Author Spotlight: Supriya Kelkar
August 13, 2020
We are excited to feature author Supriya Kelkar and her middle grade novel, AMERICAN AS PANEER PIE (Aladdin, June 8, 2020).
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|Jacket art © Abigail Dela Cruz
Tell us about yourself and how you came to write for children.
When I was in third grade, my teacher had the class write pictures books. He bound them all in hardcover and I thought it was so neat to see my name on the cover of a book, I decided I wanted to be an author when I grew up. Around middle school, that dream switched over to wanting to be a Bollywood screenwriter when I grew up. I studied film at the University of Michigan and ended up working for a Hindi movie production house after I graduated. But every year, in between my work projects, I’d work on my own stories, which were either screenplays, or books. I queried for 14 years before I found out my first published book, AHIMSA, had won the New Visions Award and would be published.
Congrats on your recent middle grade novel, AMERICAN AS PANEER PIE. Tell us about it and what inspired you.
Thank you! AMERICAN AS PANEER PIE is the story of Lekha, the only Indian-American kid in her small town in Michigan. Lekha feels like she has two versions of herself. There is Home-Lekha who loves watching Hindi movies and eating Indian food. And School Lekha, who pins her hair over her bindi birthmark and avoids confrontation at all costs, especially when it comes to being teased for her Indian culture. When a racist incident rocks her small town, Lekha must decide whether to continue to remain silent or find her voice before it is too late.
I wrote the first draft of this story in 2017, when it felt like hate was really being emboldened and encouraged by people in power. Those of us who have experienced hate know it hasn’t really gone anywhere, but I was feeling especially consumed by worry and anxiety that my children, the youngest of whom was a baby at the time, would be facing the same racism I did in school as one of the few desi kids in a predominantly white town that didn’t value diversity.
From that fear came this story full of hope and joy and empowerment for readers everywhere.
Was your road to publication as children's author long and winding, short and sweet, or something in between?
It was definitely long and winding. It took me 14 years to get an agent. It also took me 14 years of revising my first book, AHIMSA, before it got a publishing deal, and it was almost 15 years after I wrote the first draft that it was published. I had also written dozens of other stories and received several hundred rejection letters over the decade and a half I was trying to break into publishing.
What are some favorite recent MG reads?
I just started reading four MG books I have been looking forward to reading for a long time: A WISH IN THE DARK by Christina Soontornvat, ANY DAY WITH YOU by Mae Respicio, KEEP IT TOGETHER, KEIKO CARTER by Debbi Michiko Florence, and THE FORGOTTEN GIRL by India Hill Brown.
What projects are you working on?
I’m currently working on edits for my 2021 middle grade release from Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, called THAT THING ABOUT BOLLYWOOD. It is the story of a girl named Sonali who loves Hindi movies. She has a hard time expressing her feelings. When her parents announce they are separating, a magical condition forces Sonali to express her feelings in the most obvious way possible, through Bollywood song-and-dance numbers.
I just wrapped up edits on my upcoming historical fiction MG with Tu Books called STRONG AS FIRE, FIERCE AS FLAME too. It takes place in India in 1857 and challenges who we center in stories and how we frame stories of colonization.
I am also working on some more picture book drafts and on my illustrator portfolio, and have been putting together some new collage pieces for it.
What advice would you give to your younger self? Is this the same as you would give to aspiring authors?
It is. I would tell my youngers self and aspiring authors to remember your story is important and I would also mention how vital revision is to the writing process. I wrote the first draft of AHIMSA in 2003 and continued to revise it over the next fourteen years. If I had been attached to my words and thought my first draft was perfect, I would never have won the New Visions Award.
What is one thing most people don't know about you?
I have a fear of circles. Really. When a bunch of circles or similar shapes are clustered together, it gives me the shivers. It is called trypophobia and some people speculate it is might have an evolutionary basis because often dangerous things in nature have those patterns.
Where can people find you online?
Born and raised in the Midwest, SUPRIYA KELKAR learned Hindi as a child by watching three Hindi movies a week. She is a screenwriter who has worked on the writing teams for several Hindi films and one Hollywood feature. Supriya’s books include Ahimsa, The Many Colors of Harpreet Singh, and American as Paneer Pie, among others. Visit her online at supriyakelkar.com.
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