Sonora Jha is an author and professor with a fascinating background. She was born in India, where she worked as a journalist in Mumbai and Bangalore before moving to Singapore and then the United States to earn a Ph.D. in Political Communication. She is now a professor of journalism at Seattle University. Her first novel, Foreign, brought together her work as journalist, academic, and creative writer. She is the 2016-18 Writer in Residence at the Richard Hugo House and is an alumna and Board President for Hedgebrook Writers’ Retreat. She is currently writing a book of essays about how to raise a feminist son and is working on a second novel.

Here she answers five questions for us–and you can read her answers to five more questions specifically about writing on her website. We loved having Sonora here for her water-loving spirit, her tremendous curiosity about all things PLAYA, and her terrific smile (yes, she really does light up a room or the edge of the pond)!

1. Sonora, what led you to PLAYA?

I had the incredible fortune of being selected for the 2017 Barry Lopez Fellowship at PLAYA. As you know, the fellowship is awarded each year to a writer based in Washington or Oregon with a strong interest in issues of justice and equity and whose work resonates in spirit with that of Barry Lopez. I was thrilled when Tree Swenson, the Executive Director of Richard Hugo House, told me I’d been selected.  

2. Did you come to work on a specific project? If so, did you make progress on it?

Yes, I came to work on revisions to my second novel, a story of an academic who is witnessing his growing irrelevance with much resentment. I was able to complete the revisions and also generate two new essays toward my second project, a collection of feminist essays. The time here has been tremendously productive for me.

3. How do you think the land and waterscapes here affected your work?

Oh, my goodness. I was totally unprepared of how much I would fall in love with the land and waterscapes. The playa is land beneath my feet of the kind I have never witnessed on this planet. No exaggeration. The salt crunching under my shoes, the clay under my bare feet, the shift and shake of the hexagons . . . I haven’t walked so much in years. I have some disabilities that complicate walking for me and make it often painful. On the playa, I was gliding, graceful as a crane (or so I felt).

Walking on the playa. Photograph 2018 Rebecca Lawton.

And don’t even get me started about the water. I swam in the pond every day. I am told people don’t do that very much. Why not? It was the best thing about this residency for me. The other residents joined in, one by one. It became our watering hole, so to speak. Then, the deer, the goldfinches, the fish . . . my body needed this and my brain said yes.

4. Describe a typical day at PLAYA.

I work up to these glorious sunrises at 5:45 a.m. then went back to bed until 6:30. Then, another resident—photographer Kelli Connell and I—walked for an hour on the playa and alternated days with yoga on my cabin’s wide wraparound deck. Then, reading, writing, lunch, nap, pond swim, socializing with the other residents, more writing, and a good night’s sleep.

5. What were some highlights for you?

The pond. The company of the visual artists and scientists. The gracious leadership and staff here (Jeff put a ladder in the pond’s dock so it would be easier for me to climb out). My cabin, Cabin 4, where the birds and the deer come to play. I could go on and on. All of this had fed my work, nourished my body and my mind. Why are you making me leave?

Edge effects in ecological science are the “influences of border communities upon each other” (Brittanica.com). PLAYA alumni, friends, guests, and neighbors are invited to submit blog posts that explore the diverse influences experienced here or because of time spent with us—whether the effects are among disciplines, environments, relationships, or communities. Email PLAYA’s Executive Director to join this conversation.