P.D. Soros Fellowship for New Americans


Nine Things to Know About “Gold Diggers” Author Sanjena Sathian

  • Sanjena Sathian
2017 Paul & Daisy Soros Fellow Sanjena Sathian's debut novel "Gold Diggers" (Penguin Press) is a contemporary coming of age story about Neil, the child of Indian immigrants living in the Atlanta suburbs. Desperate to get into a great college, Neil and his best friend turn to the power of gold--and with the help of magical realism, Sanjena tells a much bigger story than that of two teenagers. With the novel touching on some of Sanjena's own lived experiences, here are seven things to know about this New American and debut author. 
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1. The daughter of Indian immigrants raised in Georgia, Sanjena grew up reading Hindu mythological comic books and Arundhati Roy, the New Testament and Flannery O'Connor. The granddaughter and great-granddaughter of respected South Indian translators, she always hoped to become a writer.
2. In high school, Sanjena was a national policy debate champion and still speaks at a Gilmore Girls pace because of it.
3. Sanjena’s mother was a role model to her growing up. She's an MD, a polyglot, a gardener, world traveler, and exercise fiend (Sanjena loves CrossFit). 
4. After graduating from Yale University, where she received her BA in English, Sanjena worked as a reporter. She was an early employee of the media start-up OZY where she wrote widely, covering the unseen mobile home economy, the ethical implications of artificial intelligence, and the boom in Asian American retirement communities. For one piece, she successfully masqueraded as a movie star on Hollywood Boulevard in order to muse on celebrity worship culture. In 2015 she moved to India, where she investigated the rise of Hindu nationalism, cattle-smuggling rings on the Indo-Bangladesh border, the impact of automation on handloom industries, and the rise of a new street drug in Mumbai. 
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5. Gold Diggers” may be made into a TV show or film and Sanjena will be co-writing the adaptation. Better yet, Mindy Kaling's production company, Kaling International, already optioned film and TV rights. “An option is stage one on a very long journey to possibly having a TV show made, but a very exciting first step,” Sanjena wrote. 

6. Sanjena wanted to get the cover art for “Gold Diggers” right. Sanjena and her editors wondered, “How could we evoke India, America, and Indian-America? How could we hint that the novel contains both serious and comic elements, both magic and realism? Could a single cover point to the novel's four eras and geographies: 1849 gold rush California, 1980s Bombay, 2006 suburban Georgia, and 2016 Silicon Valley?” They nailed it If you want to judge “Gold Diggers” by its cover, go right ahead—Penguin Press's designers collaborated with the Bombay-based artists at Sky Goodies to create the Indian matchbox art-inspired work of art. If you look closely, you’ll see gold jewelry, suburban homes of Georgia, pickaxes and shovels, and other elements of the book.

7. With “Gold Diggers” coming out at a time when violence against the AAPI community has surged and continues to rise in the United States, Sanjena is taking the opportunity to speak up. “Fiction is never a manual for undoing racism,” she wrote recently/. “But I think novels do something to the collective imagination. Perhaps reading this one will affect your own notion of America. Or maybe it offers an escape for a few hours. Either way, I hope it means something to readers in these painful times.” ​

8. Sanjena wrote "Gold Diggers" in a cobwebby attic in Iowa when she was a graduate student at the Iowa Writer's Project at the University of Iowa. She turned in an early version of the book as a short story to workshop right after the first Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships Fall Conference that she attended. "It was a disaster but a friend helped me salvage it," Sanjena wrote. 

9. What does restaurant does Sanjena recommend in Georgia? "I am obsessed with Chai Pani whose slogan is 'Namaste y'all.'" You can read her OZY piece on new Indian cuisine here. ∎


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