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Zuni Chopra: A Rising Star

By: Eva Rayala

Christopher Paolini. S.E. Hinton. Kody Keplinger. What do these authors have in common? They were published as minors. While a creative career is hard to achieve, an early one is rare and notable. It’s time to add Zuni Chopra to that list.

Chopra is the author of two poetry collections, a short story collection, and the novel The House That Spoke. Her first book of poetry, The Land of Dreams, was published in 2011 when Zuni was just nine years old. When asked what inspired her to begin writing so young, Chopra said, “I just always loved telling stories. That’s always been the part that’s called to me the most.” Chopra also spoke of the people who encouraged her passions, saying, “I grew up in a really creative household. Both of my parents are involved in creative work.” Chopra is the daughter of filmmaker Vidhu Vinod Chopra and journalist Anupama Chopra. 

Chopra began writing poetry as a child at the age of six. “I think it impacted my writing in that I’m really, really descriptive,” Chopra explained. “That’s one of the strengths of my writing, but it can also become a weakness if it’s not in moderation. I have these really intricate descriptions. I use a lot of metaphorical imagery…and I think that’s influenced by beginning in poetry.”

Writing and publishing a book at nine years old is an incredible feat, but naturally publishing that young would impact a person going forward. Chopra related, “It came with a certain level of pressure and self-critique that I don’t know if I should have had at such a young age…I’m so glad I put it out there because I do think it put a little fun and silliness into the world…but I feel more proud and connected to my later work.”

Her debut novel, The House That Spoke, published when Chopra was fifteen, is a magical realism story set in Kashmir, India. The book weaves historical facts with magical elements to tell a compelling story about fourteen-year-old Zoon and her family secrets that must be uncovered. The setting of Kashmir is vital to the character and how the story unfolds, but the book was initially set in London. Chopra mentioned, “Yeah, I have four drafts of the book that was originally set in London. And the reason for that was because the house that inspired it is in London. It was my mom who first inspired the shift [to Kashmir]. She told me upfront, ‘I don’t think you can write about London. I think you need to set it in India.’ I decided to set it in Kashmir. It became a reminder of the beauty that still exists in the place that a lot of people just reduce to violence. Suddenly the story had a reason for being told.” Chopra drew from her personal connection to Kashmir, the region of India where she grew up, saying, “It became like a journey of self-discovery.”

The setting of Kashmir is very important to the story as a whole. Much of the plot centers around the violence in Kashmir, told through elements of magical realism. Chopra explained her thought process, saying, “Magical realism is just a genre I’ve always loved. I love to live in that blurry line between magic and fantasy. I think a lot of people tend to see those lines as more rigid than they are. I was trying to encourage people to see the beauty in Kashmir and to see beyond the violence. I think magical realism is a great way of doing that.”

The House That Spoke was published when Zuni was still a teenager, and her writing has evolved in multiple ways now that she is in college. Chopra related, “First, finding my depth and finding more mature themes…easing up on the description or finding ways to repurpose some of that metaphorical imagery into characters or in the landscapes…and in terms of character, moving away from the known. The House That Spoke was amazing in that I was discovering myself and my relationship to Kashmir. Zoon was a friend of mine or another version of me. In the novel I’m working on now, the protagonist is very different.”

As a published teen author, Zuni Chopra is often asked what advice she would give to young aspiring writers. She divulged her secret: “Just write. I think that’s advice I need to take myself as well. I think the important thing is just getting [the words] on the page. The only way to tell if someone is a writer is if they are writing. Just keep writing.”

Join Chopra at “An Evening of Magical Stories,” hosted by the nonprofit Stories on Stage Davis with the Yolo County Library and Yolo County Library Foundation, at the Veterans Memorial Theatre on Saturday, April 13, 2024, at 7:30 p.m.

The event will feature excerpts from her book The House That Spoke and Davis Senior High School student Kaussar Tortay’s short story “Memory Vessel,” which won this year’s countywide 9th–12th-grade writing contest. The readings will be performed by local teen actors, followed by a Q&A and book signing with Chopra. 

 To register for the free event, go to http://tinyurl.com/eveningofmagicalstories2024. For more about Stories on Stage Davis’ reading events, which feature local authors and actors on the second Saturday of the month, go to storiesonstagedavis.com.  Stories on Stage Davis is fiscally sponsored by YoloArts and supported by the 2022 City of Davis Arts Grant (funded by the Yolo Community Foundation, a California Non-Profit Corporation). 

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