Like the main character in her first novel, The Family Took Shape, Shashi Bhat grew up in Richmond Hill, a suburb just outside of Toronto. After high school she headed a few hours south to Ithaca, New York, where she attended the illustrious Cornell, studying English and doing pre-med. Always a reader, Bhat got the writing bug after taking some undergraduate creative writing courses. Deciding that becoming a doctor might not be the route for her, she completed an MFA in creative writing at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore (which apparently is nothing like The Wire or a John Waters movie).
It was while in grad school that the seeds were planted for what would later become her first novel. "It started in a class as a writing exercise," says Bhat. "Then it become a short story, then it became a novella for another class, and then it finally became a novel. From start to finish, writing it took about two years. Then another year and a half to find a publisher, then another two years to publication."
The Family Took Shape is a coming-of-age tale centred on a young girl growing into herself and her family after the death of her father. The novel weaves together young angst with Hindu mythology and hits all the right notes while avoiding the cliches. The book is published by Toronto-based Cormorant Books and was released last April.
Bhat has been in Halifax since August of 2010, when she was offered a teaching position in the creative writing department at Dalhousie. She also taught writing while studying at Johns Hopkins and believes it to be a good compliment to her writing life. "Teaching often makes me feel like writing," she says. "And I think it has made me a better critic in general, and of my own work. If I'm spouting off all of these suggestions to students I have to be able to take them and apply them to my stories."
Her next book will be a collection of short stories, and Bhat has taken some vital inspiration from her students. "A couple of years ago I had a bunch of students who were writing flash fiction and magic realism. Since then I've been experimenting a lot with those genres and I don't know if I would have started doing that had my students not done it first."
In addition to her literary pursuits, as of July, Bhat is performing a sort of experiment: she will buy nothing new for one year. "I was always pretty frugal," she says. "I buy a lot of used stuff already. But I found myself becoming very materialistic. When I'd go for walks I'd always end up in the shops. When I moved to a smaller apartment I realized how much extra stuff I had." She has, however, made one exception to her buying kibosh--- every now and then, on special occasions, Bhat is allowed to buy a book.
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