Chitra Divakaruni appears at 23rd Annual Writers Conference

Author speaks about life experience, holds book signing

By Sophia Gravatt
On March 1, 2019

Photo by Axel Marcenaro: A packed crowd follows Dr. Allison Dushane’s interview with Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni. 


Award-winning and bestselling author Chitra Divakaruni began the two-day 23rd Annual Writers Conference with a Q&A session on Feb. 21 in the C.J. Davidson Conference Center. 
Dr. Allison Dushane hosted the session. 
Divakaruni said she came to the U.S. from India when she was 19 to continue her college education. 
“That was a very big change in my life because I had grown up and always lived in a very close-knit family environment,” she said. “For the first time, I was all alone without my family or my community and it was just a whole new world. I was very nervous and scared, but it was very adventurous.” 
Divakaruni said she began to write after she immigrated. She used her real-life experiences as material for her stories. 
“One thing I was fascinated by when I moved here was Pringles potato chips,” she said. “I had never seen potato chips that came in a can, so I put that in my story, ‘Clothes.’ In that story, her husband worked at a 7-Eleven, which I also found quite fascinating because at that time, in India, we didn’t have 24-hour stores.”
Dushane asked Divakaruni what the differences were between education in India and the U.S. 
Divakaruni said the students didn’t ask questions or offer their opinions in classes in India. The students were there to listen, she said. 
“When I moved to the United States, I was very quiet,” she said. “I had to learn to speak up in my classes. The professors would ask me ‘What do you think?’ and I would think ‘Why does she want to know what I think?’ I didn’t understand that.”
She said she liked the give-and-take way of the classes and how learning occurred through discussion and that now, as a professor at the University of Houston, all of her classes are discussion based. 
During the Q&A session with the audience members, one person asked Divakaruni what it means to write for herself versus writing for other people. 
“That is so important,” she said. “I think when we first write, we must write for ourselves. We can’t really write for others, it comes out of us, it must satisfy us. My first draft is always for myself and my second draft begins to be for my audience. When I’m writing something, I can’t think ‘If I write this, so-and-so will get upset.’ I have to think ‘Well, maybe so-and-so will never see it.’” 
Senior Anisa Galvan asked how Divakaruni felt about her novel, “The Mistress of Spices,” becoming a movie. 
“It’s a wonderful experience overall and I’m very thankful,” Divakaruni said. “My hope is people will go to see the movie and either they will love it, and they will go read the book, or they will say ‘the book was better.’ I see it as a win-win situation.”
She said she thinks it is great that books get made into movies but encouraged people to also read the books first. That way, the reader can already have a movie in their head and have their own understandings of the characters, she said.
Junior Nixie Cobler worked at the event. 
“I thought it was really interesting because she was very culturally diverse,” Cobler said. 
Following the Q&A session, Divakaruni held a book signing in the ASU bookstore. 


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