After majoring in computer science at Carnegie Mellon University, Sindya Bhanoo literally saw the title of her first book, “Seeking Fortune Elsewhere”, after pivoting to a career as a fiction writer.
“I studied computer science at Carnegie Mellon, but even back then I was interested in storytelling,” said Bhanoo, 41, a 1998 Franklin Regional graduate. “I toyed with the idea a double major in creative writing, but my computer classes were very rigorous and required my full attention.” She then earned a master’s degree in journalism from the University of California at Berkeley.
After a career as a journalist that took her to several of the most prominent print publications in the United States, Bhanoo became a mother and found herself wanting to go beyond the boundaries of reporting.
“Fiction can linger and in doing so achieve powerful emotional truth,” she said.
The short story collection “Seeking Fortune Elsewhere” stems from Bhanoo’s desire to tell stories about her extended family, whom she did not know much about, as the daughter of parents who immigrated to the United States from India in the 1960s. 1970. “I realized that if I didn’t tell my own stories, no one would,” she said.
A New York Times review called the work a “tender, focused beginning” whose stories “thump and quiver with the grief of parting”.
Bhanoo, who lives in Austin, Texas, spoke with the Trib about finding her own creativity in writing and working on the book. This interview has been edited for length.
Q: You’ve spent time in some of the nation’s most prominent newspapers, with stints at The New York Times and The Washington Post. What did your experience teach you about the storytelling that continued in the writing of this new book?
A: My work as a journalist has taught me a lot. I’ve been lucky enough to work with some of the most talented editors. They pushed me to be an inquisitive and reflective journalist, exploring all angles and following all threads. They trained me to be the kind of writer who gets to the heart of the story.
Now, as a fiction writer, I continue to favor simplicity and clarity. … But there’s more wiggle room in fiction, and therefore more space to give to the poignant little moments in a character’s life.
Q: Is there a running theme or guideline in the stories of “Seeking Fortune Elsewhere”?
A: The stories focus on immigrants from the state of Tamil Nadu in India, where my parents are from, and their families back home. Four stories take place in the United States and four take place in India. Pittsburgh appears in several stories. Many stories are centered on women. I tried to capture crucial moments in their lives, when they make very courageous decisions. All my characters are ordinary people and my fiction is interested in highlighting the extraordinary moments in their lives.
Our society tends to focus on the big and the big, the rich and the powerful. But the ordinary person has a complex life, and I wanted to honor that.
Q: What are some of the ways you’ve been able to use your training at places like CMU and Berkeley to help inform your work now?
A: The Computer Science program at Carnegie Mellon is extremely challenging, as an undergraduate program should be. It is not an easy program to perform and it requires endurance. Writing requires a similar kind of endurance and perseverance. It takes time to write a book and more time to publish it.
At Berkeley, I studied with great journalists who encouraged me to pursue my interests and trust my instincts as a storyteller. Beyond that, the two institutions were wonderfully interdisciplinary. My teachers were well aware that no discipline, and no person, exists in silos. I’m lucky to have spent time in both places, so lucky to have this feeling of interconnectedness.