2015 Plenary Address

Thrity Umrigar and Shyam Selvadurai: Writing Trust

What role does trust play in the process of writing? Join us for a plenary session featuring celebrated writers Thrity Umrigar and Shyam Selvadurai as they contemplate the ways in which trust—and its absence—have figured into their work. 

Thrity Umrigar will explore the faith and trust that are required between reader and writer for a novel to be successful. Writers earn their readers’ trust by creating books that have emotional integrity, and by exploring questions pertaining to betrayal, secrets, and lies as well as forgiveness, redemption and trust. Themes of personal and family honor in South Asian contexts are particularly good canvases for these explorations. Umrigar will share insights arising from her current work on two novels. Betrayal and trust are essential plot drivers in both.

Shyam Selvadurai will talk about Write to Reconcile, a creative writing project that he has pioneered, which uniquely combines creative writing and reconciliation in post-war Sri Lanka. He will discuss the challenges and joys of running such a program in a country in the middle of an uneasy peace; the challenges of trying to build trust among writers from the different sides in Sri Lanka’s Civil War through the medium of literature; and what literature can contribute towards building bridges between these communities.

Conference chair Mitra Sharafi will moderate the session.

Speaker Bios

Thrity Umrigar

Thrity Umrigar

Thrity Umrigar is the best-selling author of the novels Bombay TimeThe Space Between UsIf Today Be SweetThe Weight of HeavenThe World We Found and The Story Hour. She is also the author of the memoir, First Darling of the Morning.  Her books have been translated into several languages and published in over fifteen countries. She is the Armington Professor of English at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland and has written for the Washington Post, the Huffington Post, the Boston Globeand other publications.

The Space Between Us was a finalist for the PEN/Beyond Margins award, while her memoir was a finalist for the Society of Midland Authors award. If Today Be Sweet was a Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle selection.  Umrigar is the winner of the Cleveland Arts Prize, a Lambda Literary award and the Seth Rosenberg prize. She is a recipient of a Nieman Fellowship to Harvard University. 


 Shyam Selvadurai

Shyam Selvadurai is a Canadian-Sri Lankan novelist whose books includeCinnamon Gardens and Funny Boy, winner of the WH Smith/Books in Canada First Novel Award and the Lambda Literary Award. He was born in Colombo, Sri Lanka, in 1965, and came to Canada with his family at the age of nineteen. Selvadurai has studied creative writing and theatre and has a BFA from York University, as well as an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of British Columbia.  

Selvadurai is editor of an anthology, Story-Wallah: A Celebration of South Asian Fiction. His novel for young adults, Swimming in the Monsoon Sea,won the Lambda Literary award and the Canadian Library Association Book of the Year Award. His articles have appeared in The New York TimesTime MagazineToronto LifeWalrus MagazineEnroute MagazineThe Globe and Mail, and the Toronto Star. Selvadurai served as Festival Curator for the Galle Literary Festival in Sri Lanka for two years. His fourth novel, The Hungry Ghosts, was published in 2013 in Canada, India and Sri Lanka. His latest work is a comprehensive anthology of Sri Lankan Literature, Many Roads through Paradise.