1) Which of your characters do you most identify with and why?
Sayantani DasGupta: Great question! I guess authors identify with a bit of any character they write. But I most identify with Kiranmala, the protagonist in my middle grade work in progress/on submission, “The Birthday I Slayed a Demon, Met a Swoony Prince and Kind of Saved New Jersey.” This adventure novel, based on many of the Bengali folktales I translated and re-interpreted in a 1995 book I co-wrote (with my mom!) called The Demon Slayers and Other Stories: Bengali Folktales (Interlink Books), is my take on the “immigrant daughter story.” As opposed to a lot of “immigrant novels” out there, which are sad, tragic tales of cultural confusion and loss or at least inspiration (with no offense to the wonderful Amy Tan, this is often called “The Joy Luck Club Syndrome”), my immigrant experience wasn’t sad but rather, both joyous and frustrating, both humorous and transformative.
When I was a little girl, I would visit India almost every summer vacation, and a big part of how I learned about my culture and heritage was hearing from them these tales of bloodthirsty rakshas (demons), flying horses, brave princes and clever princesses. In the same way I entered Bengali culture through these stories, my protagonist Kiran literally has to leave New Jersey and enter the fantasy world of these folktales. She has to return to the land from where she came in order to re-discover her strength and remember the importance of family in her life. In her case, that land just happens to be populated by bone-chewing, long toothed, ferocious rakshas! Luckily, she has the help of an equal parts infuriating and swoony prince to help her!
2) If you could give your Asian American kid readers one piece of advice, what would it be?
SDG: I would tell Asian American kid readers that there are so many terrific stories out there representing our experiences — seek them out! Ask your school or local library to order them if they are not already available there. Have your parents and teachers help you identify a diversity of stories for you to read. There’s nothing like opening up a book and ‘seeing yourself’ — the character doesn’t have to look exactly like you or even be from your same cultural background to resonate with you, but it does feel terrific when a character reflects your family’s heritage, customs, language or experience. So read widely, but demand specificity too!
3) Who is your favorite Asian American children’s author right now (other than yourself)?
SDG: There are so many amazing Asian American authors! Uma Krishnaswami, Sheela Chari, Grace Lin, Veera Hiranandani, Mike Jung, Wendy Wan-Long Shang … One of my favorite authors is Lisa Yee for sure. I love how she is able to use humor to reflect the joys of being Asian American (I hate it when the Asian American experience is only treated as a ‘problem’ in novels!). I also love how she is able to portray three dimensional, flawed yet loving families. Her Bobby vs. Girls books are terrific, as are her American Girl Kanani books, but my favorite books of hers are the Millicent Min, Girl Genius books!
Uma Krishnaswami, Sheela Chari, Grace Lin, and Mike Jung are all part of this blog series! Stay tuned…
4) Sayantani gets bonus points for answering my alternate question as well: Were you a reader growing up? Why or why not?
SDG: I was a huge reader growing up – but didn’t have the diversity of Asian American books that are available now, so I really enjoy reading these books now, and sharing them with my own kids!
About the author:
Sayantani DasGupta is a kid’s doctor turned kid’s author. She is the co-author of The Demon Slayers and Other Stories: Bengali Folktales (Interlink, 1995), the author of a memoir about medical school, and co-editor of two academic collections. Her creative work has been published in diverse places including Ms., Z. Magazine, JAMA, The Hasting’s Center Report, The Lancet and Literary Mama, and anthologized in such collections as Dragon Ladies: Asian American Feminists Breathe Fire (South End Press, 1999), Bad Austen: The Worst Stories Jane Austen Never Wrote (Adams Media, 2011), Two and Twenty Dark Tales: Dark Retellings of Mother Goose Rhymes (Month 9 Books, 2012), and Break These Rules: 35 YA Authors on Speaking Up, Standing Out, and Being Yourself (Chicago Review Press, 2013). She also writes online at Feministing, Racialicous, Adios, Barbie, From the Mixed Up Files of Middle-Grade Authors, The Feminist Wire, Sociological Images, and Everyday Feminism.