Bookshelf: Persistence pays off for double literary debut

Atlanta author Anjali Enjeti's debut novel "The Parted Earth" comes out in May.
Courtesy Hub City Press
Atlanta author Anjali Enjeti's debut novel "The Parted Earth" comes out in May. Courtesy Hub City Press

Georgia author will have two books come out spring 2021 — “Southbound” and “The Parted Earth.”

After living through 2020, this Thanksgiving gives us a special reason to think about why we should be grateful — even for little things. Yes, it’s been a tough year. Yet, author and activist Anjali Enjeti of Johns Creek is among those who are filled with gratitude this holiday.

For more than a decade, Enjeti submitted countless queries to agents and copies of manuscripts to presses in hopes of publishing a book. She had two in the works, a completed novel and a proposal of essays. Meanwhile, she continued to write and publish essays and reviews in a myriad of publications, including The Atlantic, The Washington Post, The Paris Review and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

After her 10th year of trying and failing to publish a book, Enjeti kind of gave up. “I was happy with what I was doing,” she said. “I love writing book reviews. I love interviewing people. I love writing about politics. I had a very fulfilling writing life without the book.”

Then, out of the blue, she received a response to a proposal that had been lingering in the slush pile at the University of Georgia Press for ages. They wanted to publish “Southbound,” her collection of essays about identity and activism. Soon after, she heard from Hub City Press, a nonprofit publisher in Spartanburg, South Carolina, that specializes in literary fiction rooted in the South. Enjeti’s novel “The Parted Earth” was selected as the next book in the Charles Frazier Cold Mountain Fund series. Both books come out in spring 2021.

“It’s been incredible. I truly never thought I’d get a book published,” said Enjeti. “I had pretty much closed the door to that chapter.”

“The Parted Earth,” which comes out May 4, is an elegantly crafted story about families and loved ones devastated by separation during the 1947 Partition of India and how that trauma reverberates across generations.

Born in Michigan, Enjeti grew up in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and has lived in metro Atlanta since 2006. But she often visited her father’s family in India during the summers of her youth. Once she became an adult, though, time sprouted wings and major life events like marriage, motherhood and a law career consumed her. When she finally returned in 2011, 19 years had passed. By then, both her grandparents had died.

“We were there for a wedding, and we took a side trip to go to the Taj Mahal,” Enjeti said. “It was the first time my husband, Brian, went to India; the first time my girls went to India. They were ages 10, 6 and 3. I was with my parents, and I’m standing on the terrace of the Taj Mahal, and I’m looking northwest as the sun was setting. And I was filled with immense grief because the last time I was at the Taj Mahal, I was with my grandmother, and I remembered this promise I always made to her over the phone that I would bring my kids to meet her. So, I was standing there missing her but also strongly feeling her presence, and almost the entire story of ‘The Parted Earth’ came to me in that moment.”

As for “Southbound,” which publishes April 15, it was originally conceived as a collection of previously published essays along with a few new ones. But between the time she proposed the book and the time came to submit the manuscript, Enjeti had undergone a transformation. She’d been an activist since her youth, focused on women’s issues such as domestic abuse and reproductive rights, but the 2016 presidential election changed that. For the first time, Enjeti’s activism turned partisan, and she focused her attention on the Democratic party.

Courtesy of UGA Press
Courtesy of UGA Press

Enjeti helped rally Asian Americans in Georgia’s 6th Congressional District and campaigned hard, starting with Jon Ossoff’s failed bid for a seat in the U.S. House in 2017. In 2019, she founded the Georgia chapter of They See Blue, an organization of South Asian Democrats that numbers 500 members, and this fall, she served on the Georgia Biden-Harris Asian American Leadership Council. Currently, she is campaigning for Democrats in Georgia’s upcoming runoff elections.

As a result of those experiences, Enjeti sees things differently than she did when she wrote her previous essays. “I asked myself if I would write them today, and I wouldn’t,” she said. So, she tossed out all but four — and wrote 18 new ones.

“(The book) became less about me experiencing racism in the South, and it became more about me being part of the problem of racism in the South,” Enjeti said. “It’s not so much me as the victim, but me as the aggressor, me as being complicit, me being silent, even, in situations where I needed to speak up and say something. Once I realized that was the story I needed to tell, then the whole book changed, and I couldn’t go back and resuscitate and revise those same essays. I wasn’t the same person.”

Asked what she’s most thankful for this year, Enjeti pointed to the activists in Georgia who she calls her teachers and mentors. "They put up with my ignorance and inexperience and have given me the guidance and support that I needed. I wouldn’t be able to do this without them,” she said.

That sentiment also applies to her writing career, she said. “I feel like I’m lucky, actually. I have always had people rallying around me, whether it’s the writing, whether it’s the activism. I’ve been lucky to be adopted in the sisterhood of people who have no reason to trust my talent, or trust my motivation, but for whatever reason opened the door to me to be in their spaces. They deserve all the credit, to be quite honest. They offered a hand, and I’ve taken them up on it.”

What Enjeti calls luck I call talent and persistence. Either way, her success is well deserved.

Suzanne Van Atten is a book critic and contributing editor to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. svanatten@ajc.com.

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