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Author puts creative focus on everyday life

Amitava Kumar doesn’t have to look far to find inspiration for his writing. He finds fascination in the everyday stories of people living their lives.

Amitava Kumar

“At Vassar College in New York, I teach a writing course called ‘These American Lives,’ and I try to help my students see that a seemingly ordinary life offers much to inspire,” Kumar said. “In truth, reality itself often is shocking enough without needing to fictionalize much.”

Kumar will be the next author to speak in the fall University of Houston-Victoria/American Book Review Reading Series. His reading will begin at 11 a.m. Oct. 11 in the UHV University West Alcorn Auditorium, 3007 N. Ben Wilson St. The American Book Review chose to move all readings to 11 a.m. because the new time allows more UHV students to participate in the series. The event is free and open to the public.

Jeffrey Di Leo

“Amitava Kumar’s writing explores deep reflections on themes that impact all of humanity,” said Jeffrey Di Leo, ABR editor and publisher, and dean of the UHV School of Arts & Sciences. “With his wry humor and lovely prose, Kumar is able to convey a clear message about the life of an immigrant in America.”

Kumar describes his journey toward writing as beginning with a desire to have the right words. He grew up in a poor town in India, but he received a scholarship to study in New Delhi, the country’s capital.

“I remember seeing this new place and desperately wanting the words to describe it all,” he said. “I wanted to describe the faces of the street sellers, traveling on public transportation, the sights and sounds of the city. I wanted to write it all down, and I tried, but at the time I just didn’t have the words.”

To improve his writing, Kumar looked for books written by Indian authors in English. Over time, through reading the works of others and long hours of effort in school, he was able to improve his skills, he said.

One of the pieces that Kumar is most proud of is his essay, “Pyre,” which he wrote after his mother died in 2014. The essay explores death in a small Indian town and examines all the little rituals and customs that result from that loss. The piece was selected by Jonathan Franzen, an American novelist and essayist who Kumar highly respects, for the “Best American Essays 2016” compilation.

“It really was an homage to my mother, and I received so many letters from people about how that piece impacted them,” Kumar said. “To have such a personal essay receive recognition from a fellow writer was an amazing honor.”

During his presentation, Kumar intends to read a passage from his book, “Immigrant, Montana,” recently published in July, which follows the story of a young Indian immigrant who came to New York City for graduate studies and struggles with finding his place between his Indian roots and his new home in the U.S.

Other writers scheduled for the fall UHV/ABR Reading Series are:

Saba Razvi, Diana Lopez, and Anthony Madrid, Nov. 1 – Carina Chocano was forced to reschedule her appearance due to health-related issues.

Don Lee, Nov. 15 – Lee is the author of the novels “Lonesome Lies Before Us,” “The Collective,” “Wrack and Ruin” and “Country of Origin,” and the story collection “Yellow.” He has received an American Book Award, the Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature, the Sue Kaufman Prize for First Fiction, the Edgar Award for Best First Novel, an O. Henry Award and a Pushcart Prize. He teaches in the Master of Fine Arts program in creative writing at Temple University and splits his time between Philadelphia and Baltimore.

Shelley Jackson, Dec. 6 – Jackson is an American writer and artist known for her cross-genre experiments, including her 1995 hyperfiction, “Patchwork Girl,” which used tissue, scars, the body and the skeleton as metaphors for the juxtaposition of lexia and link. She also is the author of several children’s books and the short story collection “The Melancholy of Anatomy.” In 2003, she launched the “Skin Project,” a novella published exclusively in the form of tattoos on the skin of volunteers, one word at a time. Jackson’s first novel, “Half Life,” was published by HarperCollins in 2006. “Half Life” went on to win the 2006 James Tiptree Jr. Award for science fiction and fantasy.

ABR is a nonprofit, internationally distributed literary journal published six times a year. It began in 1977, moved to UHV in 2006 and has a circulation of about 8,000. The journal specializes in reviews of works published by small presses.

Authors will be available after each reading to sign copies of their books. Each author also will meet with students and attend a community reception.

For more information about the UHV/ABR Reading Series, call the ABR office at 361-570-4101 or go to www.americanbookreview.org.

The University of Houston-Victoria, located in the heart of the Coastal Bend region since 1973, offers courses leading to 70 bachelor’s, master’s and specialist degree programs and concentrations in the schools of Arts & Sciences; Business Administration; and Education, Health Professions & Human Development. UHV provides face-to-face classes at its Victoria campus, as well as a teaching center in Katy, and online classes that students can take from anywhere. UHV supports the American Association of State Colleges and Universities Opportunities for All Initiative to increase awareness about state colleges and universities and the important role they have in providing a high-quality and accessible education to an increasingly diverse student popular, as well as contributing to regional and state economic development.