20 Stories: (#8) Suchitra Gururaj

To celebrate our 20th Anniversary in 2023, we’re highlighting 20 stories that have helped shape StoryStudio over the years. Each month of 2023, we’ll be featuring one or two members of our community as they share their story. Whether they came from the very first class that Jill started in 2003 when StoryStudio was just a few folding chairs and a dream, or they’re from the most recent cohort of Novel in a Year students, on their way to publishing a book; these members make StoryStudio what it is.

Below is Suchitra’s story.

The Napkin Days

I was sitting at Metropolis across from Jill Pollack, StoryStudio’s founder, in 2003. I’d just finished taking a sip of coffee and resuming my tired monologue about the novel I was writing, that I was always writing. Jill listened patiently, as she always does. It’s her listening ear that makes her a great writer; it’s also why she provides excellent feedback.

In fact, feedback was the very focus of an idea that she started—I’m not kidding you—sketching on a napkin at the coffee shop.

There are some great MFA programs here, she said, but I want to create something more expansive for writers and creatives in Chicago, so they can be in a supportive environment where they can learn and grow. Give them a place to go and to belong.

She continued to sketch on that napkin right in front of me – all arrows and circles, describing how all types of people with all sorts of lived experiences might come together as they needed to write what they needed to write. She spoke of literary salons, of classes, of time and space to write.

I knew when I saw it that she’d created something indispensable in a city that had all the talent of literary Brooklyn but not quite the same scaffolds.

I knew when I saw [Jill’s plan] that she’d created something indispensable in a city that had all the talent of literary Brooklyn but not quite the same scaffolds.

For my part, I’ve been sold on SSC since the napkin days. I’ve taught one-nighters and I’ve taken classes – with Scott Onak, with Blair Hurley – that have helped me find my voice. Some of us from Blair’s class convened on Zoom during Covid, raising our spirits and giving us something to think about besides all that was swirling around us. StoryStudio Chicago took me to Ragdale to study with Patricia McNair and Abby Geni. And the work I produced over those years took me back to Ragdale as a 2017 residency recipient.

I’ve since left Chicago, but SSC continues to be part of my world – and now part of my teenage son’s world, given his 2020 virtual participation in SSC’s Youth Summer Camp.

I’m not so sure that napkin still exists; it may have been thrown out with the coffee grounds and stirrers. But what exists in its place is StoryStudio Chicago, the reason we call ourselves “writers,” a place to call our own.

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