Author Spotlight: Anuradha D. Rajurkar
Feb. 5, 2021
We are excited to feature author Anuradha D. Rajurkar and her debut YA novel AMERICAN BETIYA (Knopf Books/ Penguin Random House), coming March 9. Enter to win a copy!
|cover art © Saqiba Suleman (Art Director Angela Carlino)
Tell us about yourself and how you came to write for teens.
Hi, and thanks for having me! I’m Anuradha Rajurkar, author of the upcoming cross-cultural love story, American Betiya (March 9, 2021, Knopf/ Penguin Random House). I loved reading as a young girl and teen, despite never coming across stories that reflected my own experiences as a first generation South Asian American. By the age of 15, I knew I wanted to become a writer so that I could write the kinds of books I needed growing up.
After graduate school, I became a teacher, seeing firsthand the ways reading stories with my students helped create safe spaces. Seeing the ways these stories offered powerful points of connection definitely reinforced my dream of writing for young adults.
Finally, having teens in my life (and being a teen at heart myself) I note the unfair expectations we place on young adults, whose sense of self is under such scrutiny while at the same time being very much still under construction. I write to shine light upon the tension of this, hoping to reveal pathways for self-discovery and empowerment.
Congrats on your debut novel AMERICAN BETIYA! Tell us about the book and what inspired you.
Thank you! My debut follows the journey of Rani, an 18-year-old South Asian American high school senior who finds herself falling for a tattooed, pierced, artistic white boy she knows would be her traditional immigrant mother’s worst nightmare. The story navigates their cross-cultural first love, Rani’s family’s boundaries, and the need we may feel to please those in our lives—best friends, family, community, and new loves—without losing yourself. The story tackles cultural taboos, patriarchy, and racism, while also supplying lots of funny best friend banter, sex-positive experiences, and finding empowerment in the face of a specific strain of oppression.
Was your road to publication long and winding, short and sweet, or something in between?
I would say something in between. The writing of the book took over a decade, mainly because I was juggling teaching and raising a family while writing just on weekends and nights. There were times I even took a few months off from writing altogether when the story (or life) became too emotionally draining. :) When I finally finished the first draft, the book was a hefty 165,000 words, which is more than twice the length of a contemporary YA! Apparently, in my attempts to just get the story out of my head, I paid no mind to certain conventions. :) With the input from my wonderful writing group and critique partners, I streamlined the manuscript by removing an unnecessary side plot, altering it from past to present tense, and trimming the prose down to a lean(er) 85,000 words just in time to send the piece to the nationwide SCBWI Emerging Voices Award before its deadline.
When I got the call that I won the award (alongside the amazing Lakita Wilson), I was shocked and just so overwhelmed with joy after so many long years of painstakingly writing this book! Thereafter, things happened quickly: I received offers of representation from three wonderful agents, and was delirious with joy when, two months later, the book was acquired by Katherine Harrison at Knopf Books for Young Readers—my dream editor and publishing house. Following that, there were two and a half years of revisions and edits with my editor…now that I describe the whole entirety of it, I think my experience counts as being a long and winding road after all, filled with a few fast wins but many bumps along the way. ;)
Did you have a song or playlist while writing the book, and if so, can you share a representative song?
I need quiet when I write, but I am creating a playlist that will be one of the bookish gifts sent via email to anyone who pre-orders American Betiya! I would say the theme song is “Saturday Nights” by Khalid.
What projects are you working on now?
I’m currently working on a book that I’m completely in love with, one that’s keeping me writing late into the night—it’s my favorite feeling. It’s another YA but a different genre. I can’t say too much about it for now, but it is stretching me artistically in ways that feel really exciting and empowering.
What advice would you give to your younger self? Is this the same advice you'd give to aspiring authors?
The advice I’d give my younger self is to believe in your own voice. Guard and revere that voice, because no one has a voice and perspective quite like yours and the world needs and wants to hear/read it! And speaking of voice: watch your own internal narrative. Be sure that you are your own best advocate and don’t indulge in self-shaming when your personal journey feels rough or winding. No writing journey looks like any other, and shame plays no positive role when it comes to your creativity. And yes: this is the same advice I’d give to all aspiring authors. :)
What is one thing most people don't know about you?
I was a dancer for most of my childhood and teen years—first ballet, then modern, and I loved going to clubs for a night of cathartic dancing. I actually really miss it! My goal is to take a modern class once the pandemic is over, but in the meantime, I’m on the hunt for a great dance workout video, so if anyone has suggestions, send them my way! :)
Where can people find you online?
On Instagram, I’m @anuradhadrajurkar and on Twitter @ADRajurkar1
Anuradha D. Rajurkar was born and raised in the Chicago area to South Asian immigrant parents. She earned two degrees from Northwestern University, and for many years had the joy of being a public school teacher by day, writer by night.
Nowadays, when she’s not writing or reading, you can find Anuradha hiking with her husband, obsessing over her garden, watching psycho thrillers with her sons, eating too many baked yummies, or roguishly knitting sweaters without their patterns. She hopes her stories will inspire teens to embrace their unique identities and inner badass despite outside pressures and cultural expectations. American Betiya is her first novel.
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