NAW Interview with Samrat Upadhyay

Samrat Upadhyay

Samrat Upadhyay is the first Nepali writer to be published in the west to critical acclaim. His first book, the short story collection ARRESTING GOD IN KATHMANDU (Houghton Mifflin, 2001) has been translated into French and Greek and was the recipient of a Whiting Writers’ Award as well as a pick for the 2001 Barnes & Noble Discover Great Writers Program.

Upadhyay has also penned THE GURU OF LOVE,  BUDDHA’S ORPHANS and THE CITY SON. Visit him here.

NAW- Tell us about how you became a writer. How long did it take before you had your first book out?

I have been a writer since my childhood. I was the editor of the school magazine in Nepal. When there weren’t enough submissions, I used to write creative pieces and publish them in my friends’ names. But even after coming to the States in 1984, I didn’t know what kind of writer I wanted to be. I thought journalism was my route. In 1990 I ended up taking a class with Eve Shelnutt at Ohio University, and that changed everything. I knew that serious writing was something I’d want to pursue seriously. But it was not until 2001 that my first book, Arresting God in Kathmandu, was published.

NAW-Tell us about your book, The City Son. What is it about? How did you get the idea for it?

The City Son is about a young boy who comes under the domination—emotional and sexual—of his stepmother after his mother begins to slowly lose her mind. It’s a dark story about psychological and sexual abuse—my best work thus far.

I was at the starting stage of a novel about a Nepali man in Cleveland when I thought that I needed some backstory, which took me to the man’s childhood. That’s when this young, lonely boy appeared, and I knew the heart of the story was in the trials of this young boy and his journey into a troubled adulthood. The original story set in Cleveland disappeared and was replaced by this much more powerful story. 

NAW- How much research did you have to do for your book? How did you go about it?What were your primary information sources?

I had to do some research into the trauma experienced by children who have been sexually abused, and how that trauma continues in their adult lives. I mostly did the research on the web and read books.

NAW- Tell us about your other works.

My first book was the story collection, Arresting God in Kathmandu, which chronicles lives of ordinary middle class folks in the city where I grew up. My first novel The Guru of Love tells the story of a math tutor who falls for one of his students and has to face the consequences with his family. In The Royal Ghosts, my second story collection, I depict the consequences of the Maoist insurgency in Nepal, which claimed the lives of thousands of Nepalis. My second novel Buddha’s Orphans charts the story of two lovers across generations.

NAW- Which authors have influenced you?

I was influenced by Indian writers when I first began to write seriously. Writers such as Salman Rushdie, Anita Desai, Amitav Ghosh, and Rohinton Mistry taught me a lot about how to, as Raja Rao put it, “convey in a language that is not one’s own the spirit that is one’s own.” But I also have other influences that are international: Irish writer William Trevor; South African Nadine Gordimer; Ray Carver; and many others.

NAW- Tell us about yourself. What do you do when you are not writing?

I am also a teacher, a professor of Creative Writing at Indiana University, a job I greatly enjoy. I feel privileged to be in a position where I can make a living teaching other people to do what I love the most—writing.

NAW- Name you five favourite authors.

William Trevor

Anton Chekhov

Rohinton Mistry

Ruth Prawer Jhabvala

Cormac McCarthy

NAW- Which actors would you likes to see playing the lead characters if one of your books was to be made into a film?

Daniel Day-Lewis

Meryl Streep

NAW- What are your upcoming projects?

I am working on a novel and a short story collection.

NAW- Any advice for young writers?

There’s no substitute for hard work. You need to go at it every day, relentlessly, and expect many difficulties along the way. But such discipline can also provide pleasure, and bring rewards.

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