by Elyse Kaner
Swati Avasthi, a professor of creative writing at Anoka-Ramsey Community College, has recently released her first novel, “Split,” in paperback.
The book, centering on domestic violence, was published in hardcover in 2010.
February is teen violence awareness month. The young adult book serves as a catalyst to get the dialogue going among teens and adults.
As stated on the book’s back cover: “Sixteen-year-old Jace Witherspoon arrives at the doorstep of his estranged brother, Christian, with a broken face, $3.84, and a secret.”
Prior, Jace had stepped in to take the beatings his mother received from his father after Christian, who took the brunt of it for years, left home.
“Split” explores the possibility of building a new life, healing scars and moving on after leaving an abusive situation.
Publishers Weekly has called this fictional book “gripping and heartbreaking.”
The 282-page book, with a price tag of $8.99, is published by Ember, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books and a division of Random House, Inc., New York. The hardcover was published by Alfred A. Knopf, also an imprint of Random House Children’s Books.
So far, the book has been nominated and has received about 16 state and national awards, according to Swati.
“Split” has been named the winner of the International Reading Association Young Adults’ Book Award, the Cybil Award for Best Young Adult Fiction and of a Parents’ Choice Silver Award, to name a few.
The subject of domestic violence is near and dear to Swati. Although she is not a victim, some of her friends and acquaintances are.
In the mid-1990s, before pursuing a writing career, Swati had coordinated a violence legal clinic in Chicago, where she interviewed thousands of women seeking protection from domestic violators.
In particular, she recalls a loose-toothed little boy accompanying his mother to the clinic in search of help.
“It was a hard moment for me,” Swati said. “It was hard for me to think about what it (domestic violence) might mean to the kid.”
In her research, Swati learned that 70 percent of abusers witness domestic violence as a child. She began thinking. How do you break this inter-generational phenomena? The book could serve as a vessel.
Swati had wanted to be a writer since the age of five. But she started seriously writing about six years ago. As a child she had been a voracious reader, her favorites being Laura Ingalls Wilder books and the classics.
“I loved her, so I decided I wanted to be a writer, too,” Swati said.
For classics, she especially likes to read Emily Brontë. Her favorite book of all times is Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird.”
Law or writing?
Swati was raised in Albuquerque, N.M., and graduated from Sandia Preparatory High School. She later attended the University of Chicago where she earned a bachelor’s degree in theater and literature.
In 2006, Swati was torn between studying law and writing. Just as she was applying to law school, she received an e-mail telling her she had won a Mentor Series Award from The Loft in Minneapolis. The honor came with the opportunity to work with six acclaimed writers. That was a turning point for Swati, a resident of Minneapolis.
“I thought, this is my shot. So I started writing,” she said.
In 2010, she earned a master’s of fine arts degree from the University of Minnesota.
“Split” took her two years to write. One year to write and one year of revisions.
In what she calls “very unusual,” her first book was snapped up by a publisher just three weeks after it went to auction.
Swati writes three hours every day. Sometimes she produces 10 pages, sometimes a paragraph.
For Swati, the best part of writing is sinking into the world that she has created after the characters have been developed. “I can sit back and watch the characters take the story over,” she said. “If you can get into that flow, it’s such a pleasure.”
Seldom is a domestic violence book told from a boy’s perspective, Swati said, a technique she used in “Split.”
Swati hopes the book will find its way into the hands of many, particularly boys and men.
“I want to open the door for boys to talk about abuse,” she said.
In addition to teaching at ARCC, Swati teaches at Hamline University in St. Paul.
She has been nominated for inclusion in “Best American New Voices” for short fiction. Her works appear in several journals, including “Water~Stone Review.” She also has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize.
Swati is now working on her second book “Chasing Shadows,” slated to come out spring of 2013. Part prose, part graphic novel, the book is about how far we’ll go to save our friends.
“Split” is available at Barnes & Noble or online at www.amazon.com.
For more information, visit Swati’s website at www.swatiavashti.com.
Swati Avasthi will read from and discuss her novel “Split,” as part of the Anoka-Ramsey Community College Two Rivers Reading Series, Monday, Feb. 27, 11 to 11:50 a.m. and noon to 12:50 p.m. in the Coon Rapids Campus Legacy Room. Free and open to the public. 11200 Mississippi Blvd., Coon Rapids. For more information, visit www.AnokaRamsey.edu.
Elyse Kaner is at [email protected]