Young Authors Writing Contest winner Arushi Avachat carves out niche for herself in literature

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Arushi Avachat, the first-place winner of this year’s Young Authors Writing Contest in the 9th- and 10th-grade division, seems like she’s gotten her relationship with writing all figured out. This would be an awe-inspiring achievement for any professional adult writer, but Avachat’s a high school sophomore. It’s no surprise, then, that Avachat has been planning on being a writer for quite some time now.

“I think I’ve wanted to be a writer since early middle school,” Avachat said in a phone interview with The Daily Californian.

Part of what drove her interest in writing is that she possessed a love of reading from a young age. Citing Jane Austen and Nicola Yoon — author of “Everything, Everything” — among her favourite writers, her inspirations come from far and wide.

“When I really like things about certain books I try and be like, ‘How do I incorporate that feeling you get when you read good books into my own writing?’ ” Avachat said.

Outside of her own favourite authors, the main source of inspiration for Avachat’s fiction is her lived experience. “Sometimes I base characters off of real people in my life,” she said. “I tend to draw from my own life and the real emotions you feel every day.”

It may seem only natural that a writer who draws so much inspiration from the relationships that surround her in school and at home would explore them through nonfiction. Yet, “of honey and spice,” the memoir that won Avachat the Young Authors Writing Contest held annually by the Bay Area Book Festival, is her first foray into creative nonfiction.

One of her main goals in writing is to produce work based on her own experiences to fill the absence of diverse voices in literature. Growing up, she says, she never had the opportunity to read literature that spoke to her own identity and experiences.

“I would love to see more Indian, South Asian female characters,” she said. “Being a child of two immigrants is a very American experience, really, but it’s not one that you really see in writing.”

It was Avachat’s rediscovery of old vacation journals that she had written in Hindi, a language that Avachat finds herself no longer able to write, that inspired “of honey and spice.” The memoir centers on the tension within Avachat’s complex sense of her identity as a South Asian American.

The piece speaks to this year’s contest theme of perception, highlighting the fact that Avachat’s position at the nexus of Indian and American culture deeply inform the way she views and is viewed by the world. Presenting a series of anecdotes on Avachat’s relationships with her schoolmates, friend, and family, the piece flickers with the sensations of triumph, shame, and above all love that color Avachat’s daily life.

“It was so personal to me that it really pushed me to tie my heart in and make it as true as could be,” she said.

The memoir is one of the latest additions to a rapidly crescendoing chorus of diasporic South Asian voices in writing, one which includes Rupi Kaur — another of Avachat’s favorite writers and sources of inspiration.

“When I read Rupi Kaur, I’m glad she she exists,” she said. To Avachat, Kaur’s writing is one of the first reflections of her own experience that she found in a popular literary work. This discovery shaped her hopes for the impact her own writing may make.

“If little girls could read my writing and think that it relates to them in some way, that would be amazing,” she said.

Between the daily grind of high school and her own writing projects to keep her busy on the side, life can be pretty hectic for Avachat, even with her strong sense of time management. Fortunately for her, she has a strong support network in her family. This includes her sister Aashna Avachat, a UC Berkeley student who makes a brief cameo in “of honey and spice.”

“Writing is something that I definitely share with my sister,” Arushi Avachat said. “It’s something we do a lot together.”

Given that Aashna Avachat is a fellow self-published novelist, it makes sense that she is the person her sister trusts most for writing-based critiques and advice.

After she won the Young Authors award, Arushi Avachat turned her focus back to her favourite genre: novels. Presently, she’s working on finishing a young adult novel about a teen girl in a psychiatric institution and her recovery process therein. The work is still, according to Arushi Avachat, “very unfinished.”

Arushi Avachat’s own articulation of her hopes to carve out representation for herself and other marginalized voices sets up a promising framework for the novel, however, and for all of her work to come.

The Bay Area Book Festival will take place in Berkeley on April 28-29.

Contact Sannidhi Shukla at [email protected].