We recently caught up with Eshani Surya, who has taken multiple Catapult writing workshops.
Eshani Surya is an incoming MFA candidate in fiction at the University of Arizona in Tucson. She also serves as an associate editor at SmokeLong Quarterly , a journal of flash fiction. Her own work has appeared or is forthcoming in Ninth Letter Online, Flyway: Journal of Writing and Environment, First Class Lit, Minetta Review, and elsewhere. Find her online at @__eshani.
Where are you from? How does your personal history influence or shape your writing?
I was born in Connecticut to Indian parents. My father was born in the United States, but my mother was born in India. They had an arranged marriage and divorced early on in my life—though they, and my Hindu paternal grandparents, lived in the same town as each other. My father remarried a Brazilian, Catholic woman who moved from Brazil to the US when I was eleven. What I saw in my early life was immigration, culture shock, incompatible religious views. What tied all of this together was people having lives that weren’t easily compatible with other people’s lives. I’m always writing about cultural difference or people who can’t communicate because of fundamental differences, and I think the roots of this subject matter lie in my personal history.
Why did you want to be a writer? What inspires you to write today?
I’ve read so many pieces—long and short—that have exposed me to new experiences and ways of thinking. And as I read those stories, I also realize that so much of the writer’s life is being put on that page. I love providing for my audience, but even more than that I love the new conclusions I’m able to come to about myself through the process of writing even fiction. Writing allows me to parse out my emotions and anxieties and share them with others. That keeps me going.
This fall you’re starting the MFA program at University of Arizona—congrats! How are you feeling heading into that? What are you most hoping to get out of your MFA experience?
I’m really looking forward to starting my MFA in the fall. I took a lot of factors into consideration when deciding whether or not to apply, but I ultimately decided that being part of a writing community that asked a lot of me week on week was the best way for me to continue my path. UA’s program is quite small, so I anticipate that I’ll get to know the other writers in the program well. I’m hoping this will mean we can really delve into each other’s work. I also can’t wait to check out a new landscape and see how that affects my writing! I’ve always lived on the East Coast of the United States. Arizona’s weather and scenery will be totally new to me.
What do you think the difference is between taking a workshop in a more traditionally academic setting and taking one in a program like Catapult?
Catapult classes have a lot of the benefits of an academic setting, from the workshop format to working with prestigious instructors (I’ve taken three Catapult workshops with three brilliant teachers— Chelsea Hodson, Kathleen Alcott, and Lynn Steger Strong.) I think what sets a program like Catapult apart is the ability to meet and workshop with other students who are at dissimilar places in their lives. I’ve met people who have jobs in tech, people who have recently had a child, and even people who live in a different country from me and just flew in to the take the class!
What are your current writing projects?
I’m trying to get a bunch of my short stories and essays into better shape right now, so I’m doing a lot of drafting. I am looking ahead to starting new material too (although, let’s be honest, every draft of an old story usually feels like new material too). I’m fascinated by female friendships, parenthood, aspects of the body, and illness, and I can see a lot of my work heading in that direction.
What are you reading? Anything you've read recently that you'd recommend?
Currently reading A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara, and then moving on to stack of books by UA professors. I just finished a book of interviews that were given by classical sarangi players who grew up in musical families. That took me a while to get through, but also provided essential insight into the world of Indian classical music, which is a subject I may want to pursue in a longer project. I found that out of my recent reads, what has really stuck with me is Lidia Yuknavitch's The Small Backs of Children . At first I felt very unsettled by the various voices, but when I began to grasp them and how they worked in tandem with each other, I became totally immersed in the story and tragedy. Yuknavitch intertwines art, sex, and violence, and these themes develop in spectacular, sometimes disturbing, ways.