Showing posts from May, 2005

Golden Anniversary

Fifty years ago my parents saw each other for the first time. Yes, they had an arranged marriage. To celebrate today, they watched "The Notebook" together (my sister's idea), and Ma cooked egg curry and luchis at Baba's request. She told me on the phone that they laughed and reminisced and wept and kissed. So here's the bottom line: It's not about how you GET married, it's about how you STAY married. Hooray for Ma and Baba!

Marvelous Maine

Spent the day at King Middle School in Portland, Maine, a city that is home to many refugees and immigrants from countries like Somalia, Eritrea, Sudan, Cambodia, Eastern Europe, and other places. It was an immigrant writer's dream visit.

A lovely girl from Bosnia was assigned the task of waiting at the door to welcome me, so the first thing I saw was her warm, sweet smile. The library's two book clubs and one English as a Second Language class had already read and discussed my books, so they were eager to listen and primed to ask questions. Just before I started my presentation, a pair of brothers from Afghanistan greeted me with warm "Namastes" and a bouquet of fragrant flowers. (They had lived in India for a while and knew all the best Bollywood flicks. I couldn't help thinking of the The Kite Runner when they described Kabul as their home.) During my presentation, we talked about the costs and gains of growing up along the border between cultures, discussed th…

A Middle Schooler's Nightmare Come True

Today I survived yet another stressful experience (it's been a roller-coaster ride of a spring). I was asked to do my "Stories on the Fire Escape" presentation for 150 seventh-graders. I've done this in so many places now I usually don't get nervous. But this was IN MY SONS' SCHOOL (they weren't going to be there, since they're in sixth grade, but still ...)

I had to dress carefully. I couldn't tell silly jokes. Remember — their social life could be at stake if I blew it. I did the best I could and didn't rest till I picked them up after school.

Apparently, a seventh-grade girl strode over to the sixth-grade boys' table at lunch. "Was that your Mom at assembly this morning?"

"Yes," my sons admitted bravely.

"Your dog is sure cute," she told them, and walked away.

I always end with photos of our pets — Arwen and Legolas, our ferrets, and Strider. Yeah! A good-looking yellow Lab saves the day!

Stage Fright For Dummies

I'm going to act in a dramatic production for the first time in my life. The play is called "Our Town" by Thornton Wilder, and our church is putting it on as a fundraiser for a high school service trip to Paraguay this summer. I'm playing the stage manager/narrator role and I'm scared to death.

The main reason I agreed to try out is because of my sons, who had seen another version of the play at school. "You can't play that part," they protested. "The stage manager's supposed to be a white guy!"

WHAT? HELLO!?!? Are they NOT trying new things because ridiculous thoughts like that are limiting THEM? And why didn't I try out for plays when I was in school? Probably because of the same kind of thinking — I assumed that brown-skinned girls need not apply. No, I thought, we can't let this continue. I'll have to be a stereotype-shattering example for the next generation. Sigh.

Now I'm realizing what a VERBAL person I am. It's…

2005 Writing Contest Entries Due June 1

If you, one, or both of your birth parents were born outside of North America, you may qualify to enter the Fire Escape's Teen Writing Contests! Read the rules and submit your entries by June 1st. I can't wait to award prizes for the best poems and stories about life between cultures. This is the third year in a row for the contest; I send out snazzy certificates along with the checks, so don't miss out! You may read past winning entries on the Fire Escape.

A Noun By Any Other Name Is Just As Grumpy

"Everybody's into India these days," a friend says. "No wonder you're getting some books published."

It's true. There is an increased appetite for books about India. But sometimes I read the mind of a disgruntled writer wannabe: "The only reason she's published and I'm not is because she's one of those MULTICULTURAL writers."

Rant time.

