When former Santa Clara resident Hema Nataraju was growing up in India, she found a window to America by reading stories from the “Chicken Soup for the Soul” books, which consists of inspirational stories about people’s lives. Little did Nataraju know that when she grew up, her life would come full circle and she would contribute an autobiographical story to a “Chicken Soup for the Soul” book. Her narrative “Back to Basics” appears in “My Kind (of) America: 101 Stories about the True Spirit of Our Country,” edited by Amy Newmark.
Nataraju wrote about her experience volunteering with Santa Clara City Library’s adult literacy program, Read Santa Clara, between 2008 to 2009. In her story, she described her student, a single mother named Helena. She wrote, “Helena and her daughters had fled Sierra Leone which was ravaged by the decade-long Civil War and come to the US, to safety.” The rewards from her volunteering efforts didn’t come right away. She wrote, “She did wonderfully, repeating what I taught her, but she would forget everything by our next meeting.” An incident prompted Nataraju’s epiphany that she was more than just a volunteer but was responsible for making a positive difference in Helena’s life.
“The best way to know when to submit a story to a ‘Chicken Soup for the Soul’ book is to follow them on social media or visit their website chickensoup.com,” said Nataraju, now living in Singapore. “Whenever ‘Chicken Soup for the Soul’ has an idea for a book, they would send out a call for submissions. They would publish these calls for submissions on their Twitter account or on their Facebook account. I happened to chance on it on Twitter. It was a generic call for submissions and they didn’t mention a title then.”
Nataraju thought she could tell an uplifting story about her tutoring experience and sent the publisher her story at the end of 2016. Then she forgot about her submission.
“I didn’t hear from them for six to eight months,” Nataraju said. “One morning in June 2017, I received an email from one of the assistant editors saying that my story was selected for their final round of selections. The stories for each book go through a number of editors for approval before they are published.”
Nataraju noted that at the time she submitted her story, there were many discussions about the 2016 election results.
“People just figured that kindness was the call of the moment and they wanted to focus on stories that showed America as a kind place,” Nataraju said. “My story was selected and the book was published in August 2017.”