Smooth Landings with Swathi Narra

Summer Suleiman

February 13, 2024

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Photography: Nina Celie Angelo

Swathi Narra will land on her feet in any city she finds herself in.

Originally a Baton Rouge native, Swathi’s parents hailed from Andhra Pradesh, a state on the Southeastern coastal region of India, where mangrove swamps and palm trees dot the coastal plains and teak, rosewood, and bamboo are abundant throughout the forests that comprise one fifth of the land. 

With its name deriving from the Andhra people, who originally inhabited the area and developed their own language called Telugu, Andhra Pradesh was established as an independent state in 1956.

Home to more than 85 million people, per the last census in 2011, Andhra Pradesh, is a long way from Louisiana. 

Swathi’s parents, both physicians who completed their residencies in New York, migrated to Baton Rouge in the late 1970s. As Swathi puts it, a lot of opportunities existed in medicine for people who weren’t afraid to move to small, remote towns in the Southern United States. 

But pursuing the chance to build a full expansive life for their family came at a high cost. Swathi’s mother gave birth to her son in 1975, but faced with intense training hours required of her professionally and lack of financial and familial support in Louisiana, the Narras made the difficult decision to send their son to be cared for by his grandparents in India until he was five years old.

Still, assimilating in a small town in the South is no small undertaking. Yet Swathi’s childhood memories are flowered with Easter egg hunts in their backyard, political fundraisers hosted by her parents, and cajun cooking with family friends. 

Our resilience is undeniably influenced by genetic factors, according to the National Institute of Health. That means the ability to adapt and thrive is entwined in Swathi’s DNA, who has found her way, making a name and a home for herself, in one city after another: Boston. New York. LA. And now New Orleans.

“I’m not scared of moving, fitting in, or finding my place. I know I’ll make it work and each place I’ve lived in felt like home,” says Narra.

Editor’s Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

part one


Tell us a little about yourself. 

I grew up in Baton Rouge, Louisiana but I always tell people that I’m the most non-Louisiana person you’ll ever meet. I’m not a big seafood person and I’m not into football which I’m kinda scared to admit publicly! 

I do enjoy the social aspects of a good crawfish boil and tailgate, though, and I cherish my upbringing here. It gave me a wonderful and safe foundation so I could go out and explore what the rest of the world had to offer. 

What work are you most proud of?

I feel like I’ve lived many professional lives over the years but what they all have in common and what I’m most proud of is my ability to jump right in and figure it out. Most recently, I pivoted to working in real estate development and hospitality which I didn’t have previous experience in and it’s taught me so many things that I used to be intimidated by, mainly balance sheets and construction! 

I’m also a very proud mother to my daughter, Devi. I had children later in life and before having kids I really underestimated the amount of logistics and

emotional labor of motherhood. Mix in a pandemic and let’s just say, I’m pretty pleased we’ve made it this far with love in our hearts and our sanity intact!

Your definition of success?

This is a hard question because the definition of success that was ingrained in me was 1) an impressive education from an elite school 2) a well paying, steady and secure job 3) and a family. While some of these things are true for me they are definitely not my definition of success. Yet for some reason they still linger as brass rings in the back of my mind. I think success is being able to show up to your life consistently and authentically in the areas that matter to you. For me, those areas are my family, my community, and myself.

What do you want more of in your life? 

I crave more outlets for creativity. In the past I’ve called myself a stifled creative but I’m changing the way I talk about that out in the world. I AM A CREATIVE. It felt good to put that in caps! I’m slowly trying to incorporate that into my work and it’s been a real shift for me since most of my previous and current work (law, real estate) is fairly dry.

What social or global issue are you paying close attention to right now?

I feel like my head is spinning with the amount of issues that need our collective attention. Of course, the mass destruction of Gaza and its people weighs on my mind every single day. I think about the Israeli hostages that have yet to be returned to their families and all the unknown tragedies playing out across our world that don’t have media attention. I’m paying attention to the war on women here in the United States and the slow eradication of our rights and body autonomy. The lack of codified support for parents and specifically mothers…

part TWO


“We aren’t doing it all and we were meant to do life in villages. It’s just that modern day life has gotten in the way of that.” 

