Lavanya’s writing has won several awards, including Barnes and Noble Discover New Writers, and Poets and Writers’ Best First Fiction Award.
Her opinion pieces and fiction have appeared in The New York Times, The Guardian and The Atlantic, among others. Lavanya sponsors the annual Lavanya Sankaran Writing Fellowship at the Sangam Writers Residency which she hopes will encourage new writers in India.
Recently Lavanya’s first book was included in a list on Huffington Post titled 10 Incredible Books By South Asian Writers.
Suprose is truly honored to feature Lavanya Sankaran in it's Tête-à-Tête series.
You are an investment banker turned fiction writer? How and why did that transition happen?
I’ve been a reader and a writer all my life. Alongside, I’ve done lots of other things: travelled and lived around the world; worked in fast food cafes and swept floors and cleaned bathrooms for a living; did a short stint in investment banking in New York and consulting in India; engaged with parenthood and family. All of this has provided grist for the writing mill.
Banking was just one of the distant footnotes, never anything major.
Did you go back to school, take some courses to make this transition happen?
Writing for me was an organic, private process that I kept to myself. For a long time, my biggest instruction came from the books I read and, of course, I learnt from my own writing efforts. I did finally attend some short workshops in Provincetown – but this was only after my writing had matured and I had found a distinct writerly voice. But it was wonderful to get feedback from other writers in this “workshop” environment, and some of the friendships I made linger till this day.
Your first book was a collection of short stories, that was received very well. Hope Factory is your first novel. How did the switch from short stories to novel happen?
Quite naturally. I had been wanting to try my hand at a novel after my short stories were done. My publishers liked the idea as well – which didn’t hurt.
What are some challenges of each of these two forms? Which one of these has a special place in your heart?
They are very different from each other – with somewhat different skill sets. A great short story functions like an expanded poem; it the moment of arrival; the unpacking of a certain moment in a character’s life. It is mood and moment. A meditation on truth. A revelation. A novel needs a different energy, for it is the entire journey. The artist needs to manage that journey, with truths veiled and unveiled, moments transitioning one to the other until the journey is complete.
From a business standpoint, which one of these was easier or harder to get out to market?
I left all the marketing decisions to my agents and publishers in both cases. I have no natural instinct on book marketing, and very little experience!
Who/what serves as your muse?
For the first two books, a changing, contemporary India was the muse. I used Bangalore as the setting for my stories because it captures perfectly the world I wanted to describe.
You participate in a writer’s organization in Pondicherry. Can you tell us more about this organization and your involvement with it? How did you become involved with this organization…
Sangam House (http://www.sangamhouse.org/) is a wonderful writers residency set up by Arshia Sattar and DW Gibson. It currently runs out of Nrityagram in Bangalore. Nrityagram is, of course, a world famous dance Odissi dance school, and is a perfect setting for creativity to flourish. I am not involved in the workings of Sangam House, but I am very happy to provide the Lavanya Sankaran Writing Fellowship offered by them to support new writing in India, and have done so since the inception of Sangam House a few years ago.
Who/what did you read growing up?
Who didn’t I read? My parents had a library at home and subscribed to one as well. When I was a child, I would sometimes read up to six books a day. Real life had nothing on books; I very much lived to read.
What are some books/authors you like to read now?
I find myself balancing my reading list between contemporary writers of literary fiction and old classics, and again between fiction and non-fiction. I always make time for a good crime story, which is my favorite relaxed-time reading.
What would we find on your to-read pile?
It changes every day.
What are you currently working on?
I am currently at work on both a novel and a collection of short stories