By Dax Duong
On the chilly evening of Wednesday, Feb. 6, people bundled up in scarves and thick jackets filed into Levinthal Hall, eager to escape from the biting night air and listen to Stegner Fellows Neha Chaudhary-Kamdar and Jay Deshpande read. It was the first Stegner Fellow reading of the new year and another installment of an ongoing Creative Writing Program event series featuring first-year Stegner Fellows. The Wallace Stegner Fellowship is an incredibly selective, two-year fellowship awarded annually to ten exceptionally talented writers— five in fiction and five in poetry.
First up to the podium was Chaudhary-Kamdar. She read the beginning of “Seventeen Things About My Friend Farzana,” a fiction piece published in Issue 45 of Salamander Magazine, a nationally recognized literary journal. With elegantly crafted descriptions and naturally flowing dialogue, Chaudhary-Kamdar told a nostalgic story centered around two dynamic characters—Bela (the narrator) and her friend Farzana. The narrative follows the gradual distancing of their formerly intimate relationship. Chaudhary-Kamdar ended her reading on a heartbreaking note, with a final exchange between Bela and Farzana. They make plans to get burgers—one last time—before Farzana leaves for England, even though “[they] both knew that no such thing would happen, yet in that instant before [they] turned [their] backs on each other, [they] pretended otherwise.” Her reading moved me and had me reminiscing about my own once-strong friendships that had faded over the years; it was a beautiful kind of bittersweet.
Then Deshpande approached the podium. Though Deshpande’s book “Love the Stranger,” named a top debut of 2015 by Poets & Writers, was being sold just outside the room, he decided to share with the audience a poem that he had not yet published. He read slowly and purposefully, each word falling from his lips like dense droplets out of a dripping faucet. At some points he made dramatic pauses that left tension in the room and left the audience sitting in a thick silence, waiting with bated breath for the next line to come. At other points, his words resonated with the audience and murmured “mmms” rippled throughout the room like a chorus of hushed agreement. I was entranced by his rich imagery and powerful diction. His reading was replete with striking words like chiaroscuro, which conjured a dramatic scene of feeble light shrouded in suffocating shadows.
At the end of the reading, the host of the event enthusiastically thanked everyone for coming and announced that the next reading would be on Feb. 20 at the same time in the same place (featuring Stegner Fellows Gothataone Moeng and Monica Sok, from 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. in Levinthal Hall). An uproarious round of applause resounded for a few lengthy seconds before a mob of audience members jumped from their seats and crowded around the authors to dole out praise, ask questions or give thanks; others swiftly exited, dispersing quietly into the frigid night.
Contact Dax Duong at daxduong ‘at’ stanford.edu.