By Saadia Peerzada, Undergraduate Batch of 2022 In the wake of Professor Pratap Bhanu Mehta and
Payal Nagpal, Class of 2019
The Creators is a fortnightly series of artist profiles of Ashokans who are actively involved in different creative fields including music, photography, creative writing, and visual or performing arts.
Purvai is an ASP student at Ashoka, set to graduate this year with an advanced major in Literature, a minor in Creative Writing, and a concentration in Philosophy. She is pursuing writing further at University of Minnesota this fall, where she will be doing an MFA in Poetry. She has been writing for as long as she can remember, and her recent work can be seen on her personal blog, where she displays not just her writing, but also her photography and art. She was longlisted for the Toto Funds the Arts Creative Writing Prize 2018.
Purvai spoke about her writing in an interview with Payal Nagpal for the Edict.
Payal: How did you become a writer, and when did you realise that writing is something you want to pursue?
Purvai: I feel like, in some sense, I was always a writer. Everybody is a writer to some degree, but for me, words always brought comfort and joy. My earliest memories include reading books and having them affect me very deeply. I would get confused between reality and the things that I have read in books. I sometimes didn’t know whether my memories were my own, or whether they were things characters in books had experienced. My earliest memories also have to do with writing — I remember the first poem I wrote, walking down the stairs in my school, a rhyming poem about a magician. Writing has always been a part of my life.
So, then, taking your writing further and doing an MFA, was a no-brainer? Or was it a difficult decision?
It took me a long time to decide to do an MFA, especially because when it comes to things like writing, it seems like everyone can do it. So what makes me think I can do it more than other people? It’s a difficult decision to take it forward and study it as an artistic form. I honestly didn’t think I would do an MFA at all, or continue writing, mostly because I love academics and academia. I’ve always wanted to do academia, and I still want to. But because recently I’ve been taking Creative Writing classes in college and getting encouraging responses about my work, I decided to push myself to work on my poetry for the next few years. Not at all in the sense of ‘becoming a writer’ because I don’t think anyone can every truly ‘become’ a writer. I am not even sure if I want to publish after the MFA. I don’t want to become a full-time writer. I’m doing this to focus on my writing and become better at my craft, and an MFA seems like a good way to do that.
You talk about taking your writing further, but how did you get to this point, stylistically? Naturally, your poetry has changed over the years. Was it a natural process?
It’s really complicated when it comes to poetry because my relationship with poetry has changed so much over time. When I was younger, I used to write lots of rhyming poems. I’d really enjoy the music of that. Then I discovered free-verse and dived into that. Every time I read a book of poetry, or a book about poetry, or just a poem, it totally shifts the way that I look at my own language. So it’s very difficult to figure out a sort of stable voice of my own. I’d like to cultivate that during the next few years. I want to be able to move between genres and styles, but also not be totally shifted or swayed.
Do you have a favourite style of poetry?
No, not at all. I have really come to respect all forms of poetry.
How about a favourite poet?
No, there are so many poets that have influenced me, and I don’t think I should choose one. Though, right now, if I was forced to think of one, it would probably be Anne Carson.
Finally, can you share who your biggest cheerleaders and biggest critics are?
Well, my biggest cheerleaders and critics tend to be the same people. Right now, Professor Janice and Professor Sumana are working very closely with me and helping me edit my poetry. That involves them sometimes saying, ‘hey, this is not working, and it just needs to go.’ They’re able to say that because they want my work to be the best it can be.