Wednesday, November 24, 2010

MITALI PERKINS: Awesome Author Interview...and Book Giveaway!

Before I read any of Mitali Bose Perkins' wonderful novels, I already felt like I knew her. It was a strange experience for a lifelong reader who was used to 'getting to know' authors the old fashioned way - through their books. But I found Mitali's website, "Mitali's Fire Escape: A Safe Place to Think, Chat and Read about Life Between Cultures"  before I found her work. And finding the website was, in a sense, finding my writerly 'home' - even though it was a cybernetic one. Here was a woman of similar background - who, as it turns out, speaks the same language -- not only writing fascinating books, but creating a space for discussions of race, culture and family in children's and YA writing.

As I've gotten to "know" Mitali through her books, I've continued to send all and sundry to her website. If you haven't visited - check it out. The view is wonderful from the fire escape! And the hostess? Well, she's gracious, wise, humble and extraordinarily generous - with her own experiences, her challenges, and her inspirations.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Mitali recently, and wasn't surprised to see that she provided lots of online links and material for the readers of Stories are Good Medicine. And for one lucky reader, leaving a comment below will mean winning a copy of Mitali's latest book, Bamboo People. But more on that later - first, the interview!

Q:  Tell us about the research you did before writing Bamboo People - a story about teenage soldiers in the Burma.  What inspired you to write this story?

Mitali: I've been writing novels featuring South Asian girls for years—Indian-Americans, Indians, Pakistani-Americans, Bangladeshis. It was high time to write about a guy. Bamboo People, set along the Thai-Burma border, features not one male protagonist, but two.

For three years my husband, children, and I lived in Chiang Mai, Thailand. While we were there we visited the Karenni refugee camps along the Thai-Burma border. I was astounded at how the Karenni kept their hopes up despite incredible loss, still dreaming and talking of the day when they would once again become a free people. I was impressed, too, by how creatively they used bamboo. Homes, bridges, transportation, weapons, food, storage, irrigation—all these and more depended on the resilient, lavish, and ecologically efficient bamboo plant. I began to think about that plant as an excellent symbol for the peoples of that region.

During that time I also began to understand how tough life is for Burmese teenagers. Only about a third are enrolled in school, and most can’t find jobs. According to international human rights organizations, Burma has the largest number of child soldiers in the world, and that number is growing. These young soldiers are taught that the Karenni and other ethnic groups are the cause of the problems in their country and are rewarded with money and food if they burn, destroy, torture, and kill ethnic minorities.

I wanted to tell both sides of the story -- a refugees' perspective and the view from young soldiers who are forced to fight against their wills.

Find out more here:

Q: What has been the reaction of the Burmese community to Bamboo People? Do you know of any reaction from Myanmar/Burma itself?

Mitali: Not much, except for a couple of tweets by first-gen Burmese Americans who liked it. And only the spoof on my blog:

(Note to Readers: This spoof really had me going! Check it out!)

Q: I know you have teenage sons at home - does your own parenting influence the stories you choose to write? Do your kids read your work? (And are they good editors?)

Mitali: My sons are why I had the courage to write boy protagonists. All of my other books are written from the girl that I used to be. But now that I'm the mother of boys, I feel a bit more able to see life through masculine eyes.

Q: Can you tell us about how you began to write children's fiction?  Do you have any advice for beginning children's writers? (not that I know any)

Mitali: Here's the story of my start in children's books and some advice via video: <>

(Note to readers: A Great Interview of Mitali courtesy of Mommy Niri! Many thanks!)

Q: There seems to be a real growing community of South Asian (women) children's fiction writers.  Why do South Asian women write such fabulous books? (not that I'm prejudiced or anything)

Mitali: It's exciting to see so many different South Asian voices and views in the storytelling world. The more we hear, the greater the chance that we avoid "the danger of a single story," a disaster so aptly described by Chimamanda Adichie in her Ted talk: <>

(Note to Readers: I absolutely LOVE this talk and have used it all the time in various presentations. If you haven't seen it - see it now! If you haven't read Chimamanda Adichie's work, read it now!)_ 

Q. Tell us about your website/blog "Mitali's Fire Escape: A Safe Place to Chat About Books Between Cultures" - why the image of a fire escape?  Are 'books between cultures' dangerous? How?

Mitali: Life between cultures can feel unsafe. As a new immigrant, caught between the unfamiliar culture around me and the mores of my traditional parents, I used to crawl out on our fire escape and seek safety in stories. That's why I use the fire escape image on my blog -- my vision is to create a safe place for discussions about stories, race, and culture.

Q: What are your favorite multicultural books on the children's market today? What would you like to see more of? 

Mitali: Feel free to browse my interviews with authors of some of my favorite multicultural books: <

Q: What do you struggle with in your writing? How do you find sources of support?

Mitali: Struggles? Procrastination. Lack of confidence. Support? Writing buddies, conferences, twitter, facebook, prayer.

Q: Favorite books growing up?  What's on your bedstand now?

Mitali: Currently, I'm re-reading OLD-FASHIONED GIRL by Louisa May Alcott because of our community read this December: <>

Q: Can you tell us about any WIP?  (Sexy, brooding, South Asian vampires, perhaps? No?)

Mitali: Work in progress is still in the idea stage, but maybe you've got something there, my dear.

Q: Are your stories good medicine? (I think so, but I'd love to hear your answer!)

Mitali: I'd like to think they widen readers' hearts.  Other books certainly shaped mine: <>

Thank you to Mitali for being so generous - with your time, your resources, and your ideas!

To the readers of Stories are Good Medicine, simply leave a comment below by December 3, and you might be the one lucky winner of Bamboo People!  (If you blog, tweet, or repost to FB and tell me about it, I'll put your name in the magic hat twice!)

In light of long imprisoned pro-democracy leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi's recent release from house arrest in Myanmar, it seems particularly fitting that we should be celebrating with Mitali's important story about the experiences of child soldiers and refugees in Myanmar. If you haven't read it - it's a must!


  1. Thank you for bringing her voice to life so beautifully!

    And now, I have another book to add to my list.

    Thank you!

    PS -- I came here through your comment on She Writes this morning -- how lovely to meet you.

  2. Thanks M.L - lovely to 'meet' you too! Your name's in the magic hat! :)

  3. Mitali's generosity to the children's writing community is amazing, both the contribution of her stories and her openness in helping others. Thanks for sharing!

  4. I agree Angelina! Thanks for your comment! You're "in the magic hat"!

  5. Nice blog, Sayantani! Thanks for your nice note about the carnival. I don't really do book reviews but maybe I will one day. I'll keep you in mind.
    Best, Wendy

  6. Thanks Wendy! Looking forward to reading more of your great blog too! warmly, S

  7. Great interview, Sayantani! Mitali is indeed wise and I love your sense of humor. :o)

  8. Thanks Tarie! Glad you visited - browse around, sometimes my humor really does get the better of me!(I'm a bit of a giggler by nature...)
    Oh, and your name is in the magic hat!

  9. This is brilliant! So great to see South Asian writing taking the forefront.
    I have to read this.

  10. Welcome Bee! Stay a while and peek around at the other sites - I've done a few other SA women author interviews - Marina Budhos, Neesha Meminger, Sheba Karim -
    and you too are in for the drawing on the 3rd - be sure to check back then!



    Wendy get in touch with me to let me know how to get your copy of Bamboo People to you!

    Everyone else, thanks for visiting and do stop by again soon!

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  13. Wendy - get in touch with me as soon as you can at sayantani16 (at) gmail (dot) com !!
    I still have your book and would love to get it to you!