Friday, July 25, 2008

Nalini Jones

Nalini Jones was born in Newport, Rhode Island, graduated from Amherst College, and received an M.F.A. from Columbia University. Her work has appeared in the Ontario Review, Glimmer Train, Dogwood, and Creative Nonfiction's "Living Issue." The paperback edition of her story collection, What You Call Winter, is due out in early August.

From a Q & A at the publisher's website:

Q: WHAT YOU CALL WINTER is a collection of stories, but not in the traditional sense… the characters in the different vignettes are all neighbors, relatives, and friends, and many of them reappear in several stories, giving the reader a vision of their community as a whole. Did you always intend for the book to come together this way?

A: I always envisioned a community that functioned that way — people who recognized each other, families who brought up their children together. But in my first version of the book, only a small cluster of stories were connected; others floated off on their own. When I reread that draft with my editor, we found that many of my own preoccupations in writing about the neighborhood cropped up again and again. It seemed as if I could explore them better — in more intricate and substantive ways, but also more succinctly — if I worked with a smaller, tighter cast of characters. I began to try to draw everything closer together. At first I didn’t realize that would mean leaving some stories behind and rewriting several others entirely. But as I was revising, I saw certain new possibilities for stories that had been isolated. It wasn’t so much that bringing them together connected the collection as a whole, but that story by story, those connections began to yield opportunities to think about the characters and their predicaments in unexpected ways. Everything began to feel a little richer.

Q: Your characters all live in (or once lived) the same, vividly imagined Catholic neighborhood near Mumbai. Why did you choose to write about such a place? Have you always been drawn to India as a setting for your work?

A: My mother is from a Catholic neighborhood just outside of Mumbai, and as children, my brother, sister and I visited family regularly. When I grew older, I began to go on my own. But I never lived there, so aspects of life that my mother and her family took as commonplace seemed endlessly intriguing to me. That became an enormous challenge for me when I was writing. I had experienced my mother’s community only as an outsider, but to write fiction, I had to conceive of it from the points of view of people who lived there, who could speak languages I can’t speak. I ended up creating a new place, with a name and street map all its own. I gave this neighborhood, which I called Santa Clara, schools, hospitals, churches, parks, a post office. I no longer had to try to accurately represent the real community where I had been a foreigner. Suddenly, with Santa Clara, I could concentrate on bringing something to life instead.
Read the full interview.

Visit Nalini Jones' website.

--Marshal Zeringue