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Author Sindya Bhanoo visits Willamette University

Izzy Cornelison

Staff Writer

Photo by Lucy Devlaeminck

On Monday, Oct. 2 author Sindya Bhanoo did a reading in the Alumni Lounge as a part of this year's first installment of the Hallie Ford Literary series sponsored by the Department of English and the Hallie Ford Chair in Writing. “Seeking Fortune Elsewhere” is a collection of eight short stories, four taking place in India and four taking place in the United States. The stories all contain themes of loneliness, as well as the challenges and difficulties of being an immigrant in America.

Bhanoo has not always been a fiction author—in fact, this is a fairly new occupation for her. Bhanoo’s adventure into fiction started with short paragraphs written after her child was born. Before that she was a journalist working for the New York Times and the Washington Post, both of which she still writes for on occasion.

She described her writing process as draining, not because she doesn't enjoy it, but because she spends so long getting to know her characters that it begins to feel like she is interacting with a real person. She said that her journalistic route felt more practical than creative writing, and that she loved to tell the stories of the people she talked to. However, journalism came with limitations, and Bhanoo felt responsible for telling stories that were often not told. She recognized that she could not achieve that in journalism alone.

During the event Bhanoo read an excerpt from the first story in her collection, “Maliga Homes.” This story follows a mother who lives full time at a retirement community called Maliga Homes, while her daughter Kamala is living in America. It covers the ties of a family separated by an ocean, and the struggle of life when one is away from those who love them, spanning themes of grief, death and grappling with one's own mortality. It also examines the relationship between money and lifestyle as well as the idea of religion and cultural identity in the modern age. The story is told from the perspective of the mother in the retirement home, which allows the reader to feel the loneliness present in the community and in the rift between the mother and Kamala.

In 2021 Bhanoo won the O. Henry prize for “Maliga Homes.” The O. Henry Prizes are the oldest major prize for short fiction in America and are awarded annually with the intention of providing a platform for modern short fiction authors, regardless of where they are in their careers. The award for short fiction is considered one of the most prestigious awards to win as a short fiction author.

At the event Bhanoo was asked if representation is something she consciously thinks about in her writing. She replied that it isn’t a decision she makes on purpose—it just happens to evolve out of the characters she creates. She feels no constriction to a traditional story format, just an obligation to reveal the inner workings of her characters and to watch them evolve as she writes them. She believes that representation is a natural consequence of following these people where they take you.

The next event in the Hallie Ford literary series will be a reading by Jasmine Mendez, a best selling Dominican-American poet, playwright, translator and award winning author of several books for adults and children. It will take place on Wednesday, Oct. 25 at 5:00 p.m. in the Alumni Lounge of the third floor of the University Center.

To learn more about Bhanoo and her writing, visit Bhanoo’s website

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