Arjun Basu Wins Shorty Award for Literature


There are two kinds of people: those who use Twitter and those who don’t. I belong to the former group. But even a Twitter fanatic like myself can appreciate the apathy that inevitably creeps in when the initial excitement of sharing your world in 140-characters dies down. After a while – it’s easy to become disinterested in the Tweets of the people you follow.

A couple of months ago, I became curious about sharing narrative via Tweets. Upon further Googling, I discovered the concept had been realized in all its glory by Arjun Basu, who Pavani first bought to the Mutiny’s attention last summer. I started following Basu on Twitter and ever since then, have been consistently entertained by what he calls Twisters, short stories told via Twitter. There’s something about seeing a full story told in such a succinct, boiled-down way that appeals to my fancy. And it looks like I’m not the only one who’s a fan. This past month, Basu’s work was acknowledged at the second annual Shorty Awards, which recognizes the “the best people and organizations on Twitter.” Basu won in the Literature category in a surprising upset over Neil Gaiman, the so-called “rock star’ of the literary world.” For someone still working on his first novel, the award was quite a coup. Basu was kind enough to answer some questions for the Mutiny.

So how does it feel to beat Neil Gaiman in the Shorty Awards? Did you do a victory dance? There are still a couple of press releases out on the web released prematurely that feature Gaiman as the winner… Does this mean a Tweetdown is on its way?

I have the utmost respect for Neil Gaiman. But I have to say I was surprised to win. Even my kid, who’s 10, said I had “no chance.” I didn’t dance. But I got pretty drunk.

Two years ago, you wrote your first collection of stories, Squishy and right now you’re working on your first novel, Waiting for the Man? Hints as to what it’s about?

Waiting for the Man is a story about a guy who follows his dreams. Sort of. It’s also a road story and a bit of a satire on the media and the hospitality industry.

You’ve been writing Twisters since October 2008. Do you ever see yourself getting tired of it? Running out of inspiration?

Sometimes. But the great thing about Twitter is if you don’t want to write you don’t have to. There’s no end goal to all of this. So I never force myself to do anything on Twitter. It’s there to capture moments and ideas and thoughts bouncing around my head. I don’t stare at the Twitter feed and think “OK, I have to write now.”

Many of your tweets are about marriage and relationships in general. What does your wife think of all this? Your parents? Do they read your tweets? Are they on Twitter themselves?

My wife is kind of bemused by the whole thing. She thinks I spend too much time on Twitter which is probably true. And my parents don’t get Twitter. Or at least don’t see the point in it.

You often refer to Raymond Carver as being your literary hero. How do you imagine Carver would approach Twitter?

That’s an interesting question given the revelations about how heavy Gordon Lish edited Carver. The “minimalist” Carver we know was a construct of Lish. Carver’s own stories tend to be longer, more emotional, more involved. I don’t see Carver using social media all that much. It doesn’t seem like the Carver we all know.

What is your advice to young authors hoping to use Twitter as a force to improve their writing style?

Twitter is a remarkable vehicle for writers; it really focuses the mind. Writing short is always a lot harder than writing long. Learning to edit is a must-have skill for anyone aspiring to write.

In your Shorty Award profile, you say there’s not a lot of sex on Twitter. Elaborate.

I was joking. No, really. Twitter is awash in sex. Isn’t everything on the internet about sex?

I’ve noticed a lot of your Twisters have to do with the nose. Tell me the truth, are you a nasophiliac?

I didn’t notice that. Really. I’m going to have to go back and read some of my work.

Have you ever gotten in trouble for something you Tweeted? Or is that the luxury of writing fictional Tweets?

Yes and no. Yes, but only when I’ve tweeted “out of character.” Not for anything I wrote but because I was kind of breaking the contract with my followers.

Who are your favorite South Asian authors? Any up-and-coming new authors (besides yourself) you think the Mutineers will enjoy reading?

It’s funny you ask. Because right now, I’m not reading much. Not because of Twitter but because when I write (and I’m finishing up my novel now) I don’t read much fiction. Or I read stuff I’ve read in the past. I do think, however, that the best South Asian author is probably Jhumpa Lahiri. Only because she manages to bridge the two worlds so well. She’s an American author really. And a good one.

