Author Q&A with Sayantani DasGupta

Why is diversity in science fiction and fantasy so critical?

I grew up on science fiction and fantasy – Madeline L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time to The Hobbit to Star Wars, Star Trek, and Carl Sagan’s amazing show, Cosmos. Science fiction taught me to imagine big, to envision things beyond my reckoning. It taught me to dream. But of course, science fiction and fantasy back then didn’t let me see anyone who looked like me in a central role. As a brown skinned, immigrant daughter, I loved science fiction and fantasy. But science fiction and fantasy didn’t really love me back.

I think over the years, we’ve seen a vast improvement in terms of representation in many genres of children’s fiction. My own kids got to read a much more diverse array of books than I ever did. But not across all genres, unfortunately. My son, in particular, was a huge fantasy reader – if there wasn’t a talking bird, or flying horse, or a wizard in the tale, he wasn’t having it! Yet, the same gaps in representation I found as a young lover of science fiction and fantasy are still around 30+ years later. That’s a problem, because if all books are in the business of building our imaginations, then sci-fi and fantasy are in the business of building radical imagination. And if there’s ever been a time during which we need a collective radical imagination, it’s now. That’s part of the reason I wrote The Serpent’s Secret.

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Q&A with Author Chitra Soundar

Do you only write stories from your own cultural background?

For a long time before I was published, I wrote only western stories – stories set in western families about children with western names and their rituals of growing up. This is because subconsciously I was writing what I was reading. As a child and as an adult, I read mostly western narratives and that seeped into my writing. But my heart wasn’t in those stories. It wasn’t my truth. And when I did write stories from India, either set there or about India and Indian characters, I started getting lesser rejections (or at least more personalised ones) because my stories now had the secret ingredient that makes magic – authenticity. For me more than setting the stories in India or in its culture, it is about personal connection. Why do I want to tell this story? Why me? Am I the right person to tell this story? If so, then I would attempt to bring it to life.

Conversely, do you feel restricted in the subjects and settings you can choose?

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I’m a nomad. Although I was brought up in India, I have lived in Singapore and now in the UK. I travel a lot and I gather stories where I go. But I always remember that all the stories filter through my own experiences – of what I know and what I don’t. I have fallen in love with folktales from Antwerp and Prague but I worry about retelling them because I’m not sure I would have the depth of the cultural context. Even to retell a small story, I would need tremendous amount of research and understanding. So I pick and choose projects I can actually invest time and energy into. On a side note, India is a big country with language, ethnic and other diversities and I research a lot even to tell Indian stories.

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Q&A with Author Anna-Marie McLemore

1. Tell us about your most recent book and how you came to write/illustrate it.

WILD BEAUTY is about queer Latina girls and enchanted, murderous gardens. The Nomeolvides women, including the youngest generation of five cousins, tend the grounds of La Pradera, a famously beautiful garden known both for enthralling visitors and killing those who break its rules. This story grew from my love of flowers and from wanting to write girls like me and my cousins into the world of fairy tales.

2. Do you think of yourself as a diverse author/illustrator?

I’m queer, Latina, and I’m married to a trans guy, so in a way I didn’t set out to write diverse fiction any more than I set out to live a diverse life. Writing inclusive stories was a matter of letting the truth I already know have a place in my work. 

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