Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Q&A with writer Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni's many books include Arranged Marriage, The Mistress of Spices, and Sister of My Heart. She has written novels, short stories, and poetry collections, as well as books for children. She teaches creative writing at the University of Houston. Divakaruni was born in Kolkata, India, spent many years in Northern California, and now lives in Houston.

Q: You have two new books out, Oleander Girl, a novel, and Grandma and the Great Gourd, a picture book for children. When it comes to writing for children or adults, do you have a preference, and why or why not?

A: I love writing for both kinds of audiences. Children are so open, so willing to accept the world you create for them. I feel I can touch them and help them be an enthusiastic part of a multicultural world through my books.  I love writing for adults because I can use a different kind of literary skill, go more in depth, be more subtle, etc. with them. I like to alternate!

Q: Oleander Girl deals in part with the aftermath of September 11, 2001. You have written about 9/11 before, notably in your novel Queen of Dreams. What impact has 9/11 had on your work?

A: 9/11 has been extremely important. It really made me think of my own place in America and what being an American means when you are brown skinned in a time when brown-skinned people are often looked at with suspicion. It also made me think about a large national tragedy, which can lead to smaller tragedies throughout the country as a result of hate-crimes. It made me think about the pros and cons of patriotism.
Q: The immigrant experience plays a major role in many of your books. Do you think the themes you address are in part specific to immigrants from South Asia and in part reflective of a more universal immigrant experience?

A: Although I write about South Asia, especially India, which I know best, the immigrant experience in America, and indeed the world, has many common elements with what I write. The desire for belonging. The nostalgia of home. Losing customs and extended family. Making new friends. The gains of living in a whole new world and seeing the world and yourself differently. 

Q: Of all the characters you've created, do you have any particular favorites?

A: Currently, I'm very fond of Korobi, the heroine of Oleander Girl, who is at once courageous and stubborn, innocent and unexpectedly perceptive. She grows a lot and learns many things along the way. She has to deal with a painful family secret. She has to make a difficult choice. I see parts of myself and my women friends in her. 

Q: What are you working on now?

A: A novel based on the epic The Ramayana. I'm retelling this story from a woman's point of view--somewhat like I did in my novel Palace of Illusions, which was based on the other Indian epic, the Mahabharat.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: I'm also busy preparing for Fall classes in creative writing at the University of Houston. I recently overhauled my website and am quite pleased with the results (particularly since I'm not very tech savvy!). I love to connect with readers on my FB page

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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