Creative writing professor finds success through power of writing
Award-winning author and Honors College professor Chitra Divakaruni is quite familiar with the demands of a full-time career. Many of her novels have been adapted into Hollywood films and plays.
On a semester off from teaching creative writing, she is currently on tour promoting the publication of her new novel “Before We Visit the Goddess.” Divakaruni will have a reading and book signing of her novel at 7 p.m. on April 19 at Blue Willow Bookshop.
She talked to The Cougar about her book and the power of writing.
The Cougar: You’ve been a writer for quite some time, having authored several successful novels. When did you first discover that was something you wanted to pursue?
Chitra Divakaruni: (After I moved to the United States), I had been thinking seriously about the effect of immigration on myself and others in my community for some time, and I wanted to explore the matter further. I was pretty much done with my formal degree program at this point, so I wrote on my own and joined the Creative Writing group to get feedback. I was not a very good writer when I started. I certainly didn’t have any confidence and was very nervous about sharing my work. But joining the group really helped me think of myself as a writer, and it also helped me edit my work and make it stronger.
TC: What is your new novel about and what inspired you to write it?
CD: My new novel “Before We Visit the Goddess” is about three generations of women in a family: the grandmother, the mother and the daughter. The book moves from India to the U.S. and actually ends here in Texas. UH also features in one of the stories. In the course of the novel, the women must each ask themselves the question, ‘What does it mean to be a successful woman?’
I want readers to think about this question and to ask themselves whether the definition of success changes according to the time and the place in which you live.
TC: How has your childhood influenced your work?
CD: It has given me a deep knowledge of my culture, the geography of India and the people of India. If I had not grown up in India, I’m not even sure I would’ve become a writer. It was only when I was removed from India due to immigration that I realized what a powerful impact the places and people from my childhood have had on me. They keep coming back in different forms in my writing.
TC: Why did you feel that the UH was a good place for you to teach as a full-time author and mother?
CD: The creative writing program is a nationally ranked one, very prestigious with wonderful colleagues and students for me to work with. It is a place where I learn every time I teach a course. The high quality of the classes taught here push me to do my best, both as a writer and as a professor.
TC: How have your students you’ve taught made a change in your life?
CD: I learn a lot from my students. They have new and different ways of looking at a story or a technique that I am teaching them, and so they force me to keep looking at things from new angles and grow as a writer from that experience.
It is very gratifying when students write to me years later, or come back to see me, and tell me about their publications and awards.
TC: What is your favorite part of your job?
CD: Definitely it is the writing. To be creating something new, to get immersed in a fictional world, to begin to see characters come to life – that is very exciting and magical. Every day is something new. I am actually not a very comfortable traveler, though I do travel quite a bit to give talks at universities. I think I’m happiest when I’m at home, wearing my old sweatpants and working away on my computer.
TC: For those who wish to pursue a similar career, what advice would you give them?
CD: I would tell writers to be very serious about their craft, to give it lots of time, to read widely, write regularly and edit carefully.
The field is not necessarily easy to break into, so be patient with yourself and don’t give up too soon. It’s very helpful to take classes in creative writing if you want to become a writer. It hones the process and saves you from making a lot of the mistakes that I made because I was working on my own. I had to learn the hard way. I recommend to people that they choose an easier path.