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Satish Jayaraj News

Starting a Movement: Satish Jayaraj MFA ’06

When Satish Jayaraj graduated from Hamline with a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing in 2006, he was ready to take on the literary world. By 2011, he hit the same old nemesis so many writers do: writer’s block. He knew he needed inspiration, but the usual wells had been long parched. What he really wanted to do was to collaborate with—and draw encouragement from—fellow local writers, but he couldn’t find exactly what he was looking for.

So he created it. 

And, Cracked Walnut was born. The Cracked Walnut reading series started as an experiment. Jayaraj knew there were plenty of writers and plenty of talent in the Twin Cities. He also knew that, with the right exposure, he could bridge the gap between those writers and those who would be positively influenced as listeners.

With the goal of bringing talented voices to new and targeted audiences, Cracked Walnut aims to foster a love of spoken literature, community, and creativity by producing literary events in unexpected locations. Jayaraj also hopes these events engage social justice issues, tap into select human emotions and provide entertaining and stimulating community experiences.

During the first summer, Jayaraj and his fellow writers organized six events, taking place at a funeral chapel, a grocery store, an ice skating rink, and more. As word traveled and the popularity of these events grew, Jayaraj saw the opportunity for more.

“We figured we couldn’t fail,” Jayaraj said. “We want to create excitement around these literary events.”

Now, the annual Cracked Walnut Literary Festival includes more than 25 readings in just over two months. Jayaraj has partnered with Saint Paul Almanac, countless coffee shops, and scores of local writers to put on these community-creating events. 

In the fall of 2015, Cracked Walnut was awarded a $25,000 arts grant from the Knight Foundation to produce 50 pop-up spoken word events in Saint Paul. “It’s an incredible opportunity,” Jayaraj said. “We hope to start a movement.”

Jayaraj first came to the United States from Kerala, India, to pursue an undergraduate degree from Purdue University. After graduating, he knew he wanted to go on to get Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing (MFA). 

Jayaraj chose to attend Hamline because of the full-time, immersive nature of the degree. “We didn’t workshop during our classes,” he said. “We were actually writing. I felt like a writer from day one.”

It was in professor Deborah Keenan’s world building class that Jayaraj got the idea for what is now his trilogy, The Wizard of Ayeshastra. Set in a make believe world that models medieval India, the story follows the path of a young wizard born with a great deal of magical affinity, but has trouble connecting with them while growing up in Ayeshastra.

Jayaraj’s advice to young or aspiring writers is simple. “The most important thing is to write,” he said. “Keep yourself immersed in some way; get involved with other writers. But always keep writing.”

Find out more about Hamline’s MFA program on the Creative Writing Programs website or contact Hamline's Graduate Admission Office to learn more.