Author with multicultural influences to speak to teen readers

Author with multicultural influences to speak to teen readers

June 19th, 2009 by Holly Leber in Life Entertainment

Recently, author Mitali Perkins stopped at a bake sale of students raising money for a trip to India.

"You should read one of my books that's set in India," she told them. "It's called 'Monsoon Summer.' "

One girl's eyes lit up.

"That's the whole reason I'm going to India," she said. "I read that book four times. I loved it."

"That was far better than any review you can get," Perkins said.

She was born in Calcutta, India, and has lived in Ghana, New York, London, Mexico and California. According to her online autobiography, she has spent most of her life crossing borders. As a result, she said: "When I began to write fiction, my protagonists were often -- not surprisingly -- strong female characters trying to bridge different cultures."

Perkins will visit the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Bicentennial Library as part of the teen summer reading program on Saturday. She spoke with the Times Free Press about her life, writing and how Boston compares to Bangladesh.

Perkins resides in Newton, Mass., with her husband, teenage twin sons, three fish, two Labradors and a ferret.

Q: How did moving around so much affect your sense of self and your view of the world?

A: The first thing is that you lose a sense of place. When you move around a lot you don't have that. On the other hand, when you move around a lot, you learn to make yourself at home really fast wherever you go. That's a strength, I think, when you move around a lot as a kid, you really learn how to nest fast and make a place home. The writing workshop I'll be leading on Saturday is on creating a sense of place in your writing. I think because I moved around so much and I lost a real sense of place, that's so important to me in my fiction, both when I read and when I write.

Q: You've said "My biggest lifeline during those early years was story." How did literature keep you safe?

A: When I was in seventh grade, we moved to (a suburb in) California. It was the first time I'd not lived in a big city. I realized two things very quickly: One was, I was the only kid who wasn't white in the whole school. Two, I was the only kid who wasn't born in America in the whole school. That was the year I realized what it felt like to be an alien. In New York, when I lived in Queens, there were kids from all over the world. It was really at that point when I was 11 that I discovered that I needed books, and that's because the great stories reminded me that essentially we're the same. I would be reading about kids growing up in Prince Edward Island and realizing that Anne (of Green Gables) and I were in our hearts the same. Those books helped me understand what it was to be human when I was feeling like I was so different. I read a lot of fantasy because there was always a happy ending. During those years when you get picked on and tormented a little bit, I think you need those stories where the wronged shall be right and there are happy endings. When you come to this country as a new immigrant, there's a lot of stress and tension and settling into life here. I used to just escape into books and they would de-stress me.

Q: How does life in a Boston suburb compare to more exotic locales like Bangladesh?

A: If I had a flat tire here on the side of the road I'd have to call AAA, but if you get a flat tire on the side of the road in Bangladesh you get 30 rickshaw drivers and 20 passersby lifting your car bodily out of the ditch. There's a strong community overseas. I'm a big social media fan, partly because I believe life in the States can be lonely. It can be lonely here in New England. It's really cold in the winter, and we all stay bundled up inside our houses, so I do miss the community aspect of living in the tropics.

As far as books, though, you can't beat Boston. I'm 15 minutes from where Louisa May Alcott wrote. It's just a town that's steeped in literature and a love of books and love of stories. It's really a great place to be if you love books.

IF YOU GO

* What: Writing workshops for teens with author Mitali Perkins.

* When and where: 10 a.m. Saturday at Eastgate Library, 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Northgate Library.

* Admission: Free but registration required.

* Registration: 757-5310 or phipps_d@lib.chattanooga.gov.

* Web site: www.lib.chattanooga.gov/teenstack/index.html.

* What: "Teens Between Cultures" talk.

* When: 4 p.m. Saturday.

* Where: Bicentennial Library, 1001 Broad St.

* Admission: Free.

Mitali Perkins' personal literary canon

* "Little Women," "Jo's Boys" by Louisa May Alcott

* "The Melendy Quartet" series by Elizabeth Enright

* "Jane of Lantern Hill" by L.M. Montgomery

* "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien

* "The Chronicles of Narnia" by C.S. Lewis

* "Miracles on Maple Hill" by Virginia Sorenson

* "Harry Potter" series by J.K. Rowling


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