Born in New Haven, Chandra Prasad ’97 is a critically acclaimed author. A former Morse College visiting fellow, she writes along many different genres, spanning from historical fiction to young adult fiction to business nonfiction. Prasad recently released a young adult novel earlier this year entitled “Damselfly,” about a group of American teenagers stuck on an abandoned island. The young adult novel explores the human condition, as well as themes of cruelty, identity and survival.
Other works written by Prasad include “On Borrowed Wings,” “Breathe the Sky,” “Death of a Circus,” “Mixed” and “Outwitting the Job Market.”
“On Borrowed Wings,” published in 2007, follows a young girl in the 1930s who adopts her brother’s identity: a Yale student, when Yale was a single-sex educational institution. The novel is one of many instances in which Prasad examines gender identity in her work. Sara Gruen, the author of “Water for Elephants,” lauded the novel, noting that the book “combines drama and a strong sense of place that provides both a lesson in history and a fine read.”
Prasad, who first partnered with a literary agent when she was 16, has drawn praise from National Public Radio, the New Haven Register, USA Today and a myriad of other websites, newspapers and authors. She is currently touring for her book “Damselfly” and works in Connecticut.
In a recent interview, Prasad touched on her origins as an author, how she approaches the writing process and her recent works. You can read more about her work on her website, chandraprasad.com.
Q: Can you take us a little bit through the journey of becoming a writer: from discovering that you wanted to become a writer all the way through to fruition?
A: I can try. So I remember when I was a young kid, I loved art. So initially I was hoping to do that. And my mom is a children’s book illustrator, so she was someone I looked to as a role model in terms of following her passion and doing what she loved. And then somewhere along age 11, 12, 13, I realized I like writing more and it was, you know, something I really enjoyed. So I did it. I wrote a lot, and I read a lot and I looked for my first literary agent when I was still in my teens. I was pretty serious about it early on, and that’s something I like to tell young adults, that you can be serious about stuff early on. You can even be published when you’re young. So if you have the motivation and you take yourself seriously, other people will too.
Q: What themes and styles do you most often employ in your work?
A: That’s a good question. I don’t know if I really emulate a specific author so directly that it would be fair to make a comparison. In terms of themes, I do tend to write a lot about identity, especially as it pertains to race, gender, class and ethnicity, as well as the malleability of identity: how it can be different depending on how you identify yourself and how others perceive you. … So that has been the enduring theme in my work even though my various books have been [on] wildly different subjects.
Q: You have garnered an expansive audience through all your books. Why did you choose to frame “Damselfly” as a young adult novel?
A: Yeah, that’s a fair question. Especially for “On Borrowed Wings,” which is the one that’s set at Yale … a couple of them pointed out that it could be YA but it could kind of go either way [between young adult and adult fiction]. And so hearing that, my now literary agent pointed out to me that in fact my writing was adult writing with a lot of young adult crossover. So it’s not a huge leap to write a young adult book that has adult crossover appeal … it’s a growing part of publishing work, whereas other niches are shrinking. And it’s not only more sophisticated, but in general, it has really improved. … So it makes sense for me to segue because I was already going in that direction anyway, if that makes sense.
Q: You mentioned “On Borrowed Wings.” I wanted to talk about that. As you mentioned, something you enjoy to explore throughout your work is gender identity. What was the statement you were trying to make with that novel and how did you amalgamate a social history with modern identity perspective?
A: When I was at Yale, I was acutely aware of how lucky I was. It was one of the last big institutions to admit women. I think it was in 1969, which seems like a long time ago, but really it was my mother’s generation who wouldn’t have probably been allowed in … pretty much every field you can imagine. Some as a result have had to pose as men, and we know in history that is true. Like we do know of soldiers, we do know of pirates, we know of a lot of women who have masked their identity in order to do what they love or do what they need to do. So I think that this was just another example in that line of doing what you have to do with your identity in order to get somewhere you want to be.
Q: A lot of critics and other authors are saying “Damselfly” is like a modern-day “Lord of the Flies.” Was “Lord of the Flies” an influence? Were there any authors or other pieces of work that might have also influenced “Damselfly”?
A: So the kernel or the seed of that idea is my eighth grade year. When we studied “Lord of the Flies,” my teacher said that the society that William Golding constructs is a perfect microcosm. And she went on and on with this perfect microcosm idea. And all I kept thinking was that, “It’s not, because we have a bunch of British schoolboys who are pretty similar in their background, and we have no girls whatsoever.” And I remember being very struck by this book. … So I think ever since then, I’ve always wanted to do a more girl-centric take on “Lord of the Flies.” And “Damselfly,” because “Lord of the Flies” is under copyright, this is definitely not a rewrite of it or a revision. I think it’s taking the same themes and a very similar setting and exploring them in a very modern way with diverse characters and women. So that’s kind of how the book came to be. It really all started for me in eighth grade.
Q: Awesome. What was your favorite part in the process of writing “Damselfly”?
A: That’s an excellent question. At the point at which you turn it in — and I do have an excellent editor who’s very smart and also an excellent literary agent who’s very smart — but the product is kind of no longer your own at that point, right? The world sees it, and it’s susceptible to the ideas and suggestions of others. So I think my favorite part of the book was really just the time that I had it all to myself: writing it and creating this story from scratch. It’s really gratifying to start with nothing and then come out at the end of it with the finished product. It’s … it’s exciting.
Q: What’s the next step? Are you working on anything or are you planning on working on anything in the near future?
A: I do have another YA book that is pretty far down the pipeline. So that’s exciting. And I would like to write another book connected to this book, “Damselfly.” Either a sequel or possibly even a prequel, because I liked the Sharp sisters. … That might happen in the long term.
Q: We’re all excited about it over here. Thank you.
Nick Tabio | email@example.com