Nikita Chinamanthur ’22 didn’t plan to write a novel. When she set out to tackle her first book-length project last September, she intended to write a nonfiction exploration of Hindi cinema. However, Chinamanthur soon found herself drawn to a very different kind of story: In the course of a week, she wrote over 20,000 words about a 19-year-old South Indian teenager named Natasha and her adventures in online dating. And so, the first draft of Ants was born.
The novel focuses not only on Natasha’s developing relationship with Ben, another teenager who lives 3,000 miles away, but also her insecurities, her desi background, and her feelings of displacement. “Ultimately, Ants came out of the frustrations I had as a teenager with my own life transitions,” Chinamanthur said. “My family moved to another state during my first semester of college, and I didn’t see my ‘home home’ for almost a year after that.” As she worked on the first draft of her manuscript, the COVID-19 pandemic provided yet another upheaval, albeit one that didn’t affect her writing process too much: “Living through the first stay-at-home orders and shutdowns just meant writing a lot more at odd hours of the night.”
Chinamanthur also drew inspiration from Associate Professor of English Warren Liu’s class on Asian American futures, which included works by Larissa Lai, Sesshu Foster, and Chang-rae Lee. “I had never encountered so many Asian/Asian North American authors before, so seeing the array of experimental and narrative opportunities was incredible,” she said. “I felt quite emboldened by these authors to be experimental and explorative.”
Ants, which was published on December 8, is the latest in Scripps’ long literary tradition. From the Class of 1931 onward, more than one hundred alumnae have published books, and Scripps Magazine’s ManuScripps feature regularly highlights the community’s good literary news. Chinamanthur’s novel joins Kendra Atleework ’11’s memoir Miracle Country and Breanna Deutsch ’12’s Finding the Fountain on the list of recent works by young alums.
Rena Patel ’19 hopes her novel-in-progress, an urban fantasy loosely based on the parallel Greek and Hindu myths of Orpheus and Eurydice and Savitri and Satyavan, will find similar success. The novel, Here We Stand, follows informant Alex as he reunites with Aryana, a journalist from his past, and attempts to escape from the New York underworld.
While the story idea originally came to her during her first year at Scripps, Patel wrote the bulk of her first draft as a senior in Assistant Professor of English Leila Mansouri’s advanced fiction workshop. Patel said the class helped her identify and accept her strengths and weaknesses as a writer. “In a first draft, I used to be so worried about making sure everything was perfect, and that made me not want to write,” she said. “Now, I play on my strengths in the first draft, knowing that I can improve on my weaknesses once I have a better understanding of where the story is going.”
Although the project is still in its early stages, Patel is already using Twitter and Instagram to cultivate a community of fellow writers and beta readers, the informal term for those who read drafts of a project and offer constructive critiques. For Patel, receiving that feedback has been the most rewarding part of the process: “I’ve connected with so many interesting and amazing people just by sending them a message and asking if they would be willing to read my book.”