What is the best part about being a Twitter celebrity? The worst?

I think a Twitter celebrity is a weird term. Almost an oxymoron. Although it once got me a free drink.

18 thoughts on “Arjun Basu Wins Shorty Award for Literature

  1. He lost me when he said Jumpha Lahiri is his favourite author. pity.
    (nice interview however and congrats on him winning the award; his tweets are thoughtful and entertaining).

  2. Sorry to lose you. I do find most authors of South Asian origin go on too long. Perhaps that’s why I like Lahiri. Or old Hanif Kureishi. But I’ve never really divided my writers by their origin. They all go into a big pot. And I’m a minimalist. So the Rushdies and Seths and Mistrys of the world are lost on me. The only “big” book I’ve ever really liked, two actually, were both written by Don DeLillo (yes, “Libra” and “Underworld”).

  3. This is somewhat disturbing but I lol’ed.

    His mother had changed since she’d started seeing a shrink. She was way too gregarious in public. Her new catchphrase was, That makes me wet
  4. As he descended the stage proudly displaying his prize, a young woman whisperd; “It just goes to show, it’s not the size of the boat but the motion in the ocean.” Feeling stereotyped, he considered a tongue-lashing.

  5. How irritating. Not Arjun, but just my memory of how I interviewed him for a great story on Twitter when I was interning at The Week in India. Too bad that story was forgotten and never printed. I think I got the story idea from Sepia Mutiny.

  6. Am I the only one over Gaiman? Maybe I’m just jaded, but his writing seems so derivative, trite, and “done”.

    Not sure about the Lahiri distaste. I think she’s remarkably astute.

  7. Am I the only one over Gaiman?

    I hear he’s writing a new story that explores the nature of storytelling. Because, you know, he’s never done that before.

    As far as short stories go, though, I don’t think anyone will ever beat Hemmingway’s greatest work:

    “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”
  8. Arjun – thanks for replying to my comment. I agree that Indian authors are often too long winded. At least a few have moved on from writing fiction that doesn’t have at its core a “being Indian” element. A small improvement to be celebrated.

    My gripe with Lahiri is I’ve read at least three stories by her that feature an Indian-American graduate student in Boston. And at the end of her stories I’m always left feeling as though nothing consequential happened and I learned nothing. I’m not expecting a happy-ever-after ending but something that is insightful beyond the daily machinations of neurotic characters.

  9. I’m not expecting a happy-ever-after ending but something that is insightful beyond the daily machinations of neurotic characters.

    Ah but can there be a more succinct summary of Indo-American life?

  10. Thanks for posting this. I’d never heard of Arjun Basu. Now, I will have to go and read his stuff.

    And Yoga Fire, yeah I know that Neil Gaiman tends to be repetitive in his work, and tends to write about the same theme over and over again. But I am still a huge fan of his, in spite of that (or maybe because of that?). Call it a crush, or maybe something more meaningful. Is it right to crush on someone you don’t know?

  11. Is it right to crush on someone you don’t know?

    On someone, NO. That’s how celebrity stalkers start off.

    On their work, YES.

    I just don’t “feel” Gaiman. Nothing really ever evolved beyond Sandman level. I like Sandman, actually, but that’s hardly compelling literature.

  12. Darth Paul,

    I was kidding. It was hyperbole.

    You didn’t like American Gods? I liked Sandman a lot, even though it was a graphic novel. It was compelling for me. He turned Morpheus, who started out as a cold, almost tyrannical character, into a human being for me. By the end, I ended up caring about the characters, even though some were oh-so two dimensional (like the character of Barbie and Thessaly). Gaiman has a tragic-romantic/gothic style which I enjoy reading. He can write so poetically, without even trying.

  13. I think I understand the Lahiri comment well. She is one of the many diasporic authors who present a fantastical (not amazing, but more like “made-up”) view of the West. There is none of the “real problems” faced by new immigrants. The West is just a hunky-dory space where one lives with the longing and nostalgia for a safe, secure home back in South Asia. What a sharp departure from India/South-Asia-based authors like Roy!