Remember Your Why
An Interview with
Puja Shah cannot be confined to just one title: she is a writer, social rights activist, teacher, president, poet, and woman among so many others. Her multifaceted work ranges from the foundation she created with her husband to her first novel project published this October to the SDWI class she will be teaching later this year. Here, Shah talks about all of this and more.
Meghan Coley: Can you elaborate on your experience and passion behind the SDWI class you’ll be teaching this November, “Writing Fiction for Social Change”?
Puja Shah: Yes, definitely. This class is somewhat of a combination of my own passions and experience amongst each. With over 10 years of nonprofit experience as a volunteer, board member and President, plus with a campaign aligned with causes on girl trafficking awareness for my upcoming novel, I can provide clarity to those who wish to do the same with their fiction novels or writing projects in this class. I think [I] am most excited to lead writers in a guided meditations exercise. I did this recently at MiraCosta College and it was a lovely way to get creativity and dialogue flowing. After my yoga teacher trainings and numerous meditation courses, every time I have led mindfulness guided meditations via corporate settings, retreats in the USA, India and Mexico, local yoga classes, in the college setting as well as virtual courses on yoga, Ayurveda, meditation and journaling, I find just getting present this way is a great inner connection tool. It feels wonderful to combine my passion for social change, for writing and for mindfulness where I can share tips with other writers in this upcoming course.
MC: Your first novel was published this October! What has your process of writing this book been like in terms of endeavoring to write a book for the first time?
PS: It was surely a journey and did not happen right away. For me, it was not only the grueling process of editing and querying to work through, but also the process of believing in myself as a writer. Even if I had traveled across the world to open a clinic in Uganda in my nonprofit and public health career, I questioned myself because the author world was such a new path for me. It was by turning off the noise and going inside to know my truth that I really made it to the other side.
MC: Was there a moment amidst the process of creating your trafficking awareness campaign when you realized that you were going to write your debut novel, For My Sister?
PS: It actually is the reverse, I was inspired to write about this topic through my nonprofit volunteer days. After graduate school, my work in healthcare led me to nonprofit work in Uganda and in India, where I shifted my lens and knew I wanted to advocate for the girl child. It’s when I started writing For My Sister, as a short story first, but then grew to more.
MC: What is the goal of The Shah Education and Exploration Foundation you are currently the president of?
PS: The Shah Education and Exploration Foundation (SEEF) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization my husband and I started that is working to help educate people about the earth’s most vital ancient wisdom and to advocate for compassion and social change. SEEF believes that awareness is knowledge and leads to action. We provide awareness through education events plus support to causes that align with our goals. With further exploration of community needs, SEEF exists to assist in the creation and sustainability of healthy, economically independent communities. It is why we partner with like-minded organizations and causes to aid in making this a reality.
MC: What is some advice you’d like to give to writers aspiring to create work that reflects social issues and topics?
PS: To remember your why. As a writer for social change, it’s not as if change occurs overnight. But when you remember what fueled you to write about the topic you chose, this spark is what lights the way for change to occur. You are part of a greater collective effort where your work is a catalyst for meaningful discussion and inspiration.
MC: Is there anything else you’d like to cover that I haven’t asked?
PS: I have performed spoken word poetry since my college days, which is a wonderful medium for expressing topics on social justice, human rights or anything that aligns with change. In my book trailer here, I used my poetry to depict For My Sister’s awareness cause tied into the story.
Be sure to attend Puja Shah’s upcoming SDWI course, Writing Fiction for Social Change, on Tuesday, November 1 at 7pm via Zoom.
Puja Shah is a visionary poet who shares her voice through written and spoken word, guided meditations, and teaching. You can read more about her here.