At the age of 15, Uma Menon wrote what would become
Hands for Language (Mawenzi House), a collection of poetry that sees the world through the eyes of a young girl of colour living in America. In this edition of Writer's Block, Uma shares about how her love of writing began in elementary school, one of her major writing influences, and looking back on her past writing for perspective.
All Lit Up: Is there one stand-out moment or experience you had that helped you realize you wanted to become a writer?
Uma Menon: Becoming a writer has been my dream for as long as I can remember. I have a journal of poetry and short stories that I kept since before I could write myself; the first several pages were narrated orally and transcribed by my mother. Early in elementary school, I wrote a series of short stories, each inspired by an interesting photograph. Looking back, these experiences of imagining and creating my own stories as a child prompted me to discover my love for writing.
Back to basics in Uma's workspace!
ALU: Which writers have influenced you or had the most impact on your own writing?
UM: Jhumpa Lahiri, author of several award-winning short story collections and novels, has had a formidable impact on my perspective of writing and storytelling. Her debut short-story collection, Interpreter of Maladies, was the first book I ever read that centered on characters of South Asian origin. As an Indian-American woman, Lahiri’s writing really empowered me to tell my own stories and realize that these stories are important and valuable.
ALU: What do you enjoy reading?
UM: I enjoy reading a wide array of genres, including poetry, literary fiction, memoir, and even children’s literature. I particularly love books that center around characters of diverse backgrounds and contemporary postcolonial literature.
ALU: What’s the most surprising thing about being a writer?
UM: Each project I work on is like a completely different world. Writing really allows me to enter the minds of different characters and various settings in a magical manner. Reading pieces that I wrote years ago is a very surprising experience in that I realize how much my perspective of the world has grown and changed.
Uma's writing advice
ALU: Why do you write?
UM: Writing, for me, serves many different purposes. It is a creative and therapeutic outlet, a way to better understand myself, a mechanism that allows me to imagine my own worlds, and a tool to advocate for change. I write because it makes me a better and stronger human being and allows me to communicate creatively with a broad and diverse audience.
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Uma Menon was born and raised in the sunny town of Winter Park, Florida. She is a full-time student who will be attending Princeton University in the fall. Uma is a proud intersectional feminist and a vegetarian. Find more of her work at
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