Find out more about her acclaimed debut, which is honoured by the San Francisco Book Festival Nautilus Book Awards, and the Whistler Independent Book Awards
Recognizing my mentors was important, since they were immensely significant in forming my understanding about what it means to live as people…ARWINDER KAUR
Today we are honoured to have the talented author Arwinder Kaur with us, whose thought-provoking debut book Living While Human takes us on a profound journey of self-discovery and understanding. Through her insightful exploration, Arwinder offers valuable insights into how we can navigate the complexities of our modern world while fostering a deeper connection with ourselves, others, and the earth.
Arwinder has woven a captivating narrative that not only delves into the enigmatic human psyche but also presents a candid and heartfelt account of her South Asian family’s migration to Canada. In her compelling memoir, she shares her incredible experiences as a globetrotter during her youth, providing her with a unique education about the multifaceted nature of humanity. As a social worker specializing in child welfare for nearly three decades after attending SFU, she possesses a wealth of wisdom and compassion that shines through her writing.
Arwinder’s literary accomplishments have not gone unnoticed. The Whistler Book Awards wrote a glowing review: “A flowing style that is simple, yet captivating to keep the reader glued to the book.” Her exceptional work has also earned her an Honorable Mention in the biography/autobiography/memoir category of the prestigious San Francisco Book Festival awards. Additionally, Living While Human received the Silver Nautilus Book Award in the Memoir and Personal Journey category, touching the hearts of readers and critics alike.
How did you get started on your journey as an author?
As a young adult I never envisioned writing, or rather publishing, anything. If I had known, I would have started keeping a diary or journal as a teenager when I travelled around the globe learning life-changing lessons.
I always had a very keen interest in questioning the world to make sense of it, particularly human behaviour which, despite all our research, explains little about the way we live. My years at university and relevant courses added much about placing diagnosis on our behaviour, but when it came to solutions they were lacking. I found that frustrating and dissatisfying.
In 1994, I read Ishmael by Daniel Quinn (winner of the Ted Turner Fellowship Award). In this small but hugely significant book, I learned more about the world and human thought and behaviour than I had in my whole life. Ishmael and other Quinn writings penetrated my soul, allowing me to feel tremendous pain and outrage about how we lived as humans on the planet. This pain and outrage was unleashed in my book Living While Human.
Prior to this, I had been documenting my thoughts, reflections, and insights in a collection of maxims. Interestingly, my father’s first published works was also a collection of maxims. These formed the last part of my book The Compass. Ishmael taught me how we as a species need to live on the planet. The Compass is about how to live as individuals.
What was the most challenging part of the book creation process, and how did you over come it?
Probably the most challenging part was the fact that I had not kept diaries or journals. So trying to tap into the memories of my world travels and profound experiences was very difficult. Often I would remember events that I had forgotten after I had already completed drafts of my manuscript only to add it in later. It became such a longer process since memories would randomly surface that should have been included, but to this day I recall events and regret that they were not included in the book.
I have to give tremendous gratitude to my Tellwell editor, because she had her work cut out for her. She had to be patient and do much more work than she expected because I kept changing things, and also, the more times I re-read my drafts the more critical I became of it. I began to lose confidence and could no longer see it for what is was anymore. It began feeling too much like my school days and cramming for exams. I started to lose the joy.
My editor Melanie C was instrumental in keeping me on track and focused, and by giving me wonderful feedback.
She also gave helpful comments, suggestions and asked questions that I was able to address before publication.
The book is autobiographical but speaks to larger issues facing the planet. How did you balance those two perspectives?
Again, I will give my editor Melanie a lot of credit for guiding me. I had no plan to write anything much about myself. I wanted to focus on The Compass. That was all. She rightly pointed out I should speak a little about myself since I was an unknown author.
Then I began the book after my family immigrated to Canada in 1962. Melanie suggested including what brought us to Canada in the first place. That led me to add so much more about my parents, and our early experiences as immigrants to Canada, during a time when there were very few South Asians living here.
