appealed to me most about  Kamala Nair's book. This coming of age story is a departure from the usual immigrant experience and a fresh take on the story of a young Indian American girl. This book is an impressive debut and has been very well received by readers and critics. 

Kamala Nair was born in London and grew up in upstate New York, Vermont, and Minnesota. A graduate of Wellesley College, she studied literature at Oxford University and received an M.Phil in Creative Writing from Trinity College Dublin. She currently lives in New York City, where she has worked at ELLE DECOR magazine. Suprose had the pleasure of interviewing her.

1. How did you become a writer?

I have been writing for a long time. I can’t recall when I first started, but I think my love of writing was born out of my love of reading. As a child I was a passionate reader, and that organically led to writing my own stories. After college I decided to attend a graduate creative writing program in Ireland, which is where I started The Girl in the Garden. My plan was to attend law school after I finished the program because I was afraid of not having some kind of solid, conventional career path to follow, but once I had all that time, space, and freedom to write in Ireland, I realized I could never be fulfilled doing anything else.

2. Have you received formal training in writing? How did you prepare yourself for the daunting task of writing a novel?

My formal training began with a poetry class with Frank Bidart in college. I learned so much from that class, and he is an amazing teacher. After that I did an M.Phil in Creative Writing at Trinity College Dublin. With only 14 people in the program, our workshops were intense and intimate. I didn’t really prepare myself to write a novel, because that wasn’t my original intention. It was something I wanted to do eventually, but at the time I was writing short stories. My novel grew out of a failed short story. Once I started expanding it I couldn’t stop.

3. What did you love most about this writing process, and what were your biggest challenges writing and revising your debut novel?

I loved the trance-like experience of the writing process, when it was going well. I would sit down at my desk to write and then emerge a few hours later with pages of work that I wouldn’t fully recall producing, and then walk around the rest of the day in a state of euphoria. The biggest challenge was finding the discipline to keep writing amid the stresses of my day job and the social distractions of living in New York. Revising was difficult because I could no longer shut out my inner critic. Writing a first draft can be a magical and liberating process, but revising is cruel. You have to be really harsh with yourself.

4. Who did you read growing up?

I read a lot of fairy tales, as well as many of the classic children’s books, from The Secret Garden (of course) to Little Women to Anne of Green Gables. I read a lot of great 19th-century British novels, including Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights, long before I was able to understand them.

5. Which writers would you consider your role models?

The Brontës, Vladimir Nabokov, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Edith Wharton, James Joyce, Edna O’Brien, Arundhati Roy, among others.

6. What are some books that are sitting on your table, waiting to be read?

The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides…I’m trying to save it for my upcoming vacation in December. Also, Last Man in Tower by Aravind Adiga.

7. What did you enjoy most about writing your first novel The Girl In The Garden? And what were some of the biggest challenges?

I enjoyed exploring the back-stories of all the characters, and getting to know them intimately. I also enjoyed trying to remember what it felt like to be a ten-year-old girl and seeing the world through her eyes….the innocence and the heightened drama of everything. Tuning out thoughts of the eventual outcome and what other people might think was a challenge.

8. POV, characterization, voice, dialog, what do you think makes or breaks a good novel?

An authentic voice, compelling story, and characters the reader can care about.

9. If you were not a writer what would you be?

Hmmm, probably a TV journalist. I went to Wellesley because Diane Sawyer is an alum and she was one of my heroes in high school. Either that or a zoologist or veterinarian because I love animals, but I’m terrified of snakes so that probably wouldn’t have worked out.

10. When you are dealing with writers blocks or slow moments, what are some of your creativity boosters… music, writing exercises, reading, others?

Listening to classical music, re-reading beloved books, taking long runs, and when all else fails, a nap.

11.  How do you work, do you go by a structured writing schedule? Where do you write, describe your writing environment?

When I was working on THE GIRL IN THE GARDEN, my schedule was pretty structured by default since I had a day job. I woke up around 5:30 or 6 and wrote until it was time to get ready for work. On the weekends I set aside a few hours per day to write. I lived in three different apartments over the course of time that I wrote that book, so my writing environment was constantly shifting. It usually consisted of a dining room table if no one was home, or the antique desk in my bedroom, the only nice piece of furniture I bought when I first moved penniless to New York. I still write at my dining room table or at that desk, or I go to the Rose Room at the main branch of the New York Public Library. Mornings are still the best time for me to write.

12. What are you working on currently? Where is it going to be based? Can you give us a peek?

It’s still in an early stage, so I’d rather not say too much about it quite yet. I can say it’s different from The Girl in the Garden, and that it’s a historical novel that takes place in the 19th century. I will definitely keep my readers updated.