Interview with A. Sandosharaj

May’s Writer of the Month was A. Sandosharaj, who read her nonfiction piece, “Natural Born Drivers,” to the crowd at the Colony Club in Washington, D.C.

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Passenger – What do you do for a living?

A. Sandosharaj – I teach writing at Georgetown University and also work for Books@Work, an organization that helps companies bring literature seminars to the workplace.

P – What challenges does your professional life present to your writing?

AS  Fortunately for me both of my jobs contribute to my creative goals, but one real challenge (as every instructor will tell you at length given the chance) is grading student work. I’m a big believer in the magical power of reading to impart style, form, syntax, etc (there’s the old MFA adage about reading ten writers to sound like everyone else vs reading a hundred writers to sound like yourself). Essentially, I believe you are who you read when it comes to being a writer. Considering the volume of pages I read by students who are often not (yet) serious about writing, I worry about inadvertently adopting undesirable patterns, or at least undoing what I’m deliberately trying to absorb. One way I combat this is by periodically interrupting grading with an essay from a good magazine or a page or two (or ten) of whatever book I’m reading.

P – How do you balance your professional life with your creative life?

AS  I’m incredibly lucky my professional life involves either writing or reading on a daily basis. What requires balancing is not my professional and creative life (they nourish each other) but balancing my life’s work with everything else: countless hours walking the dogs, taking unnecessary road trips, obsessing about sports.

P – How does your professional life influence or inform your writing?

AS  I’m not sure if my professional life influences my writing any more than anything else honestly. As a nonfiction writer especially, everything is game. I’ve written about academia and the classroom as well as about cubicles and commuting, and will probably write about Books@Work at some point, but none of that is different from writing about my father or colorism or the Washington Redskins. They’re all just batter for pancakes.

P – How has your writing influenced your professional life?

AS  I’d like to think it’s made me a more sympathetic professor. I know how overwhelming a blank screen can seem, I know the labor required to represent yourself on paper in a way that is recognizable, persuasive and enjoyable.  I also think being a writer has made me more observant overall, which is a useful quality for any occupation.

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A. Sandosharaj’s work has appeared in The Rumpus, The Millions, Southeast Review, Massachusetts Review, River Teeth, Fourth Genre, Subcontinental, American Literary Review, River City, Crab Orchard Review, Alligator Juniper, Addicted to Race, Racialicious, Story District, and Fiction is First. She has an MFA from the Ohio State University and a PhD from the University of Maryland.

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