Sonora Jha was born in India, where she had a successful career as a journalist in Mumbai and Bangalore before moving to Singapore and then the United States to earn a Ph.D. in Political Communication. She is now a professor of journalism at Seattle University. Her first novel, Foreign, brought together her work as a journalist, an academic, and a creative writer. She is the 2016-18 Writer in Residence at the Richard Hugo House and is an alumna and Board President for Hedgebrook Writers' Retreat. She has just completed a memoir and is working on a second novel. Sonora lives in Seattle.
Five Questions for Sonora Jha
Q. How long have you been writing?
I think I started liking to write a long time ago. My mother has a three-line essay I wrote in first grade in Dehra Dun, a town in India. It went like this - 'I have a horse. His name is Ned. Ned is a good horse.' I wish I could write such simple and attractive prose today. Brilliant stuff, that. But, seriously, I started wanting a career in writing when I was 18 and wrote a little essay that got published in The Times of India. I then went and studied journalism, got a job as a journalist, and wrote a whole lot of news and features. I didn't think seriously of creative writing until recently, when I realized I had this story of the death of Indian farmers to tell in the most compelling way possible.
Q. Which writers or books have inspired you?
The first writer that lit up my imagination was Enid Blyton. She's a phenomenal British writer who wrote children's books that we grew up reading in India. She was famous for series like "The Famous Five" and "The Secret Seven," but the stories that would hush me up with wonder were in a series of novels called 'The Faraway Tree.' I'll never forget them. More recently, J.M. Coetzee's 'Disgrace' took my breath away with its compelling writing and its story of a dubious central character within apartheid in South Africa. So powerful. Vikram Seth has an easy mastery over the language. And Zadie Smith makes me all resentful because I wish I could write like her.
Q. What do you like about writing?
That's a hard question to answer. I think I like 'having written.' It's like expending this miserable energy that builds up inside you. Sort of like working out. I'm always suspicious of people who say they actually like the process of working out. I believe them when they say they like 'having worked out.' Basically, I'm a better person on the days on which I have written. It makes me feel peaceful, in touch with myself, I would say even spiritually engaged. I like who I am when I write.
Q. Where do you do your writing?
In Seattle's coffee shops, mostly. I have spent hours and hours writing at Cafe Fiore on Queen Anne, the Teacup (my writing suffered when it closed down), Bustle, Muse, the Tully's on 19th Ave...I'm not that great with writing at home but there have been times when that's worked in a pinch. I can never write at my office. I write email there. Badly written email.
Q. What do you like to do apart from writing?
You mean hobbies? I don't think I have any. I'm quite boring, that way. Writing and then reading is all I could put down as my activities, in all honesty. Would yoga and staring into space count?