UNC is no stranger to students with literary prowess — just look at former Daily Tar Heel editor Thomas Wolfe, who wrote several books including the notable “Look Homeward, Angel.”
But current students are also creating their own attempts at the great American novel.
Sophomore Rajeev Dutta penned his first novel at age 17. He said instead of being a teenager who turned to heavy metal music, he decided to write a book.
Before all this, his writing journey began when he was 13, inspired by his cousin when she started writing a middle school fantasy book. Moving to North Carolina from California, Dutta said he experienced a culture shock when he faced the parts of Southern culture he felt were less welcoming and diverse. He needed a way to focus his thoughts and wrote down bits and pieces of ideas about himself, his peers and life that would become a narrative.
Four years later, he had accomplished the feat of writing a full manuscript titled “Fragmented Love.” The manuscript is written from the perspectives of both characters in a relationship.
“We watch our friends go through relationships that are good and bad, and we ourselves go through relationships that are good and bad and there are a lot of issues that we're facing in our generation that are new,” Dutta said. “We only really get clarity through the power of hindsight and through these two perspectives."
Dutta's second book, inspired by his experiences in North Carolina, is not titled yet and is still in progress.
“People write love letters to their states and this is kind of my hate letter to North Carolina,” Dutta said. “It's a murder mystery, but the other way around where you are with the murderer and he is sort of a very terrible, tragic product of a failure of the system.”
Dutta is in the midst of querying literary agents for his first novel. He said he recognizes that if he wants to go the traditional publishing route, it may take years.
He said agents and publishers might be unwilling to take on a college student as an author because of assumptions of how much a student can put into their craft, but he feels his generation’s voices are powerful.
“It sounds like a cliche, but that's just so important," Dutta said. "I mean, people are like, ‘Ah, books are going to die soon. We don't use paper anymore.' But words and stories, those have been around since the beginning of human history.”
Dutta said being at UNC helps develop his worldview and in turn his writing, which is just one of his passions. Dutta, a neuroscience and philosophy major, hopes to become a psychiatrist and continue his education in philosophy.
First-year Devin Street has gone about writing and publishing his novel in a different way.
His Amazon self-published novel, “TubeStarter: Starting a Successful YouTube Channel” was the result of his prior YouTube success. As a high school sophomore, he started his own YouTube channel called Creator Central, which teaches others how to edit and market videos. He eventually came to a place in his channel where he wanted to give people more than just videos.
“It's like a step-by-step process on how you should start with a YouTube channel, what you should do to start marketing yourself, how you should brand yourself and the simple steps that people can ignore sometimes that will help you grow and get lots of views,” Street said. “Then the entire third end of the book is just dedicated to teaching people different ways to make money on YouTube, different income sources.”
The book took Street nine months of dedication, but he’s demonstrated ambition since he started his company Creator Central, a social media marketing agency that he said has served around 35 business clients.
He chose the self-publishing option because it seemed easier and quicker, but the greatest challenge in this option is doing all the cover design and marketing work, he said. In the future, Street, a business major, hopes to expand his business and fully embrace the entrepreneurial lifestyle.
With his first book, Street wants to serve as an inspiration to others as he was inspired in the past when he picked up a similar book. A lot has changed since he read that book, he said, so he felt the need to create his own.
“I hope that through that book that people are able to get educated on the steps they need to take and then take action," Street said.
"Enchanting Tales from Indonesia"
First-year Andari Deswandhy also had a mission when she published her children’s book, “Enchanting Tales from Indonesia.”
After experiencing a disconnect with her Indonesian culture as an international high school student, she sought to write a book connecting with her heritage. She also wanted to provide Indonesian students who are learning English stories that they would be comfortable with.
Growing up, Deswandhy said she was always called to creative writing, journaling every time she and her family went on a vacation. “Enchanting Tales from Indonesia” was the manifestation of her experiences from adapting to boarding school and a way to fight against her feeling out of touch with her culture. The book is a collection of traditional Indonesian folklore stories written in English, which Deswandhy said she was never able to find before.
Using a high school grant to help fund research and illustrations for the book, Deswandhy was only 16 years old when she made email contact with a large publisher in Indonesia.
“I met up with them and I had to pitch my idea, which was kind of nerve wracking especially as a 16-year-old and sitting in front of very experienced editors and publishers,” Deswandhy said.
A couple days later, Deswandhy heard the news: the publisher would love to take her onboard.
Deswandhy said she urges other student authors to be confident with their ideas and keep pursuing publishers. In the future, she hopes to have a career in public policy.
"Enchanting Tales from Indonesia" was donated by Deswandhy to 80 Indonesian high schools. She wants to help Indonesian students ease the transition of learning English with stories that are familiar to them.
“I think personally it made me connect a lot more with my Indonesian heritage and really appreciate what it has to offer educationally,” Deswandhy said.
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