The 2017 winner of the Shansi Prize is Sarah Chatta for her beautifully written and fascinating Creative Writing Capstone, “Writing Oral Histories of Partition.”
Sarah's project grew out of the fifteen oral histories she collected over two months in India on a Shansi In-Asia Grant during the summer of 2014. The personal stories explore the impact of the 1947 Partition on individual lives and are a combination of oral and written histories, ethnography and memoir. The project's multidisciplinary method was informed by sources in creative writing, South Asian history, Punjabi language and literature, and postcolonial studies. Her informants were friends and family from communities in Delhi and Himachal Pradesh connected to her father's side of her family, and two additional oral histories in the U.S. - one from a Punjabi man at the Oberlin Kendal retirement community and another from a Punjabi man in Cleveland.
This project, Sarah’s Capstone, was four years in the making and was submitted to Professor of Creative Writing Sylvia Watanabe in 2017. It took Sarah through interviews, academic classwork, and research on various subjects. Sarah’s comment clearly illustrates her thoughtful comprehension of the personal lives behind the story of Partition.
“Over the past four years of writing and thinking deeply about these stories, I began to understand how history interacts with lived lives. I reconsidered the way that violence is explained to me, often through the lens of history, which sometimes offers up abstract justifications for violence. Oral histories are important not only for what they reveal about violence, but also for what they reveal about the conditions under which that violence occurred. Each story defines Partition by the manner in which Partition forever altered a particular person’s life.”