Kriti Festival: 2014

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CQR Editor Syed A. Haider, novelist Manil Suri, Katie Alstadt

by Katie Alstadt

A sense of community is difficult to find as a writer, a solitary profession that limits communication and interactions with those around you. If you’re a writer or if you write as a hobby, you know that sharing it is scary. Opening up your ideas and works-in-progress with other writers builds a sense of community, fuels ideas and keeps you moving forward with your work. This was the theme at the 2014 Kriti Festival, hosted on UIC campus in Chicago, Illinois. The week long festival celebrated authors, their works, their successes and the art of writing itself.

Syed A. Haider, the Chicago Quarterly Review’s chief editor, attended and spoke at three different panels and read a few selections from his short stories. He also shared his personal experiences in the arts, revealed his road to success, and discussed how to get work published.  Syed started his writing career later in life. He came to America to be an engineer, studied psychology, and pursued a career in social work. He studied at the University of Chicago and met a professor that was generous with her writing criticism of Syed’s early work. He then went on to publish a book of short stories. Syed stated that he always thought he could write but not well enough to make money.

When asked on the panel at the Kriti Festival for advice how to publish and handle rejection, Haider simply said, “Keep writing, keep writing. Don’t worry about rejection.” He also said that it’s important for writers not to share their work with publishers or writing groups too early, as criticism during the writing process can be overwhelming and harmful to early drafts. However, Syed encouraged the aspiring writers in the audience to join writing groups whether on social media or within school as they build their help community.

Other writers on the panel, including young adult writer Rajeep Paulus, author of Swimming Through Clouds, also encouraged writers to follow their dreams but to do it sensibly. “Pay attention to your art,” she stated, “while reminding everyone to remain realistic and maintain other jobs while you write. Always have a Plan B,” Paulus said.

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novelist Manil Suri

Manil Suri, award winning author and bestseller of a trilogy of novels named for Hindu gods, including The Death of Vishnu, also spoke at the  Festival. I had the honor of speaking to Manil after his panel to ask him for advice for aspiring writers.

Dignified and calm after signing a stack of books for excited readers and fans, Suri told me that he originally started writing as a hobby and that it was something he did only in his free time. But as he continued, he found that writing was something he really enjoyed because it added another dimension to his already busy life. Suri attended the University of Mumbai and Carnegie for a major in mathematics. He wrote his first novel in 1995, after keeping the project secret from his friends and family for about fifteen years. When I asked him about his publication process, Suri smiled and admitted that he was lucky when he found his agent. It all started when he submitted the first three chapters of his novel to an arts center as admittance to attend. He was surprised to find that he received harsh criticism that “tore it apart.” Michael Cunningham, Pulitzer Prize winner, hosted the program and encouraged Suri to keep writing the novel at any cost. Cunningham also wrote Suri a recommendation to an artist colony in New Hampshire and it was there that Suri met a scout from Hollywood who took an interest in his manuscript. However, the novel was not right for film and he found an agent for Suri who later published the novel. Suri stated that writing should be for yourself first and that it should make you happy. If it does, then hard work and dedication will make success easier. “Don’t worry about the first ten years,” Suri said. “Try to get better and hone your craft, then worry about publication.”

I found that many audience members during other panels were interested in how authors found their inspiration, so I asked Suri the same thing. “I only need enough inspiration to get the idea but I think the mechanics are more important. I’ve found that biking or swimming will usually spark an idea.”

The Kriti Festival as a whole was inspiring for me as a writer. I met so many smart and gracious authors who were more than willing to share their secrets to writing, editing and submitting. But most of all, I felt very welcomed in the community as we all shared our experiences with the arts, and what we loved to read and write. The Kriti Festival advocated writers and their community, joining together and creating art, no matter what you may be interested in. I enjoyed meeting so many writers and even made some connections. I highly recommend attending the event next year and in the meantime, joining creative groups and getting yourself and your work out there.