In June, 2003, I won the Red Wheelbarrow Fiction Prize under the name Rajshree Chauhan for "The Monsoon."
Reading is my first love, and reading is what informs my writing. As a child, I would read anything I could get my hands on, Intro to Learning German, How to Fix Common Household Problems from Plumbing to Carpentry, and even the cereal box in its entirety—including the ingredients. As a high school student, I was lucky enough to have Barbara Abbot for Freshman English and then again for Advanced Placement Shakespeare classes at Monte Vista in Danville, CA. It was in her classes that I discovered I was good at writing as well as math.
During the summer of 1985 between my Sophomore and Junior year of high school, the year Prince's Purple Rain and Silverado were in theaters, I was living in Berkeley and taking Chemistry with the incoming Freshman at UC. Chem was awful. I can't say I remember much of those classes, but I do remember my first job, the movies, the songs, the toga party, a girl named Peaches, a boy names Greco, my first kiss, Top Dog hot dogs, having no money, Phil Collins "Against All Odds," a red denim dress with a single diagonal zipper, and picking up and reading 2150 A.D. by Thea Alexander, Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie, and my sister's roommates journal!
So many questions came up: Who are these writers? How did they create their works? Who is reading their works? How are they selling? How did they find me? How do they find their audience? What about the movies? and music? and the hot dog shop and the record shop and the hotels and the dorms and the university? What about the dress designer, the model who wore it, my sister's roommate who bought it? Why are some people more memorable than others? How do they make that impression they make? Who are these customers and students? Where is the money coming from? How are prices determined? How does everyone find everything? How do they know? How do businesses find the people? What is this flyer and how did its presence at this very place at this very time, and me seeing it get me to gather a bag of pennies and get down to the store to buy a slice of pizza that I didn't realize I needed? Who wrote that flyer, who placed it?
Perhaps another writer or an entrepreneur can recognize these types of questions. I started to make up stories to answer them all. Some of it imagined, some of it researched.
Everyone has had a summer like this one, or should. It was that pivotal summer that informed much of how I see the world, and at various stages of my life, in different parts of my life, those memories bubble up all the time. But one thing is clear: two narratives started that summer. One about writing and one about business.
WRITING Some might think that I figured out how to write in high school, but when I went away to college at University of California, Santa Barbara, I stayed away from the English classes because the other students were bitterly complaining about them. Yet, I remained wistful seeing all the cool books the English students got to read, and made mental lists of the things I wanted to read, while I walked away and paid for my Intro to Anthropology, Biology, Poli Sci, etc. books. When I finally did take my English classes, I loved them, loved them, loved them! But, I was still intimidated by the Creative Writing classes. Especially after seeing a roomful of them writing their finals in a room in South Hall. Still, I hadn't written anything down.
Eventually, I moved to the Silicon Valley area in 1996 a few years after I graduated with my BA in English, and eventually found work in Human Resources in high tech... Right on time for the Dot Com bubble burst. I was unable to find Human Resources work at that time, so I started to take classes of interest to me. Enter Introduction to Creative Writing. I LOVED it.
"The Monsoon" is the first fiction piece that I wrote. I won my first award with it through Red Wheelbarrow and I used it as my submission piece for my application into graduate school.
BUSINESS From a very young age, I started to notice the gaps... The gaps in communication, the gaps in knowledge dissemination, and the gaps in instruction. There is a difference between someone telling you how to do something, and actually doing it. In anything I did, I would strive to eliminate that difference. It started in story—helping trainees imagine a scenario and practice. My work experience had led me from sales, to management, then training, change management, corporate training, marketing, and finally communications.
My focus shifted from working within the confines of flaws to strategizing how to minimize the flaws. How can we plan a business or a process from the very beginning and reduce the frustration of transition? How can we communicate better? Who are we doing this for and how can we convey to them more clearly how much they need what we have?
I struggled with these ideas for a long time. Yet, when I wrote "The Monsoon," another piece fell into place. Storytelling. Stories and narrative help leave indelible impressions about the human experience, and after all, aren’t businesses run by people? My area of focus in business can be diverse from Internal Communications to Business to Business, or Business to Consumer, but my approach, the strategy I use to create messaging and narrative has become more refined.
BUSINESS AND WRITING I wrote this story, "The Monsoon" in my first creative writing class, and winning this prize changed the trajectory of my life and career. I wanted to keep writing. Stories, yes of course. But my interests lie in business as well as writing... fiction, memoir, prose... communications, marketing, business plans. My creative writing process informed my business process and my business process informed my creative writing.
Red Wheelbarrow is a literary magazine published by the De Anza Student Body. The Managing Editor was Roshini Joseph, and the Editor, Faculty Advisor was Kenneth Weisner.
Red Wheelbarrow 2003 Fiction Prize winners Judges: Ariel Smart and Marilyn Patton, De Anza College
Gabe Norwood, "Digging Beauty"
Jim Nelson, "Gently, As Loud As You Can"
Jax Miller, "Enemy"
Rajshree Chauhan, "The Monsoon"
Alex Vo, "City Quilt"
Honorable Mention for Fiction
Ashanti Mitchell, "Time Traveler"
Red Wheelbarrow 2003 Poetry Prize winners Judge: Dave Denny, De Anza College
Joyce Kiefer, "Un Temblor Malo"
Tatiana Perfilov, "Heartless"
Matthias Neeracher, "Cogwheels"
Red Wheelbarrow 2003 Art Prize winners
Judge: Mario M. Muller, Brooklyn, New York
Jessica Yu, "Untitled" (page 5)
Lydia Picket, "Untitled" (page 12)
Shirin Mozafari, "Untitled" (page 54)
Carolyn Keen 2003 Literary Essay Awards
Judges: Marilyn Patton, Jill Quigley, Rebecca Board-Liljenstolpe, Bob Dickerson De Anza College
Jonathan Edwards, "Naming Names: History and Perspective Through the Many Eyes of the Historian"
Chelsea Gough, "Men, Women, and Hemingway: The Sun Also Rises"