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A Bangladeshi storyteller in the US

Born in Sylhet, Rumki Chowdhury’s family moved to the United States in 1989 when he
just turned three. She was in the Bronx, New York City, and later moved to Paterson,
New Jersey. Chowdhury’s Her Feet Chime is the Bangladeshi version of the Cinderella
story. Because it is set in Bangladesh, highlighting its culture and values, it may be
considered Diasporic. Chowdhury had her BA in English with writing concentration from
William Paterson University. Her book is also a inspiration of Jhumpa Lahiri and Natalie
Babbit’s works. She spoke to Ekram Kabir about her first novel.

Q: Why did you want to write Her Feet Chime?

Ans: The Cinderella story is a fairytale that will continue to entice the youth. In fact, at
age twelve, my literature teacher gave the class an assignment to break up into groups,
each group with a different cultural version of the Cinderella story, and create a
performance based around that story. That was the first time I encountered the story of
the Korean Cinderella, the Egyptian Cinderella, the Caribbean Cinderella, and the African
Cinderella among others. Years later, when I began my university career, I did not let go
of the concept of the Cinderella story and decided to venture through my university
library to search for the Bengali version. Instead, I found an Indian version. I then
searched the internet, but could not find any publications of a Bengali Cinderella.
However, I remember seeing a Bengali natok with actress, Ishitha, playing the role of a
Cinderella-like character. Finding no sign of a publication of a Bengali Cinderella story, I
created Her Feet Chime.

Q: Was it really difficult for you to publish the novel, especially in a big market like
USA?

Ans: I wrote Her Feet Chime three years ago. I decided to develop the story more with
the feedback from my peers and professors until I felt it was complete and ready to
present to the world. Interning at a publishing company, Simon and Schuster, in New
York City, I hoped to learn more about the publishing world. I even had some editors look
over my work to determine whether it was publishable or not, but they told me that I had
skipped a step. Before my writing could be traditionally published, I needed a literary
agent. My professors and editors recommended that I purchase Writer’s Market and
Guide to Literary Agents, both texts with the most up-to-date list of literary agents and
the step-by-step directions on how to approach an agent. These books were beneficial in
educating me about how the publishing industry works. As a result, I spent months
contacting agents, but they all gave me the same answer, which was that my particular
work was not exactly what they were looking for at the moment. I concluded that perhaps
my work may not have been considered commercial enough. I also read that literary
agents sometimes take priority upon works based on the recommendation of their clients;
I contacted one of my professors who recommended me to her agent. However, I was still
the last in the pool and have yet to gain a response. Agents give top priority to already-
published authors before the novice ones. Then, I spoke to another one of my professors
who had self-published her work with one of the world’s largest self-publishing
companies, Author House. She had recommended that I try Author House and here I am,
self-published. I do not wish to discourage anyone from going through the process of
finding a literary agent and having his/her work published traditionally. In fact, I pray that
an aspiring author takes advantage of the experience that the literary world provides of
searching for an agent. In the near future, for my successive projects, I may try this
process again.

Q: Writers belonging to Indian Diaspora in the West are making their presence felt.
Why do you think Bangladeshi-origin Americans or British are not taking up
writing as a career? Do you think Bangladeshi-origin writers have potential of
having a place in world literature? Apart from you, are any more Bangladeshi-
Americans writing?

Ans: I believe there are many Bangladeshis breaking into the world of writing in media
and books. In fact, my aunt, Dr. Najma Chowdhury of Dhaka University, wrote in and
edited Women and Politics Worldwide, published under Yale University Press New Haven
and London. She gifted me with the book when I was ten-years-old. At the time, I had yet
to fully understand the value of such an accomplishment. It was an achievement after
much diligence. Diligence is the key to any endeavor, especially when it comes to
writing. When one has a literary idea, it is important that he/she wakes up every morning,
excited to continue the project by writing the next paragraph, stanza, or chapter. It is also
important to have one’s peers, teachers, and other professionals look over the work in
order to help further it to its best potential. These are your readers, critics, and mentors.
There is plenty of room in literature or media for Bangladeshi writers in any part of the
world; it just takes dedication, diligence and sometimes, a bit of struggle.

Q: Is the new generation of Bangladeshi Diaspora becoming totally American?

Ans: I always say that there are three aspects that may shape the person one becomes: the
parents, friends, and/or personal will. In most cases, from what I have seen and
personally experienced, there is a struggle when growing up as a Bangladeshi-American
and trying to maintain the Bengali culture, while adapting to the American environment.
William Faulkner, who wrote The Sound and the Fury and As I Lay Dying, said, “Write
what you know.” Such struggles in life are the experiences which shape what the
Bangladeshi Diaspora in the United States has to offer to the literary world.

Q: From this distance, how would you portray Bangladesh if you ever write a novel
in Bangladeshi backdrop?

Ans: Her Feet Chime takes place in Bangladesh. In order to create this setting, I
journeyed through my personal memories of the times I had visited Bangladesh as a
child, I asked my parents questions, and I did research on the web.

Q: Have you ever considered writing a novel in the backdrop of 9/11? What would
you write, then?
Ans: I have not considered writing a novel in the backdrop of 9/11. However, I have
written essays and articles throughout my high school and university careers regarding
my experiences of the aftermath. Because there was a lot of prejudice against Muslims
and misconceptions developed about Islam, I took the advantage of writing and speaking
about the religion in order to clarify any misconceptions. One would be surprised to
know how embracing of the knowledge many people have become.

Q: What are your next projects?

Ans: My next projects will most probably be determined after my post-graduate career.
But I will continue writing fiction.
(end)

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