Tell us about your village

It keeps getting better! I’m so incredibly fortunate to have really strong female relationships in my life. Cultivating and maintaining them as my responsibilities increase is something I’ve been struggling with the last few years especially as I’ve become a new mother. I’m also not great at asking for help which is something I’m working on. My husband, Jay, always says “call on your people!” but I know everyone else has equally busy and demanding lives and I hate to impose. 

I think a part of me also thinks I should be able to handle it all because it seems like everyone else is doing it and why can’t I? But that’s the problem, right? We aren’t doing it all and we were meant to do life in villages. It’s just that modern day life has gotten in the way of that. 

I do rely a lot on my mom. She’s the best. She lives an hour away from me and I would be a shell of a person these last few years without her help. Also, shout out to Uncle Gary, my next door neighbor, who is truly like a member of our family who is always there for us whether we need help digging up our backyard or who will entertain my daughter, Devi, while I get dressed for an event. And of course, the aunty crew! Those friends who will come early to help set up for my daughter’s birthday party or be a “special friend” at school. God bless ‘em.

What do you value most about your culture? 

The commitment to family. Indians will travel across the world for a 3rd cousins wedding or will host you for months (sometimes years) if you are new to the city/state/country and need a place to stay.

I had a wonderfully fantastic upbringing. I marvel at it especially now that I’m a mom and know exactly all the sacrifices that were made. It’s also scary because I’m like, “Wait, now I gotta do this for my kid?” Kidding. Sort of. Of course, it wasn’t perfect and my parents worked all the time but my Dad treated me like I was the most interesting and capable person he’s ever met. I owe my self confidence to him and my mom. 

…And your community? 

The community takes care of each other, helps in times of need, and supports one another. To this day, when my mom goes on a trip and comes back home, my mom’s best friends will stock her fridge with homemade food so that when she comes back in town she has something to eat. If someone is having any issue, the call goes out to the entire network and solutions are delivered.

Unfortunately, we don’t have the most tolerant community and a lot of biases and assumptions stem from those early teachings. My husband and I really try to parse out the not so great stuff and apply the best parts of our community teachings to our lives.

part THREE


What are you most excited about these days? 

I’m in the process of creating an offering that revolves around artful and intentional gatherings. It’s an idea that’s been percolating in my mind for some time and the thought of it out in the world is equal parts thrilling and nerve-racking. 

My first sip of coffee in the morning, my daughter’s early morning cuddles with me when she first gets out of bed, dancing with my husband and daughter in the living room to Bruce Springsteen, and meaningful and honest conversations with friends. 

Any good recent finds?

I really love Live Tinted’s new concealer. I’m a die hard Giorgio Armani foundation gal and have been a devoted Nars concealer groupie for years but the NEW NEW is this stuff. It’s skincare and makeup and it works like A DREAM. Also, it’s female-founded and truly celebrates all skin tones.

On your nightstand?

I’m in between books right now. I just finished Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow which thoroughly delighted me and I’m waiting for Hidden Potential by Adam Grant to be released from a Libby hold.

What’s one thing you wish people would care more about? 

Shopping locally. I’m as guilty as the next person for shopping at Amazon more than I should but I do try to support as many local businesses as I can. When you spend money locally it gets put back into the community and benefits everyone.

What’s your “spirit city”- the one place that keeps you coming back? 

I’m lucky enough to live in it: New Orleans. Tell me another city where you can hear a marching band practicing down the street through your window, watch the moss gently swaying in the wind from a 200 year old oak tree, see a purple house with hot pink corbels next to a lime green house with baby blue shutters, and wear a crystal and feathered headpiece as you grab coffee in the morning? We have plenty of issues here but the best parts of this city really speak to my soul.

Your drink of choice? 

Ok, real talk? A can of ice cold coke. If we are being fancy, I’ll take a Mexican coke. Not the diet versions! If we are talking about alcohol, then I wouldn’t turn down a glass of bubbles.

Summer Suleiman


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