Episode 57, with the Brilliant, Reflective, and Thoughtful Writer and Craftswoman of White Dancing Elephants: Chaya Bhuvaneswar


Show Notes and Links to Chaya Bhuvaneswar’s Work and Allusions/Texts from Episode 57

On Episode 57, Pete welcomes Chaya Bhuvaneswar, the brilliant craftswoman of White Dancing Elephants, the award-winning short story collection. Pete and Chaya talk about inspiring writers, Chaya’s influences and great mentorship from legendary writers, her diverse and not-so diverse experiences growing up in Queens, the ways in which her writing has been informed by her knowledge of religious texts, themes in her short story collection, the power of second-person narration, and much more.


Chaya Bhuvaneswar is a practicing physician and writer whose story collection WHITE DANCING ELEPHANTS was a 2019 finalist for the PEN/ American Bingham Debut Fiction Prize. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Narrative Magazine, Tin House, Electric Lit, The Rumpus, The Millions, Michigan Quarterly Review, and elsewhere. Her poetry and prose juxtapose Hindu epics, other myths and histories, and the survival of sexual harassment and racialized sexual violence by diverse women of color. Her book received coverage on the LA Times books section front page, NPR and other national outlets, and is available for purchase at bookshop.org, Amazon,org or your local indie bookstore!


Buy Chaya Bhuvaneswar's White Dancing Elephants (Bookshop)

Buy Chaya Bhuvaneswar's White Dancing Elephants (Amazon)

NPR Article Reviewing Chaya’s White Dancing Elephants

Chaya Bhuvaneswar’s Website

Starred Review in Kirkus for White Dancing Elephants


At around 3:00, Chaya talks about her influences growing up-including her upbringing in Flushing, Queens, and its racial diversity that was in contrast to her high school’s lack thereof;  she also talks about how growing up in an environment rich with exposure to Buddhism and Hinduism shaped her


At around 9:00, talks about the writers, including Min Jin Lee and Victor LaValle, who have explored the “distance” between growing up in racially and ethnically-diverse neighborhoods and attending schools lacking that diversity 


At around 10:50, Chaya talks about how the religious texts she was exposed to as a kid informed her writing and worldview, and how the Amar Chitra Katha series of comics was influential in her future storytelling 


At around 15:30, Chaya talks about the balance between enjoying the wonderful epics and tales of India, such as Kathasaritsagara, and avoiding them being used for nationalistic and discriminatory purposes


At around 17:10, Chaya talks about Edward Said’s Orientalism and its connection to the caste system of India, especially with regards to how the British “gave weight to ancient ideas” about India


At around 22:30, Chaya talks about her “ideal reader” as one of conscience and awareness


At around 23:25, Chaya talks about being multilingual and how her ability to read and/or write other languages have informed her reading and writing styles


At around 25:25, Chaya talks about her study of Sanskrit, and its connection to discussions around 


At around 28:40, talks about the texts and writers who have given her “chills at will,” including Toni Morrison, Louise Erdrich, Italo Calvino, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Jericho Brown, Diana Khoi Nguyen, Evie Shockley, Vanessa Angelica Villarreal, Nicole Sealey, and Maggie Smith (particularly for her “Good Bones”)


At around 34:00, Chaya reads an excerpt from “Good Bones”


At around 34:45, Chaya talks about her appreciation for Seamus Heaney


At around 36:45, Pete and Chaya exchange Louise Erdrich recommendations, including “The Painted Drum” and “The Red Convertible” 


At around 38:45, Chaya talks about her medical background and how her outlook has changed through working as a psychiatrist, especially during this pandemic; she references another brilliant writer/medical professional, Nawal El Saadawi, and how her treatment in the press is emblematic of clumsiness in treatment of non-white women who are doctors and writers


At around 44:30, we have an ad from friends of The Chills at Will Podcast,Get Lit Podcast


At around 47:40, Chaya talks about how she caught the writing bug and how she learned that she was a skilled writer; she also talks about inspiration from the great Ved Mehta, whom she recently wrote about for LitHub, Seamus Heaney, Salman Rushdie, and Wole Soyinka


At around 54:00, Chaya talks about “to agent” or “not to agent” and the success of Deeshaw Philyaw as a possible harbinger of change in the pub world’s view of small presses; Philyaw’s debut short story collection, The Secret Lives of Church Ladies, won the 2021 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction


At around 55:30, Chaya talks about her short-story collection, White Dancing Elephants, and the ordering of the 17 stories, with great help from her wonderful editor, Michelle Dotter


At around 58:00, Chaya talks about the significance and genesis of the title of her title story from White Dancing Elephants, including its connection to the Buddha and his mother


At around 1:04:40, Pete and Chaya discuss stories within stories from her collection, and Chaya describes her thought process in writing “The Story of the Woman Who Fell in Love with Death"


At around 1:07:15, Chaya discusses the story “Talinda,” including some self-doubt that crept up when she was writing it


At around 1:15:00, Chaya reads from “Talinda”


At around 1:21:00, Chaya talks about how aftermath comes into play in her story collection and the importance of “twisty endings” and “sticking the ending”-”Heitor” and “Talinda” are used as examples


At around 1:22:40, Chaya discusses the story “Bhopal, 1984” and its historical basis 


At around 1:25:00, Chaya discusses her use of second-person in some of her writing


At around 1:26:40, Pete highlights some standout writing from Chaya, and Chaya describes “invisible prose”


At around 1:29:35, Chaya discusses the story “Adristakama” and its connection to multiple meanings that can be derived 


At around 1:33:00, Chaya reads another excerpt from “Talinda”


At around 1:35:00, Chaya discusses upcoming projects, including an adult novel, a young adult novel, and a memoir that she is working on


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