By Amy Lutz, MCWC Editorial Assistant
MCWC 2019 Middle Grade/Young Adult faculty Mitali Perkins believes stories have the power to create safe spaces for young readers. Born in Kolkata, India, Mitali lived in Ghana, Cameroon, London, New York and Mexico before her family settled in California when she was eleven. Inspired by her own experiences, her novels feature characters trying to cross borders, bridge differences, and find community.
Mitali’s novel You Bring the Distant Near was nominated for a National Book Award and a Walter Award honor book. Rickshaw Girl was chosen by the New York Public Library as one of the top 100 books for children in the past century. Bamboo People was an American Library Association Top Ten Novel for Young Adults, and Tiger Boy won the Charlotte Huck Honor Award and the South Asia Book Award. She has been honored as a “Most Engaging Author” by independent booksellers across the country and selected as a “Literary Light for Children” by the Associates of the Boston Public Library.
Mitali shared with us about her decision to be “all in” as a writer, her passion for reaching the hearts and minds of young readers, and her plans for the MCWC 2019 MG/YA workshop.
Congratulations on the recent publication of your twelfth book, Forward Me Back to You! As you add another book to your long list of award-winning publications, how do you feel looking back over your career?
I’m surprised that I’m still doing this and making a living at it. Though I haven’t written bestsellers, my books have been mid-list steady sellers, mostly thanks to the school and library markets. I just earned out an advance from a book published ten years ago, for example! After twelve books, all still in print and being read by young people here and in other countries, the long game begins to pay off. My agent—Laura Rennert of Andrea Brown Literary Agency—has represented me with devotion and excitement for more than fifteen years. She and my publishers and editors believe in me and my contribution to the literary landscape. My booking agent, Sarah Azibo, lines up gigs to cover the speaking portion of my income. All in all, I’m still standing, still writing, still trying to serve and empower my young readers with stories. That feels like more than a surprise—it’s a miracle.
You have another book coming out this September, Between Us and Abuela, which will be your first picture book. Though this is a new format for you, it follows your theme of “writing between cultures,” as you’ve described your work. How have your own experiences influenced your passion for writing between cultures?
All of my stories explore the tension, joy, gains, and losses of crossing borders. I’ve done that my whole life. Whether it’s the space between those with money and power and those with less (as in Forward Me Back to You), the space between cultures (as in Between Us and Abuela), or the gap between South Asia’s girl children and their male counterparts (Rickshaw Girl and Secret Keeper), my stories always take place along borders.
You’ve written both Middle Grade and Young Adult novels. What advice would you give to a writer trying to figure out if their story best fits MG or YA?
Which do you like to read? I enjoy them equally, along with picture books, so I write all three. Pay attention to your preference as a reader and that will illuminate your writing voice. We can also discuss this during the workshop, when I can provide one-on-one attention to your writing.
You studied political science at Stanford and public policy at UC Berkeley, and then taught middle school, high school, and college before transitioning into writing fiction. What inspired you to start writing?
I always wrote, scribbling poetry and stories as early as eight or nine, so the joy of words and story craft has been and will be a lifelong way for me to play. I didn’t start pursuing a full time career as an “author” until my second novel, Monsoon Summer, was rejected by twenty-two publishers over eleven years. When it was finally published, I decided that if I couldn’t be thwarted by all that opposition, it was time to be “all in.”
Can you give us a taste of what you’ll bring to the MG/YA workshop at MCWC 2019? What can participants expect and what do you hope will be their biggest take away?
I love teaching. My mentees in the past who have gone on to be published are teachable and focused on improving their craft. You’ll learn how to make your dialogue zing, take us to a setting with all five of our senses, and find fixable flaws in story structure. I will openly share much of what I have learned and hope you will join me to make your stories sizzle. I want them to reach the hearts and minds of young readers and I’ll do my best to help you get them there.
To learn more about Mitali and her books, visit www.mitaliperkins.com.
You can still register for Mitali’s MG/YA workshop at MCWC 2019. But don’t wait, because there are only a couple seats left!