A Literary Marriage
Scribbling duo Melanie Abrams and Vikram Chandra share writing and a family in Oakland.
When people ask Melanie Abrams’ daughter Leela, 4, what her mom does, she knows “writer” is the correct answer. The same can be said of her dad, Vikram Chandra.
Not only are Abrams and Chandra both published novelists (Abrams is the author of Playing and Chandra, of Sacred Games, among others), they both have been lecturers in UC Berkeley’s creative writing program since 2005.
That could add up to a lot of togetherness, but while the two support each other’s writing, each manages to carve out his and her own space for working.
When asked how often they see each other on campus, Chandra says, “Never; we set it up that way.” Their schedules have them going to campus on alternating days by design.
He writes in their home’s writing room. She works at a cafe on College Avenue. “I have a hard time disconnecting from family life,” says Abrams, who lives with Chandra in a lively and warm Rockridge home with Leela and their younger daughter, Darshana, 2. “But I have a very easy time writing at cafes.”
Some literary couples find it hard to critique each other’s work—one person may be more successful, or the two may work in vastly different genres. But Chandra and Abrams don’t have this problem.
“I consult all the time with her,” Chandra says. “This last year has been a weird one. I was writing new fiction, and I felt stuck, and she helped me out.”
“We either talk about things, or we’ll read an entire draft,” says Abrams. “We’ve never felt competitive. And I am a competitive person.”
The two even have a literary love-at-first-sight story. They met in Los Angeles at a South Asian arts festival called ArtWallah. Chandra was teaching at Georgetown University and was at the fest to do a reading. Abrams, who was teaching at Cal State San Bernardino, was at the cocktail party afterwards. They started talking and soon embarked upon an epistolary long-distance romance between their home bases, which ranged from California to India to Washington, D.C.
“You have to go to a South Asian arts festival to meet a nice Jewish girl,” says Chandra.