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The Student News Site of St. Edward's University

Hilltop Views

The Student News Site of St. Edward's University

Hilltop Views

Writing, identity and travel: Award-winning author captures the hearts of SEU students

Max Hoelker / Hilltop Views
Sen poses with her two collections of work: “The Pathless Sky” and “A New Race of Men from Heaven” after giving a lecture as part of the university’s Visiting Writers Series.

Acclaimed author Chaitali Sen visited the hilltop last week on Sept. 18 to read from her award-winning short story collection “A New Race of Men from Heaven,” staying afterward for a brief Q&A and book signing.

Carter Auditorium could barely hold the audience that Sen brought in, leaving many students standing at the back because seats were hard to come by. The audience was captivated for the duration of “The Matchstick by Charles Tilly,” a story Sen read from her collection. There was an awestruck silence immediately following the ending of her reading.

“I really liked getting to hear her voice and her vocal inflection where she paused for a joke or where she paused for just the sentence itself to land,” junior Jack Ingram said. “I felt like I got a lot out of actually hearing her read it versus just reading it myself and seeing what parts she sort of focused on.”

The short story was about an author and father who is struggling to write. His career is on the verge of collapse when seemingly, from nowhere, a mysterious writer publishes a short story under the father’s name. That story is exceedingly well received and it revives the father’s dwindling career. It’s a fascinating story about the mystery and struggle that comes with authorship, and it’s a sort of meta-narrative about writing and the journey that goes into it.

“It’s not often that you get an author who’s completely frank about struggling to meet deadlines, struggling to make themselves write, struggling to get published, struggling to move through those processes,” Ingram said. 

Sen was born in India but grew up living in New York and Pennsylvania before later moving to Austin, Texas. From those experiences of travel, she derives a lot of her common themes and storylines: many of her short stories have themes of movement and identity. This common thread is what brought “A New Race of Men from Heaven” into existence.

“If I hadn’t moved around my whole life, felt so displaced and not felt known where I belonged or where my home was, I don’t think I would have gravitated towards writing,” Sen said. “And you know, these are themes that I keep returning to, these themes of migration and immigration and (questions like) ‘What makes people leave? What makes something a home?’”

Sen published her first novel, “The Pathless Sky,” in 2015. However, all throughout that time, she was writing short stories. Sen wrote the stories over a span of 20 years with no intention of compiling them. Stories like “The Matchstick by Charles Tilly” made it into “A New Race of Men from Heaven” because Sen so often wrote on ideas stemming from her movement-rich background. The collection won the 2021 Mary McCarthy Prize in Short Fiction, chosen that year by acclaimed fiction author Danielle Evans.

“It was amazing,” Sen said. “First of all, Danielle Evans is one of my favorite short story writers, and I don’t really win stuff. You know, I’ve submitted to a lot of contests and this is the first major one that I’ve won. Writing is hard, you know, you just don’t know, like sometimes you don’t know why you’re doing this. And you know, it’s nice to get that kind of validation.”

Sen advises new and aspiring writers to relish rejection, recommending that they read “a lot and widely.” Additionally, she tells aspiring writers to go out and live so that they might have experiences to write about. 

“Research is so important, and getting out in the world, being out in the world and having situations in the world, that’s where ideas come from,” Sen said.

Sen can be found at her website, with a catalog of her works and upcoming events. She wishes to encourage writers to go write stories that they think should be written, because they are the only ones with the idea.  A list of upcoming readings in the Marcia Kinsey Visiting Writers Series can be found on the SEU website

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About the Contributor
Max Hoelker
Max Hoelker, Copy Editor
Max is a sophomore English literature major with a minor in psychology. Although this is his first year with Hilltop Views, he is ecstatic to dive into writing, editing and all things in between. In his limited free time, Max loves to spend time with friends and read.

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