Creative Writing Professor Keya Mitra Receives Graves Award for the Humanities

Professor Keya Mitra, Pacific University’s creative writing program director, is on a roll.

Keya MitraIn February, she was awarded the 2022 Graves Award for the Humanities, a distinction given for her teaching and to help fund her research and teaching project in India.

The Graves Award is the latest in a growing stack of honors for Mitra, who has a pair of novels under representation by a New York agency and multiple stories and other pieces published in selective literary journals and elsewhere.

“I’ve had some good things happen,” Mitra acknowledged. 

The Graves Award, administered through Pomona College in California, is awarded to young faculty members who have “outstanding accomplishment” in teaching of the humanities. Colleges and universities in California, Oregon, and Washington can nominate only one faculty member for the award. 

Mitra intends to use the grant to fund six weeks of travel in Meghalaya, India. While there she will teach English, editing, publishing and creative writing to students at a primary school, prepare future courses for Pacific, and conduct research for her next novel, Immigrant Delay Disease. The first chapter of that novel won the 2021 Tobias Wolff Award for Fiction.

Mitra describes the in-progress novel as centering on an Indian woman afflicted with adermatoglyphia, a condition characterized by the absence of fingerprints. The lack of fingerprints erects hurdles that obstruct the woman’s efforts to emigrate to Oregon to be with her daughter, the novel’s narrator.

The idea came from a What’s App chat Mitra had with family members, when an uncle shared a news story that described the rare medical condition. It proved to be a helpful device for Mitra to explore themes of “otherness” in her work.

“I love writing that invites empathy and connection,” she said. “The magic is where you are able to make the experiences of people who are dissimilar feel intimate and alive.”

The Graves Award is just the latest honor accorded to Mitra by foundations and literary organizations. Among her other recent distinctions, Mitra:

  • Wrote a nonfiction essay, “South on Sisters,” that was honored as runner-up in the national 2021 Witness Literary Awards and published by Witness magazine
  • Received a Tennessee Williams Scholarship in fiction to attend the 2021 Sewanee Writers Conference
  • Was named a finalist for the 2021 PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction for the novel Human Enough
  • Was named a finalist for the 2021 Iowa Review Award and the 2021 Disquiet International Literary Prize for her essay Bryo
  • Was shortlisted for the 2021 Dzanc Books' Diverse Voices Prize for her short story collection, The Sacred Gifts of Cows and Cheetahs
  • Was named a finalist for the Indiana Review Fiction Prize for the same story
  • Was selected as a panelist for the Association of Writers and Writing Conference, the largest creative writing conference in North America, and read from her book-length memoir, Yellow Arrows: Women in Open Spaces: Life after the (Un)remarkable Journey 
  • Earned representation by New York’s InkWell Literary Agency for her novels Human Enough and Dead and Married 

Mitra juggles her teaching load, her writing and hiking, which she says is “a huge part of my life.” She tries to write from two to four hours a day, depending on whether she’s teaching at the time.

“I’m always trying to find that balance,” she said. “During a teaching semester, there’s something really wonderful about being fully present for the students. I just really love their projects and their imaginations and their ideas.”

Friday, Feb. 25, 2022