Then it was natural to continue with the autobiographical part of the story because it was during the two-year trek around the globe that laid the foundation for who I was becoming as an individual. The lessons learned during my travels gave me a perspective about life and the differences between rights and privileges that I would not have gained without that journey.
In my book, recognizing my mentors was important since they were immensely significant in forming my understanding about what it means to live as people with a compass. Of course this had to include Daniel Quinn, and the impact Ishmael had on me. Once I tapped into this aspect of my life, there was no going back. I had to incorporate the lessons I learned about how to live as a species on the planet. In that sense it really became a complete book. How do we live on the planet as one of countless other species without destroying it and ourselves in the process? This is one of the fundamental questions in Ishmael. This question forms the major part of the book.
Furthermore, without a personal moral compass, how do we know how to live with, and treat each other, as a community of individuals? Hence, the final part, The Compass.
Living While Human makes us question what we do and how it effects future generations. If you could tell an entire upcoming generation one piece of advice, what would it be?
Wow, that is a big question. I guess the simple advice would be to appreciate the difference between needs and wants. Buying products and being only self-focused is not the answer. The important thing for future generations on the brink of total destruction of the planet is to know that each of us belongs to the earth. The earth does not belong to us. Everything we need comes from the earth. Our efforts need to go into cleaning up the earth and not treat it as a garbage dump. Every species is keeping the planet healthy so we can all breathe the air and drink clean water. No other species was depleting, destroying, or damaging it for billions of years. It has remained a beautiful, perfectly balanced, and pristine paradise. If all of these species knows how to do that, we must know it is us humans that are living in a way that cannot sustain any life, and humans are not exempt from the laws of the natural world. The blueprint, if you will, is present in nature. We just have to observe and follow it like all others have done since the beginning of time. It’s really quiet comforting once we accept this.
One area I delve into deeply in my book that young people and future generations need to know is that the earth cannot support unlimited human population growth. Each of us must practice sustainable family planning. I am child-free by choice, and many people around the globe must be more proactive to reduce human population. This too is part of nature’s blueprint that only humans are not following. The earth and humans cannot survive unless we face this issue as an immediate crisis. Unlike so many issues not in our direct control (corporations, politicians), not having children is one each of us can have direct impact on. We must fight for reproductive rights if we want to survive as a species.
Do you have any advice for authors who hope to get their stories recognized through reviews and award showcases?
The first thing I want to caution anyone about is the area of getting a review. I initially paid for a review and, according to this reviewer, my book may well be the worst book of the century. He did not get me or the message. If I had believed this review as a reflection of my writing I would never write another word in my life. I knew this reviewer was not the final word on my book. My inner being told me it was an important book. My intuitions have always been right. As it turned out, they were again. Once the book began to be entered into book awards, that’s when it got recognition and appreciated. So be careful about getting reviews and how much weight to place on them. It’s better to get feedback before publication.
Well, my journey, I imagine, had been atypical. I would definitely encourage diaries, journals, and record-keeping, even if you don’t think you’ll write a book. I think as a writer, I’m not skilled at all. The reason, I believe, that I have won two awards thus far (Nautilus Book and San Francisco Book Festival award) and had some very positive comments about my book is because I speak my truth, passionately and authentically. That is all I know how to do. I don’t have what is required to write a fiction book. I have to draw from my deep self all that is important to me and what I believe. I also have to feel I am contributing to an important cause. That has been my life. Words change minds and hearts. The world desperately needs change at this time. I write only for that purpose. I followed the lead of my mentors, and maybe others will find I have something to offer them, or the world. I hope so.
As an award-winning author, do you have any plans for a follow-up?
I have been so grateful that book awards have led to benefits. Some are resources to access. Through one I am getting matched with other global awards so I don’t have to try to find them. That’s how I entered the San Francisco Book Festival. One can’t know all of them.
Nautilus has all the award winners on their website, and they are also highlighting each book on their social media. They will be showing the award-winning books at book shows and conferences, which are great promotional events.
Of course everyone thinks I am going to write many more books. Well, I certainly haven’t got anything planned right now, but then, I never did before either!
For more information on Arwinder and her work, visit arwinderkaurauthor.com