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Vauhini Vara is a novelist and journalist who has covered technology for the Wall Street Journal and written extensively on Artificial Intelligence. 


She was named a 2023 Pulitzer Prize finalist for her sci-fi/dystopian novel, The Immortal King Rao. Born into a family of Dalit coconut farmers in India in the 1950s, King Rao, the novel’s protagonist, becomes the most accomplished tech CEO in the world and, eventually, the leader of a global, corporate-led government. The New York Times reviewer called it, “a monumental achievement: beautiful and brilliant, heartbreaking and wise.”


Vara is also the author of a new book of short stories, This Is Salvaged

(Sept. 2023).

Vauhini Vara

Tuesday, October 17, 2023

4:30 p.m. — Craft Talk
7:30 p.m. — Reading/Q&A
Both events in the Multi-Purpose Room, Campus Center West Addition

University at Albany

1400 Washington Avenue, Albany NY 12222  See map.

Vauhini Vara, credit Andrew Altschul copy.jpg

Photo credit: Andrew Altschul

Reviews of The Immortal King Rao

“A monumental achievement: beautiful and brilliant, heartbreaking and wise, but also pitiless, which may be controversial to list among its virtues but is in fact essential to its success. Vara respects her reader and herself too much to yield to the temptation to console us. How rare these days as a reader ― and how bracing, in the finest way ― to encounter a novel that refuses to treat you like a child or a studio audience. If that were the only thing to love about ‘Rao,’ it would probably be enough. But … there’s also everything else." ― Justin Taylor, The New York Times

“A premonitory, daring book that lands somewhere between speculative fiction and bildungsroman, storytelling and fortune-telling.” ― Mallika Rao, New York Magazine’s Vulture


“A brilliant and beautifully written book about capitalism and the patriarchy, about Dalit India and digital America, about power and family and love.” — Alex Preston, The Observer

“Not to be missed.” — Publisher’s Weekly 

“A sweeping, biting, elegant book for our time.” — Lydia Kiesling, The Millions The Millions

"Alternating between Rao’s childhood in a small Indian village, his early student days in the US, and the dystopian society in which Athena has to function, Vara’s original debut delivers challenging and weighty themes with a sure hand."
― Poornima Apte, Booklist (starred review)

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More about Vauhini Vara 

Vara was born in Saskatchewan, Canada, as a child of Indian immigrants, and grew up there and in Oklahoma and the Seattle suburbs. 


She began her writing career as a technology reporter at the Wall Street Journal and later launched, edited and wrote for the business section of the New Yorker’s website. Since then, her work has been published in The New York Times Magazine, The Atlantic, Harper’s, Businessweek, and elsewhere. She is a Wired contributing writer and can sometimes be found working as a story editor at the New York Times Magazine.

Vara is a mentor at the Lighthouse Writers Workshop’s Book Project and the secretary for Periplus, a collective mentoring writers of color. She was named a Visiting Assistant Professor of English at Colorado State University for 2023-24.


She lives in Colorado with her husband, the writer Andrew Altschul, and their son.

About This Is Salvaged 

Child, parent, friend, sibling, neighbor, lover—in these stories of uncanny originality, a prize-winning writer pushes intimacy to its limits in prose of unearthly beauty.

A young girl reads the encyclopedia to her elderly neighbor, who is descending into dementia. A pair of teenagers seek intimacy as phone-sex operators. A competitive sibling tries to rise above the drunken mess of her own life to become a loving aunt. One sister consumes the ashes of another.

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And, in the title story, an experimental artist takes on his most ambitious project yet: constructing a life-size ark according to the Bible’s specifications. In a world defined by estrangement, where is communion to be found? The characters in This Is Salvaged, unmoored in turbulence, are searching fervently for meaning, through one another.

Pulitzer Prize finalist Vauhini Vara visiting Albany on Oct. 17

By Jack Rightmyer

Times Union

Sunday, October 15, 2023

Reprinted with permission

The year was 2009 and Vauhini Vara had been on a leave of absence from her Wall Street Journal job as a technology reporter. She had also been publishing and writing short stories, but now she wanted to work on a novel.

“It was my dad who said I should write a novel set in the South India area where he had grown up on a coconut farm,” said Vara. He was a member of a family of coconut farmers in the 1950s that belonged to one of the castes most oppressed under the Indian caste system.  

Her debut sci/fi dystopian novel “The Immortal King Rao” was named a 2023 Pulitzer Prize finalist and has been optioned for a television series. She will visit the New York State Writers Institute in Albany on Oct. 17.

“Because I had covered Silicon Valley since 2004, the year Google went public and when Facebook was started, I was able to meet and interview many young technology CEOs. For my novel, I decided to create the character King Rao, have him grow up on a coconut farm in South India in the 1950s, move to the states in the 1970s and ultimately open an Apple-like tech company.”

The story is narrated by his daughter, Athena, and it describes how King Rao eventually becomes the head of a global Board of Corporations in which all citizens of the world become shareholders. “I knew where King Rao was going to come from. I knew he was going to move to the United States in the 1970s, but I didn’t know what would happen from there. I had to write my way to find that out, and I was very surprised how it became such a science fiction story because that’s a genre I rarely read.”

In the novel, King Rao proposes a new form of world government, a shareholder government with policies that would be guided not by corrupt and biased politicians, but by the Master Algorithm developed by his company, Coconut. Most people in the world gladly follow along. They become obsessed with their social profiles because that is one way they will be judged as worthwhile shareholders.

Her most recent book, a short story collection “This Is Salvaged” (W.W. Norton) has just been published. The 10 stories in her collection include the 2015 O. Henry Award-winning story “I, Buffalo.” Many of the characters in the stories are women and teenage girls, who are trying to do the right thing despite struggling with grief, loneliness and addictions. You will care about the characters, and the stories are filled with humor and compassion. “My goal was to represent human experience as it really is without pretense or cliche. That’s the goal for all writers, and yet it’s hard to pull off.”

Vara loves all types of writing. “The form I choose is dictated by the material itself. I’m a journalist. I write essays, short fiction, novels, and I’m even working on a play right now. What interests me are situations, characters, an image or a concept. The form follows that.”

Getting the job at the Wall Street Journal upon graduating from Stanford University forced her to learn how to write with a short deadline. “I don’t need a special desk to sit at to write, or a special coffee mug. I live a busy life and don’t write every day, but when I have a deadline I make time in my calendar and get to work.”

As someone very familiar with emerging technology, she is not necessarily scared of artificial intelligence or ChatGPT, an AI-powered model that is trained to follow instructions in a prompt and provide a detailed response. In 2021, she wrote “Ghosts,” a nine-part essay that went viral about the death of her older sister to cancer. She used ChatGPT as an aid in helping her to process the devastating loss of her sister.

 “What interests me, especially as a journalist, is trying to figure out what the goals are of the companies building these AI technologies. Are these goals necessarily aligned with our goals as human beings?”

As a visiting assistant professor of English at Colorado State University, she has yet to experience her students using ChatGPT to write a short story or an essay. “Right now I’m teaching young people who want to become writers. Their goal is different than a freshman undergrad who is just happy to complete a writing assignment. However, this spring I will be teaching undergrads like that, and I plan to tell them that the goal of writing is not the end product, but the process itself. There is no way to experience that process when a machine is doing it for you.”

Jack Rightmyer is a freelance arts writer who has published two books “A Funny Thing About Teaching” and “It’s Not About Winning.” He is an adjunct English teacher at Siena College and has written for various national magazines such as “Writer’s Digest” and “Poets and Writers.” He can be reached at

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