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My #kidlitwomen post was intended to be an essay about being a mother and a writer, about dealing with racism and sexism in not one but two cultures. However essays and non-fiction don’t come naturally to me, so instead of trying to wrestle my words into the right format, I just let them go the way they wanted.


How to be invisible

It starts with your first child. Invisibility wraps its way around you while you push your stroller down the street. People sense fear and incompetence festering around you, a stink they can’t stand to be around, one that you can’t even smell. (Is it even there?) It doesn’t matter that you have brought life into this world, that the well-being of another life hangs on your own well-being, your opinions mean nothing. Less than nothing.

You are a mommy now.

You are an empty vessel waiting to be filled with the advice of others, never mind your own lived experiences, university degrees, medical degrees. Your own thoughts and dreams have been rendered meaningless by others.

You will be treated as though all the creative juices that inspired you to write a novel have already dried up. As though you are desiccated creatively the minute your breasts begin to fill. You are now plain, flavorless, uninspired. (And sometimes you are just so tired you aren’t even sure that they are wrong.)

You will be afraid to reveal who you are. Everyone knows mommies can’t recognize good literature when they read it. Scandalized mommies ruin all the good bits. How then can they be writers?

If you are a mommy with brown skin, a mommy from a minority background, a non-Christian woman, a heathen writing about childhood,  you are unrelatable, unsellable, unknowable. You are not from here, you never could be from here, you are an anomaly, too foreign not foreign enough too ordinary to be exotic too mommy to be avant-garde. No matter which country you are in, your parents’ or your own, mommy and writer can’t be the same person without consequences.

You will keep writing, knowing that your work will be willfully misunderstood. You will keep writing knowing that they read your voice as uninteresting, unfunny, unworthy, uninspired. You will keep writing though the conversations continue without your voice.

Someday you hope your daughters will read your words and speak them out loud, knowing how hard you fought, how big you dreamed, how far you soared. And when your daughters’ time comes, whether they have children or whether they don’t, they will be seen, they will be heard, their voices and thoughts and opinions will matter, their art their science their dreams will matter.

You will make sure of it.


A few months ago, a story popped into my head whole. Somehow, a picture book idea I’d been mulling over called Rock Swap (inspired by one of my daughters who loves collecting rocks) morphed into a short story about a girl named Adrika who collects rocks and ends up defeating an old rakshasa named Hidimbi. At the time, we were driving to my parent’s apartment for Thanksgiving, and I didn’t have a pen handy, so I dictated the story into my phone as my family listened. Later I revised it.

My older daughter loved this story. She really wanted me to turn it into a book and a movie and make millions of dollars from it. I informed her that probably wasn’t going to happen. Then, she asked if I could print this out for HER to sell in our front yard. (A side note: she is obsessed with the idea of making and selling things.) So last week, when she asked again about printing out and selling one of my stories, I said, what about Rock Swap? She was so excited. We revised it together, and I told her she could draw the cover.

Immediately, she knew which scene she wanted to draw, but she still had all sorts of questions for me about color choice—what should Adrika wear, what color should the font be, etc. I asked her questions to help her figure it out for herself. On her own, she decided, of course, Adrika should have brown hair, like her, but then my brown-eyed daughter said, “Can I draw her with blue eyes on the cover?”

This threw me. I wasn’t sure how to respond. Even though I had a specific girl in mind when I wrote Adrika, I had never really described her eyes. My mistake, I guess, if I had something specific in mind. So, should I encourage my daughter’s artistic side by telling her to draw Adrika however she wanted? Or would I have to turn this into a teachable moment of some kind?

Still dithering, I started off with, “Why?”

“I think it’ll look better.”

It’ll look better? Mommy guilt rammed right through my heart. I felt I had failed my daughter in some way. She genuinely felt that blue eyes would look better than brown eyes on the cover of this book. I fought to control my expression so I wouldn’t seem judgmental.

I said, “I like blue eyes, but I was really picturing an Indian girl who looked like me, or like you. And we both have brown eyes.”

“I don’t think brown eyes will look right on a cover. This brown is too dark, and Indian people can have blue eyes.”

“I suppose that’s true,” I said, wondering whether I was the one being closed minded. “But there are so many characters with blue eyes. And I wanted this character to have brown eyes.”

“Let me show you the brown,” she said. “Then you will see that it’s too dark.” She colored on a scrap of paper and brought it over to me.

I looked at the page. “This looks like your eye color,” I said. It did. “I have dark brown eyes. Does this look like my eye color?”

Her eyes flicked from the page to my eyes and back again. I could tell from her expression that she agreed and was still thinking about this.

I said. “When you tell me this color is too dark for the cover, it makes me sad. It makes me think you don’t like your own beautiful brown eyes.”

She didn’t say anything. She went and colored the character in with brown eyes and tan skin like hers.

 I don’t know exactly what was going on in her head, did she change her mind about who can be on the cover of a book? Or instead, did she decide she couldn’t talk to Mommy about this any more? I didn’t ask, not sure I wanted to know the answer, and honestly not sure she would know the answer anyway.

I’ve seen how my daughter grins at herself in the mirror–I know she likes the way she looks, but will that change as she gets older? Will seeing mostly lighter-skinned people with blue eyes all over her books and TV shows gradually teach her that her own appearance is somehow inferior?

I hope by continuing to talk to her and read her my stories about brown-eyed, brown-skinned, dark-haired girls, she’ll continue to love her own appearance as much as she does now. I hope she’ll be able to truly feel that eye color really doesn’t change whether a person is worthy of being a main character in a story. I hope so. I suppose time will tell.

Hi everyone! Summer vacation is over, and I’m working on two projects right now: a picture book and a middle grade fantasy project. The kids were in camps for much of July, so I got a lot of work done then. Last month was a bit hit or miss, but I had fun with my kids and am excited to get back to work this month!

Those of you who follow me on social media know that a few weeks I participated in a panel at Harvard, talking about the fantastic WNDB anthology FLYING LESSONS. The livestream of the panel is up on youtube. It is an hour and a half long, so clear up some time in your schedule and check it out!

#panel #flyinglessons #weneeddiversebooks #Harvard #weneeddiversebooks

© 2020 by Amitha Jagannath Knight