I work full time as a biomedical informatics professor. This means that I spend most of my time writing (and rewriting and resubmitting) NIH grants that examine the role that computational methods can play in reducing US health disparities, carrying out the research when a grant (almost miraculously) gets funded, publishing research papers, and teaching graduate students.
I started writing short stories as a researcher and junior faculty member in Boston because, frankly, the stories wouldn’t leave me alone. It was almost like they were haunting me, showing up in my dreams, asking, no begging, to be told. I was worried back then about whether any of my fellow biomedical informaticians would take me seriously if they knew that I loved writing fiction as much as I loved informatics. A lot of the early career advice I got was focused on getting grants and publications and promotions, attending conferences, networking (I’m really bad at that), finding new research collaborators to get more grants and publications and promotions. In some ways, I think writing fiction saved me. The desire to write followed me from Boston to Los Angeles.
So you might wonder, When do you find the time to write fiction? Early mornings before I leave for work and on weekends. Sometimes I’d take an evening writing workshop just to stay on track: at Grub Street, Boston and Writing Workshops LA, I found great writing instructors and likeminded writers, professionals with serious jobs who had a love of books, of reading and writing. It hasn’t been easy – it took almost fifteen years for me to start and finish Jollof Rice and Other Revolutions (from the first drafts to finding an agent who found me a publisher), but I regret nothing.
When I decided that I would take writing fiction seriously, I needed a different environment to work in, one that inspired me in a unique way. The Boston Public Library Copley Square’s Reading Room was just that environment. It was beautiful, so awe-inspiring that I couldn’t not write. The words for the initial drafts of many of the stories in Jollof Rice and Other Revolutions flowed out into my laptop there. I remember how ecstatic I’d feel, rolling my laptop briefcase to the nearest T Station on my way home to my condo in Brookline after a few hours of pouring words out. Then the next day, I’d go back to the library and do it again. This was my life for almost four years.
I left Boston for Los Angeles in 2007 and I hadn’t been back there in fifteen years! This summer, I decided to show my husband, who I met in Los Angeles, my old stomping grounds and the place where the book began. I hope you enjoy the pictures of the Copley Library and I hope it’s there for many others for years and years to come!