In an atypical decision, I've decided to share my statement of purpose from my accepting university, where I will be pursuing a PhD in Literature and Creative Writing. This piece of writing is amongst some of the most personal words I've ever shared publicly, but it's a decision I'm making as a step towards the path I want to be on—one that embraces voicing my narrative in a way I've never gotten to do before.
I arose from ash—from the culmination of violent love, custody documents, and broken traditions. In my small-town’s Indian community, I was told that I came from a broken home. A girl raised by her mother has no right to believe she’s granted any value if her father hasn’t done it first. I’d read about outcasts, family turmoil, and every epic adventure that happens for a kid who doesn’t belong. But never one like me. So I wrote myself into the books I read, annotating on the sides depictions of me as the fifth brown sister in Little Women, or Edna Pointellier’s only supporter, or an elven hero in Lord of the Rings. My companionship with the written word came from the power that I can, in fact, be anything I design.
I spent my years in community college communicating with younger versions of myself through my stories, and writing towards the underrepresented challenges many people face via my website, SunsetDahlia.com. Despite the statistics of being a child of a single mother, I graduated with honors and an acceptance to UC Berkeley.
Berkeley taught me to explore the ways in which syntax can be deconstructed to expose the richer layers of a work’s thematic purpose, paralleling findings to my own analysis of the human condition. As I finished my first novel and MFA at Saint Mary’s College, I also realized that a minority voice fused with analytical eyes has the power to craft change in any compositional form. I never anticipated I’d end up publishing stories about cultural stigmas while working alongside prolific authors Robert Hass, Joyce Carol Oates, and Ingrid Rojas Contreras. Thanks to these professors and their assigned anthologies, I became captivated by early 20th century American literature, contemporary short stories by writers of color, and English fantasy—which I intimately studied a summer abroad at Oxford University.
Once I sourced my power in writing, I understood that creation can withstand even the many voices that devalued me, and pursuing my PhD in English and Creative Writing will allow me to invest in myself further. I’m interested in researching how naturalization and generational gaps have impacted the traditions of immigrants and the way different minorities become byproducts of patriarchal and colonized systems. I am especially intrigued by the work of faculty Maurine Ogbaa, specifically in an essay of hers titled Public Song of 2020, in which she writes about her culture, history, and women through the lens of one she meets who inspires her. It has been a goal of mine to interconnect a series of female voices from the same hometown as brilliantly as Ogbaa crafts the history and aesthetic of those who’ve led her to where she is today. By utilizing creative writing with the academic prowess of research and analytical writing, my work would not only actively pursue modern conflicts, but engage readers of every proportion. And by being educated by the voices that inspired me to ignite change and constantly hone my craft, I can better design work that will enrich and assist other outcasts, minorities, and human beings in need of the same help and nourishment I learned to give myself.
In his 1962 essay The Creative Process, James Baldwin writes, “The precise role of the artist is to illuminate that darkness, blaze roads through that vast forest…to make the world a more human dwelling place.” I believe that to resonate with the written word is to feel a truth in yourself, to express that your identity is authenticated in some way. Writing is the companion that has grown with me through my education and through the unique experiences I’ve designed. I continue learning to give myself a chance, and I write to give one to others. See, I am not just the woman who rose from ash; I am the fire that still burns through it.
-Kiran Bains Sahota