You never hear someone introduced as a WHITE MALE WRITER, do you? We also never hear WOMAN WRITER these days, although a century ago we might have. "Writer," therefore, no longer implies masculinity when the noun stands alone. But I'm often introduced as an "Indian-American" writer. If I'm not in a grumpy mood, this doesn't bother me at all, but labels always make me think. If that extra adjective is needed, does the noun by itself apply only to a person of European descent?

It's like the sting of assumption after making it through a rigorous college admissions proces…

Kids Needed to Write Reviews

From the SCBWI website:FACES magazine is looking for kids at least ten or older who like to read and write. We need writers who'll read a book that we'll provide for free and then write a short review of the book for upcoming issues. This review will appear in our 'Further Exploring' section. Our magazine is about countries, regions, cultures and people and issues of international importance. Right now we need reviewers from outside New England only. Contact us at: if interested.

Books a Plenty; Fans a Few

When do you know you're a real writer? Is it a contract? Is it a bound book with a snazzy cover? An ISBN number? A hundred-plus entries if you're googled? An ranking? No. The correct answer is "none of the above." I discovered that I'm a real writer during an event at one of my favorite local indie bookstores.

Newtonville Books, owned and operated by Tim Huggins, has recently expanded, and now offers a fantastic children's area called "The Lizard's Tale." Tim graciously invited me to do TWO Lizard's Tale readings in one academic year — the first for Monsoon Summer, in the fall, and the second for Sunita, last Sunday.

I went all out for the event in the fall, inviting everyone I knew and asking them to bring their mother's second cousins. We had a great turnout. Standing room only in the back. "Wow," Tim told me. "You have a good fan base, Mitali." Hey, I thought (secretly, of course — authors always mask our …

Existential Children's Books?

Here's a quote from an editorial in the May 2005 issue of School Library Journal called "The Big Questions" by Donna Freitas, a professor of religion: Stories allow us to become explorers of religion, tantalizing us up the stairs to that locked door, that forgotten chest, the jeweled gowns at the back of the closet, hidden behind the stuffy, woolen coats. These stories have the power to move us from one place to another, to tear open the surface of tradition to a deeper, more primal place. A children's story opens the door to religious contemplation like nothing else can. Agree? Disagree? Which children's books do YOU think "open the door" to religious contemplation (apart from the obvious ones written by Lewis, Pullman, and Tolkien)?

Under Blankets, Between Cultures

I'm back from Colorado, where I stayed up late reading under cozy flannel sheets and an electric blanket provided by my sister. She also stocked a candy basket for me. A top-ten luxurious indulgence indeed — staying up past midnight with a gripping story and caramels. What story was I reading? The Kite Runner — Khaled Hosseini's coming of age novel based in Afghanistan and California. Finally, a "grownup" book that ended on a note of redemption, grace, and hope, instead of dragging me into the depths of human depravity and leaving me there. (Because you will love the characters and terrible things happen to them, I wouldn't recommend it for younger YAs — definitely for mature older teens and above.)

In Colorado, for Mother's Day, I spoke at a tea for middle-school girls and their moms. Tulips graced the tables, we munched on cucumber sandwiches and cream puffs, and my sister poured cups of steaming Bengal Spice tea (it's delicious; check your grocer's …

Post-Traumatic School Visit Syndrome

Just got back from doing my "Life Between Cultures" presentation for each of the the three fourth-grade classes at Mason-Rice School in Newton, Massachusetts. I am absolutely exhausted. You might ask why, given that speaking to kids about writing is one my favorite pasttimes.

It wasn't the kids. They were starting an immigration unit, and so were primed to listen to the story of my life as an immigrant-kid-cum-author. They asked great questions, laughed at my silly jokes, and shared wonderful stories of their own. One young man told us how his great-grandfather was assassinated by guerillas in Colombia before his family escaped the country. Another described his Russian grandfather hiding inside a mattress while soldiers guarding the borders poked it with a bayonet. We listened, fascinated. (The kids later wrote letters to me, which were so wonderful I asked for permission to share them with my visitors.)

It wasn't the teachers. They were incredibly supportive and hosp…