Get to Know Asian American Chidren’s Authors: Mitali Perkins, Editor of Open Mic and Author of Bamboo People

Mitali Perkins

Our next author in this blog series is one of my favorite authors, Mitali Perkins. I admire Mitali’s writing, her work ethic, and her outspoken activism. She tackles tough topics with aplomb and grace. (My review of Open Mic, her most recent book.)

Here are her answers to my questions:

open mic1) Which of your characters do you most identify with and why?

Mitali Perkins: Sunita of The Not-So-Star-Spangled Life of Sunita Sen is the most autobiographical of my novels. My grandparents came from India to stay with us in a mostly-white California suburb, and while our whole house didn’t become ultra-traditional like Sunita’s, I felt as caught between cultures as she does in the story. Also, the grandfather in the book is almost exactly like mine. But my main characters always come with a mix of desires, idiosyncrasies, and traits that reflect some part of me.

2) If you could give your Asian American kid readers one piece of advice, what would it be?

MP: Hang tough and wait for the payoff. If you survive growing up “between cultures” you gain a big advantage as an adult. You will always be able to cross cultural borders easily and make yourself feel at home anywhere. You are becoming proficient in two cultures, which will enable you to acquire mastery of a third or fourth culture much faster than your monocultural peers.

3) Were you a reader growing up? Why or why not?

MP: I read constantly. I took sweet tart candies and library books out to the fire escape of our New York apartment and read every chance I could. Stories were my escape. They also allowed me to imagine different lives, and to understand what it might be like to have more, fewer, or different privileges than I did. This widened my world and changed my life.

About the author:

Mitali Perkins was born in India, immigrated to the United States with her parents and two sisters when she was seven, and studied political science at Stanford University and Public Policy at U.C. Berkeley. She’s the author of nine books, including Rickshaw Girl, which was chosen by the New York Public Library as one of the top 100 books for children in the past 100 years, and Bamboo People, which is an American Library Association’s Top Ten Novels for Young Adults and was starred and described in Publishers Weekly as “a graceful exploration of the redemptive power of love, family, and friendship.” Mitali lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her family. 

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