When I first tried to speak with Gotham Fiction Writing teacher Hasanthika Sirisena, a thunderstorm in Sri Lanka prevented us from Skyping online. Hasie, as she is known, spends part of the year in Sri Lanka, her native country, and the rest in New York City. About a week later, we chatted just after Hasie had been riveted by a cricket match, her favorite sport.
Hasie is currently reading Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels—fitting for a writer who has not only moved around a great deal, but considers place as an actual character in her fiction. Hasie observes that her students are reluctant to tackle place in their stories; they don’t consider their origins interesting. “Everyone wishes they were from somewhere else,” she says.
Hasie was born in Sri Lanka and lived part of her childhood in London, but ultimately, it’s her time spent in the American South that she finds herself writing about. “To be honest, in some ways, I’m neither here nor there, both in a literal and metaphorical sense. I used to really struggle with the idea of an authentic identity. I’m very happy to acknowledge that my life has made me about as authentic as General Tso’s Chicken and those Gucci bags sold on Manhattan streets.”
However, one piece of Hasie’s identity that remains constant is her career as a writer. While Hasie had been writing for years, she truly made writing the center of her universe after winning the Rona Jaffe Foundation award. She’s been grateful to the foundation not only for the financial means it provides, but also the emotional support and connection to other writers. “It gave me the courage to do something that I think women often find a bit hard to do—exactly what I want.” She appreciates how writing is a time-consuming act—one needs the ability to be selfish, which isn’t always easy.
Even in the face of difficulty, Hasie says, “There’s no other way I’d rather live. People say that publishing and literary magazines are dying, but I ignore these things because they’re not in my control. Yes, it’s difficult getting rejected or criticized, but you also get used to it after a while.”
Hasie attributes her upbringing with preparing her for rejection and the challenges of a writing life. “Being an immigrant, you have to be flexible. It’s made me a chameleon—I can fit in wherever I go. Writers really try to do that. If you’re someone who can shift like that, it will help.”
Hasie likes to use her love of sport as a metaphor for writing. “No one plays sports and doesn’t lose. You’re not going to win all the time. If you can deal with the obstacles, it’s great.” Appropriately enough, she is considering writing a story about an amateur cricket team.