An Interview with … Kasturi Patra
Tell us something about yourself. What do you bring from your background and culture into your writing?
I’m from India. I was born and raised in Kolkata, but currently, I reside in Delhi. I have a master’s degree in applied economics and an MBA in International Business. After spending almost a decade in the corporate world, I realized that my true passion lies in writing. Hence, I plunged headlong into the world of words. Though I’ve been an avid reader ever since I can remember, I started writing around four years back. For me, my favorite writers seemed like superheroes capable of creating magic and changing my life. So, it took a long time to gain the courage to write without being equipped with a college degree in English Literature or Creative writing.
Since I’m from India, most of my stories are based in Kolkata or in Delhi, the places where I’ve lived. I love describing things, be it the setting with all its sensory details or the food that the characters are preparing or having in the story. A lot of my fellow writers have told me that they get to experience a tiny bit of India through my writing. I feel very happy when they say that.
What do you write? Specific genres or a variety?
When I joined WVU exactly a year back, I was struggling to finish a novel. It was in the feminist young adult genre. However, I discovered my love for writing literary short stories here, thanks to my advisor, Cynthia, the courses that I studied here, and some of the study groups where I’m a member. Right now, the novel is shelved and I’m writing literary short stories and enjoying the experience to the fullest. I’m also interested in writing creative nonfiction and hope to pursue some of the related courses in the future.
What classes are you taking at WVU, and how have they helped your writing?
I take a lot of classes. Since I’ve opted for the three-year fiction MFA, I mostly take classes pertaining to that. Some of the most memorable classes so far have been: Literary Fiction, Subtext, Narrative Design, Lisa Cron’s Wired for Story series, and all the literature classes starting from Hemingway to Munro.
What is the biggest surprise you've experienced at WVU?
Well, last year when I joined WVU for an annual membership fee of $99, I just thought that maybe, I’ll gain something out of it that’d help my writing to a small extent. Since I have no writing teachers or mentors in real life, all I expected was a bit of help regarding feedback and advice. What I experienced instead, was something utterly life transforming, as a result of which I spend all my working hours on WVU courses and groups—writing my stories, analysing them, giving feedback to my peers. I’ve always enjoyed learning, so this place is a perfect fit for me. Also, the warmth and support that I’ve received from some of the senior members have been incredible. They taught me so much. And all of this without having to sell my kidneys in order to pay for my membership! I’ve participated in a few writers’ workshops in India which charged a bomb and didn’t teach a fraction of what I’ve learned here. The renowned MFA programs and workshops that I found online were beyond what I could ever afford without a job at present. What I’ve realized about WVU is that it is a place where the more you give, the more you receive. By giving, I mean the amount of effort and hard work you put into the courses, how sincerely you’re giving feedback to your peers, and how eager you are to learn and grow as a writer. Once my husband leaves for work in the morning, I spend at least five to six hours at WVU. And I’ve received the benefits in full measure. Joining WVU has been the best decision I could've taken for my writing career.
Have you published anything? Submitted? What are you working on now?
I've been published in local print and online anthologies. In the past, I used to write a regular column for a popular Indian website on women’s empowerment. My biggest achievement, writing-wise so far, has been receiving an award of INR 10,000 ($145) for an essay on Kolkata from a reputed Indian publishing house. I'm working on a few literary short stories now, that I plan on submitting in the coming months.
There are a number of WVU members from all over the world. An online system makes it possible for us to communicate with each other wherever we live. But has this caused any difficulties for you? How did you solve them?
I’ve been very lucky to have met some of the most encouraging and generous people here. My learning in this one year has been phenomenal and the members acted as a catalyst in that process. Their feedback and suggestions have been invaluable. This is one of the warmest and most generous writers’ community. In fact, I praise WVU so much that a few of my writer friends from India have also joined it.
A writer's tip or two you'd like to share.
Write. Read. Analyse your work.
I’m one of those boring people who believe in the value of hard work. I do not think I’m especially gifted but one thing that I know about myself is that I am continuously becoming a better writer than what I was in the past due to my sheer grit and determination. I do not know of any other short cut. You have got to read and write every day. Even if it’s not possible to write full time, try to set aside some fixed time during your day where you work on your craft. Just like exercise builds your muscles and makes you stronger, practising your writing is the only way to becoming a better writer.
Also, you need to read. A lot! WVU courses give us great ideas about the kind of books we need to read to improve our craft. The Literary Fiction and Narrative Design classes, for example, exposed me to a diverse array of literary stories. Analysing those have opened my eyes to the different ways that I could approach my own writing.
I’d read somewhere that to be a successful writer you need to read, write, and have a writer’s group for giving and receiving feedback. I had no idea how I’d have achieved the third part without this community. Again, be sincere in your feedback. As per my experience so far, the kind of feedback you receive here will mostly reflect the kind of feedback you give to your peers.