How to pronounce Manil Suri: Ma-neel Soo-ree
Manil Suri was born in July, 1959 in Mumbai (formerly known as Bombay). He
spent several years of his life acquiring degrees in mathematics (B.Sc. (1979),
University of Bombay; M.S. (1980) and Ph.D. (1983), Carnegie-Mellon University)
followed by several years climbing the academic ladder as a mathematics
professor at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (assistant
(198389), associate (198994), full professor (1994present). This is
the only job he has ever had, and he is amazed to wake up and discover (on most
days) that he still likes it.
He claims that writing has been a way for him to escape the horror of being a mathematician. (It is rumored he also complains frequently to his colleagues of the horror of being a writer, declaring mathematics to be his only escape.) He wrote his first short story in 1985 and spent the next ten years finding out how wanting was that initial attempt. During that time he wrote maybe seven more stories, dabbled in some informal writers' groups and even started a novel about a Pittsburgh woman and her transvestite son, thankfully abandoned after five chapters. One year, he spent weeks polishing up two or three of his best pieces and sent them out to thirty or forty literary journals. For his efforts, he was rewarded with the obligatory thirty or forty rejection slips. Typical acceptance rates even for obscure journals being 5% and lower, he is relieved he sought tenure in math, not creative writing.
In 1995, he did have his first story, "The Tyranny of Vegetables," published. Unfortunately, it was in a Bulgarian-language journal and he was only able to identify it by an author photograph next to the piece. He thinks the name of the journal is Orpheus, but as he is unable to read the title of the complimentary copy that came from Bulgaria, he cannot be sure.
He started The Death of Vishnu as a short story in 1995. It was inspired by the death of an actual man named Vishnu who had lived (and died) on the steps of the Bombay apartment building in which he grew up. By 1997, it had grown to three chapters, and he took it to a workshop at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Massachusetts led by Michael Cunningham. Cunningham began his critique with the exhortation to "keep writing this at any cost" and ended it with "you must do whatever is necessary to finish this." That's when Suri realized that perhaps the time for dabbling had come to an end, perhaps he had stumbled onto the start of something more serious. Three years later, an excerpt, "The Seven Circles" appeared in The New Yorker, bringing in his first non-Bulgarian audience.
In addition to Michael Cunningham, Suri has taken writing workshops with two other wonderful teachers: authors Jane Bradley and Vikram Chandra. He has been a fellow at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts and the MacDowell Colony, and was the winner of the 1998 Jenny McKean Moore Residency Fellowship awarded biannually by George Washington University.
Manil Suri's avocational interests include painting and cooking, which he claims are the only respites from the horror of being a mathematician and a writer.
About This Biography
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A conversation between Manil Suri and Michael Cunningham, Pulitzer Prizewinning author of The Hours.
Im Michael Cunningham, and I have the privilege of talking to
Manil Suri about his remarkable first novel, The Death of Vishnu. Who are
some of your literary influences? Do you identify yourself particularly as an
Both of these questions are kind of loaded questions, because first of all Im never quite clear in my mind what is meant by a literary influence. How do you interpret that?
I would say, any piece of writing that stays with you, and in some way influences the kind of writer you are, whether it be Henry James or Jacqueline Susann, both of whom I claim as influences.
OK, well thats good, because I certainly grew up on a lot of Jacqueline Susann-type novels. But more serious writers I would have to say, the one that comes to mind is V. S. Naipaul. Ive just read one book of his, A House for Mr. Biswas, and the thing that stayed with me out of that novel was the way his characters speak. And they speak in English, but you can tell they are speaking an Indian language. Its their intonation, or, I dont know how he does it, and thats ...
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