Alka Joshi on the Surprise of Becoming a Debut Novelist at 62
This Week on The Literary Life Podcast
Alka Joshi’s debut novel, The Henna Artist, is taking the literary world by storm. On The Literary Life, she talks with Mitchell Kaplan about the small leap from writing ad copy to writing a novel, how both her mother and mother-in-law informed her protagonist, and the joy she’s deriving from her new career.
From the episode:
If you had told me in my twenties, thirties, forties, that I was going to write a novel, I would have laughed. But other people saw things in me that I didn’t see in myself. For example, when I went for my first advertising job, I thought I was gonna be an art director. That’s what I went for. I said, OK, here’s my portfolio. I want to be an art director. But in reality, what happened is that the creative directors who were interviewing me said, did you write all of this stuff that’s in your portfolio? And I said yes. And they said, well, then we’d like to hire you as a writer because it’s hard to come by good writers. And I said, oh, but I always envisioned myself as an art director. And they said, no, no, no, you are a writer. So I became a writer quite by accident.
And then I was writing these little short stories. I’m writing little commercials. I’m writing radio spots. Tiny little mini stories in which you have to get an entire scene communicated to the viewer or the listener in a very short period of time. My husband saw that I had the potential to write fiction in that. And I kept telling him, no, no, no, I am just an advertising hack. I don’t know how to write fiction. And he said, take some classes. So I took some classes, and my teachers were so encouraging. And then in 2008, when the mortgage crisis hit, I had no work in my agency. A lot of marketing and advertising dollars got cut back. So I thought, hey, now I can go to graduate school and maybe become that writer that my husband thinks I can become.
Alka Joshi was born in India and raised in the U.S. since the age of nine. She has a BA from Stanford University and an MFA from California College of Arts and runs an advertising and marketing agency. She has lived in France and Italy and currently lives in Pacific Grove, California, with her husband. The Henna Artist is her first novel.