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Bookend: Manil Suri On Living In Md., Writing About India

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Manil Suri is a D.C.-based author and mathematics professor at the University of Maryland Baltimore County.
Manil Suri is a D.C.-based author and mathematics professor at the University of Maryland Baltimore County.

Manil Suri is the acclaimed author of three novels, The Death of Vishnu, The Age of Shiva and The City of Devi, which was just released this month. All of the novels take place in Suri's native country, India, but the author has called the D.C. suburbs home for more than 30 years. Metro Connection's Jonathan Wilson talks with him about balancing his writing life with his other life as a mathematics professor at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and what he's working next. Following are highlights of the conversation.

On how he ended becoming a novelist while maintaining a career as a mathematician: "I came to the U.S. to do my PhD in mathematics, and then right after finishing, I got this job at UMBC, and I've been there — this is my 30th year there, which is hard to believe. But the writing then came as a hobby, and it started right about the time I started teaching. So that was way back in '83. And it took me a long time to get my stride - and really didn't get anything published for years. But that started in 2001, when the first novel came out."

On trying to get things published in the early days: "It was just a hobby, and I was not sending things out, which was actually a great luxury because I could just concentrate on the craft. I did start sending things out only in the mid-'90s or so, and I got a hundred rejection letters, as every good writer should, I think. So I think that in terms of thinking about myself, I didn't really start thinking about myself as a writer. I always thought of myself as a mathematician who had writing as a hobby."

On his two separate worlds: "I think they were pretty much two separate things, and that's the way I wanted it. I wanted one to be an antidote to the other. So when I started writing, I would actually come to D.C. — I used to live in Baltimore back then-- and I would drive down to D.C. and I had these writing groups that I was attending. And they were almost something in secret that I did. I didn't tell anyone in my department, my colleagues didn't know."

On setting his future novels/stories outside of India: "The next novel that I'm doing is actually not set anywhere. It's a math novel; it's more abstract almost, it could be set anywhere, it's definitely not India... I just wrote a story called "The Silver Spring Lakshmi" that was in The Washington Post, and that was set in Silver Spring. So that was very interesting, talking about landmarks that I see everyday - The Discovery Building, Wayne Avenue - and so on. So that was fun, and who knows, I might actually go on that way."

[Music: "Frostbit" by Oddissee from Odd Seasons / "Petworth" by Jason Mendelson, from MetroSongs, Volume 3: Red Handed]

Author Manil Suri reads an excerpt from his latest novel, The City of Devi:

Author Manil Suri provides book recommendations:


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