Bay Area Writers Share Top Tips for 2021 Graduates

Filmmaker Saila Kariat Photo: Scott R. Kline, SRK Headshot Day

When Saila Kariat was 10, she watched a movie by Satyajit Ray in which a postmaster forms some kind of friendship with an orphan and ends up breaking her heart. From that moment on, she wanted to become a filmmaker.

“It made me realize the power of cinema, to create compassion and empathy for people from all walks of life,” said Kariat, who was born in Berkeley and raised in India and Canada. Growing up in an immigrant family with no financial security, however, she was afraid to start a professional life in the arts.

So Kariat worked as an engineer before returning to film school and writing, directing and producing his first feature film, “The Valley”.

In this graduation season, as the country is emerging from the pandemic in spurts, I asked several Bay Area writers for advice on how to pursue your dreams.

Author Julie Lythcott-Haims Photo: Praise to Santos

“Working in the arts is not for the faint hearted; in engineering, there was money, title and respect to validate my work, ”Kariat said. “You have to find satisfaction from within, knowing that the art you have created has affected you and you may never know it.”

Julie Lythcott-Haims, the most recent bestselling author of “Your Turn: How to Become an Adult,” says it’s natural for graduates to feel terrified as they head into the unknown.

Yet freedom, fun, and sometimes joy come with new responsibilities, she notes, “so don’t let fear hold you back too long. Work and relationships are the way forward and you can start anywhere; each experience is an opportunity to learn more about what matters to you. After some trial and error, you’ll know the kind of job you’re good at and enjoy doing, and you’ll make better career choices as a result. You’ll also be clearer about who you are and who you feel a sense of belonging to, and you’ll also make better decisions about which humans to hang out with. When you’re stuck, which is normal, ask yourself, “What would I choose if it was up to me?” Invoke the courage to listen to your response. “

Author Melissa Valentine Photo: Ira James

For Melissa Valentine, author of The Names of All Flowers memoir, working full-time while in graduate school was financially convenient, but it also taught her disciplined practice.

“I wrote in the morning before my day job; I always do, ”she told me. “At some point you learn that all of life is written: thinking, reading, life. There is no need to punish yourself for periods of rest or shooting. Sometimes writing is joyful, sometimes it feels like work, but you can be sure that something is always happening on the page if you show up. “

Author Kate Folk Photo: Rohan DaCosta

Kate Folk, author of the upcoming “Out There,” advised new graduates to be patient and persistent, to have the big dream but to keep expectations low in the meantime.

“Say yes to requests when you can, especially if they strengthen and expand your community; one opportunity can lead to others unexpectedly. Most things in life are temporary, ”she says. “Maintain your relationships and don’t be afraid to let go of the ones that don’t work anymore. Do what you can with the skills you have right now and let the results drop. Look at others in your field as an inspiration, not as a competition. And don’t waste time comparing yourself to others. If you can master this skill on your own, you will have progressed. “

Vanessa Hua in conversation with Yalitza Ferreras about “A River of Stars”: 7 p.m. Monday, May 24. Free. Hosted virtually by the San Francisco Public Library. Register at For more details on the Virtual Book Club on Sunday, May 23, visit

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