Pillay, Sugu

Pillay, Sugu



In Brief

Sugu Pillay is a poet and fiction writer who often draws on her experience of being Indian in New Zealand. Her writing has appeared in journals, and online, and her first collection of short stories, The Chandrasekhar Limit and Other Stories, was published in 2002. Rebecca J Davies writes, ‘Pillay pulls outside of the narrative itself to investigate all the pernicious and empowering aspects of the exile so fundamental to the immigrant experience.’ Pillay participates in the Writers in Schools programme.


Pillay, Sugu (1946- ) is a poet and fiction writer.

Sugu Pillay writes poetry and experimental fiction about the experience of being Indian in New Zealand. Born and educated in Malaysia, Pillay came to New Zealand in 1973 to study English. She completed her MA with First Class Honours at Victoria University, and went on to complete an MA in Education at the University of London.

Pillay’s work has appeared in literary journals including Sport, Takahe, JAAM, A Brief Description of the Whole World, Spin, Bravado, Voiceprints, Printout, brief and online journals Trout and Fugacity.

Her first collection of short stories, The Chandrasekhar Limit and Other Stories (The Writers Group) was published in 2002. In a review for New Zealand Books Rebecca J Davies writes, ‘Pillay pulls outside of the narrative itself to investigate all the pernicious and empowering aspects of the exile so fundamental to the immigrant experience.’ Davies goes on to say that The Chandrasekhar is ‘an inspired collection, it pitches the reader, poetry, science, Malaysian cuisine, the Common Blue Butterfly and the alphabet dreams against a discourse on memory, truth, and the nature of the narrative itself. It’s a heady, disorientating and compelling mix.’

After successfully completing a script writing course as part of the Theatre Programme at Victoria University in 2008, Sugu Pillay was admitted into the 2009 MA in Script Writing at the International Institute of Modern Letters where she worked on her second stage play. Her first play Serendipity reflected on the Sri Lankan Civil War to raise issues of cultural and national identity and was performed at BATS Theatre in early 2009.

Pillay was the recipient of 2008 EAT (Emerging Artist Trust) Grant and a Creative Communities Grant. She also won second prize in the 2008 PANZ Playwriting competition in the Teen Actors section.

Sugu Pillay lives in Wellington.


KAPAI: Kids Authors Pictures and Information

Some questions for Sugu Pillay

Where do you live?
In Wellington. (I was born in Malaysia).

What books do you read?
Literary fiction, poetry, biography, history, literary criticism, philosophy, popular science - especially on astrophysics.

Who is your favourite writer?
I have so many. If pushed, I'd say, Toni Morrison.

How do you think up your ideas?
I usually start with an idea or two from reading, from a memory of an experience or from day dreaming. Then I think of a storyline and characters. After that I do the research required; eg on logging in Malaysia (idea came from newspaper articles).

What is the best thing about being a writer?
Living with words. Playing games with them, loving them when they come easily, hating them when they don't!

Some questions from Primary School students

What sort of pets do you have?
None at present. We had dogs and stray cats at home. So as a child, I took to rearing ducklings, just to be different.

What is your favourite colour?

What is your favourite food?

What is your favourite movie?
My latest - Charlie and the Chocolate Factory!

What is your favourite game?

What is the most fun thing about being an author?
Meeting people who have read my stories or poems, and liked them!

How do you make books?
Writing one story at a time.

Where do you go for your holidays?
To Malaysia to visit my family. I have six sisters, two brothers and lots of nieces and nephews.

What was the naughtiest thing you ever did at school?
This happened when I was living in Johor Bahru in Malaysia. With two other friends, I pretended to go to school. Then we took off our uniforms, dressed in plain clothes and took the bus to Singapore. There we spent the day window-shopping, eating ice-cream and feeling guilty.

Some questions from Secondary School students

How did you get started?
Although I spent most of my school days dreaming of becoming a writer, studying literature at university scared me scriptless! I only started to write in 1989 - very late. I first wrote poems, then short stories. My first short story was written for a competition.

Who inspired you when you were getting started?
Keri Hulme. I went to a reading of The Bone People in Melbourne in 1989. I bought the book and got into bed to read it, and didn't get up till I finished reading it.

What advice would you give an aspiring young writer?
1. Read
2. Keep a journal
3. Write every day (These last two are not easy. I struggle to do this).
4. Join workshops for young writers

Is it difficult to make a living writing in New Zealand?
Yes, but I do think there are more opportunities for young people now than before.

What were you like as a teenager?
I read a lot. Happiness was lying in bed reading. When I was 16, I read Gone with the Wind and I knew that was what I wanted to do - write!

I hated sports and PE, but I was forced to do high jump and long distance running. Sometimes I would pretend to be ill in order to go home, jump into bed and finish the novel I was reading.

I was also very confused. The books I read were about Western people in Western countries. They were about the individual pursuit of happiness and freedom of expression. But my life at home was very Indian and community-based.

Is there anything else you could tell us about yourself?
In Malaysia, houses used to be built on stilts, to keep them above ground. Our house was on concrete stilts about three feet in height. One day, I was sitting on the back-door steps reading a book, when I became aware of being watched by someone or something to the left of me. But I couldn't lift my eyes off the book. What I was reading was too interesting. I told myself 'I will read till the end of the page and then I will look'.

And when I did turn my head to the left, it was to look straight into the beady eyes of a thin, shiny-green snake! It was half out of a crack in the floorboards, while the rest of it was still under the house. Its tongue was flicking in and out of its mouth. We stared at each other for a good many seconds before I screamed and jumped out of the way.

The snake slithered into the house in a flash and hid under the fridge. It was a while before it was caught and killed. Wasn't I lucky that the snake had been content to look while I read on? (The snake was found out to be poisonous!)

Updated January 2017.