Author Spotlight: Meera Sriram
Sept. 20, 2019
Today we are excited to feature author Meera Sriram and her U.S. debut picture book, THE YELLOW SUITCASE, illustrated by Meera Sethi (Penny Candy Books, 2019) in the author spotlight!
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Tell us about yourself and how you came to write for children.
Thanks for having me!
I grew up in India and moved to the U.S in my early 20s. I went to grad school and worked as an Electrical Engineer. When my daughter was born, we read picture books every single day. Soon, I fell in love with them, so much so that I quit my job to blog about multicultural books and tried my luck at writing for children.
At first, I wanted to write for an audience in India. I co-authored four books published (in India) between 2010 and 2013. I wrote about under-represented communities and vocations, and about endangered animals and habitats in the subcontinent. When I got frustrated by the lack of representation in books in the U.S for children like my own, I decided I wanted to tell our stories. In January 2015, I went to my very first critique meeting with my first draft of a story. The journey continues….
Besides writing, I do Storytime based early literacy programs in my local communities. I really enjoy reading picture books aloud and introducing families to early learning through music, art, and books. It also helps me stay connected with my target audience.
Congrats on your U.S. debut picture book, THE YELLOW SUITCASE. Tell us about it and what inspired you.
THE YELLOW SUITCASE (Penny Candy Books) is about a girl struggling to process the loss of her grandmother. To further complicate things, she is confronted by an unfamiliar setting and strange funeral customs.
“If there’s a book you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet then you must write it.” I guess that’s sort of what happened with this story. I’ve always gravitated towards themes, places, and people less visible in kids’ books. So, a difficult subject such as death came as a natural thought or idea for a story.
When my children lost their first grandparent in India, it was a difficult time for us, more so as parents raising bicultural kids. This scenario is definitely not unique to us. Because death is universal, and the complexities of immigrant life are common to many families. And yet we rarely see these situations or experiences in stories. I was convinced by the need for a story that laid out the emotional arc of grief and the additional challenges that bicultural children face.
Was your road to publication long and winding, short and sweet, or something in between?
“Long” and “short” are subjective. So, I’ll just go with “something in between” 😊 To be exact, it took me about two and a half years to find my wonderful agent and get my debut contract. During this time, I learned a great deal in terms of craft, the importance of community building, knowing industry standards and procedures, and about the querying and publishing processes. I thoroughly enjoyed this period of learning! I did make several mistakes, and I’d be lying if I said the rejections didn’t hurt. But they only pushed me to do better and get closer to where I wanted to be.
What other projects are you working on? Can you tell us about your picture book, A GIFT FOR AMMA?
I have several manuscripts that are at different stages – I’m revising a few, a couple are out on submission, and I’m brainstorming plot and characters for my next project. I dwell a lot on a story before I start writing. Also, I enjoy revising, so I’m not quick to shelve or abort a story. However, this also means my cache is rather small.
The story in A GIFT FOR AMMA is about a little girl trying to find the right gift for her mother at a bustling outdoor market. As I’m very close to my mother and since the setting is inspired by the markets that we went together during my growing up years (in Chennai, India), this project is truly very special!
On a different note, I find mainstream children’s literature rather insular. As a parent and an early literacy educator, I’m drawn to books that open up the world and offer fresh perspectives. I hope that A GIFT FOR AMMA will transport children to the sounds, sights, smells, and colors of a distant and vibrant place.
What are the one or two best things you did for your career?
Walking away from corporate life
Not giving up
I hope I can add one more: Finding my people - to offer support and be supported in writing and to lift others and be lifted during lows. I’ve never had this before in my writing journey, so I value this. My critique partners and friends within the writing fraternity here are all wonderfully talented and supportive people!
What is one thing most people don't know about you?
My last name is my husband’s first name (well, that’s how it works in my community where we don’t take on last names at birth), now imagine the confusion it creates 😊
Where can people find you online?
Meera Sriram grew up in India and moved to the U.S at the turn of the millennium. An electrical engineer in her past life, she now enjoys writing for children, teaching early literacy, and advocating inclusive children’s literature. Meera has co-authored several children’s books published in India. “The Yellow Suitcase” is her debut picture book in the U.S. She believes in the transformative power of stories and writes on cross-cultural experiences that often take her back to her roots. Her next picture book “A Gift for Amma” comes out in Fall 2020 from Barefoot Books. Meera currently lives with her husband and two children in the San Francisco Bay Area, where she often fantasizes about a world with no borders.
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