She came, she wrote, she conquered
After longstanding hesitation, Grace Singh Smith decided to try her hand at creative writing and, shortly after, one of her first fictional works was published.
Smith currently works at Santa Monica College as the assistant to Randal Lawson, executive vice president, and to the office of academic affairs. She has a background in journalism, but had not been writing for years and had never thought of herself as a fiction writer.
It was not until her colleagues, and in particular SMC film professor Salvador Carrasco, encouraged her to continue to write, that she enrolled in a creative writing class, taught by SMC professor Jim Krusoe, and soon decided to pursue a career as a fiction author.
"Salvador Carrasco asked me, 'Why don't you write?'" Smith said. "I gave him all the typical excuses, and he said, 'Stop censoring yourself. You just need to write. Don't allow anyone to censor you.' That kind of flipped a switch."
"Once I had given Professor [Jim] Krusoe my first assignment, and once he said to me, 'You have to keep doing this; what have you been doing your whole life?' there has been no looking back," she added.
In addition to the encouragement of her colleagues, Smith realized that there was more to her sudden inspiration that had to do with herself and her mindset.
"It was something like a mental block," she said. "I've always wanted to be a writer. I think to be a writer you have to be free in your spirit in a certain sense. And I wasn't free in my spirit."
Two of her first assignments that she wrote in her class are now in the process of being turned into a novel.
Another short story, "Honor," that started out as homework for the class, is now published in this year's fall issue of the Santa Monica Review, an SMC-sponsored journal that was founded in 1988 by Krusoe and has been nationally distributed semi-annually since then.
Andrew Tonkovich, editor for the Santa Monica Review, who is also responsible for the selection of writings, saw the quality in Smith's writing style.
"The story’s understanding of perspective, and its use of words and idiom to wrap up the narrator and the reader, is just beautiful —very elegant, and of course dark, angry-making," he wrote in an email to The Corsair.
Smith used her life and experiences in India, and the stories she heard about its culture and traditions, as inspiration.
With her writing, she invites the reader into a world "that has not been written about in English," she said.
As all of Smith's work so far, "Honor" is set in rural India, where she grew up, and deals with the Indian culture, and in particular with women's position in the Indian marriage tradition.
As the basis of her story, Smith used an amusing anecdote about her mother who complimented an Indian bride for her dowry. However, Smith looked behind the funny surface of the anecdote and discovered a deeper, rather “sad" aspect of it, she said.
"The bride is just defined by the things she brought to the marriage," she said. "The things are a visual snapshot of who she is, or who she is thought to be. She is basically a nobody, the way I painted her."
Although she said she did not write with an agenda in mind, after seeing the completed work, she felt it portrays one.
"It has an agenda, but I didn't put it there," she said.
Her intention was not to raise the readers' sympathy for women in India, but instead, she hopes that it provokes thoughts and the reflection on one's own society.
"I hope the story causes curiosity about India and Indian culture and Indian women, but I don't want them to view it as this poor Indian woman who is identified by objects," she said. "I would want it to lead to a discussion where the theme becomes universal, where they are forced to look inside themselves and wonder about the women in their own society, their own lives, and how they treat them."