Interview with Sona Charaipotra
By Goodreads Staff | Published Nov 12, 2014 12:53AM
Sona CharaipotraHi, Sona! You do so many things! Between working as a freelance journalist covering entertainment for publications like Vulture.com and TeenVogue while corunning a boutique book development company and volunteering for the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign, what’s your favorite thing to do? I’ve been writing about TV and pop culture for almost a decade—and while it’s definitely fun to work in my PJs and interview stars from The Vampire Diaries and Pretty Little Liars, my new company, CAKE Literary, and my creative writing are definitely my favorite parts of my workday. That’s because they come from a place of passion. I started writing so I could tell my story. It’s one I’ve yet to be able to find on the shelves. That has evolved a lot over the years, and I’ve learned that every one of us has many stories to share. CAKE’s mission is to bring real, meaningful diversity to bookshelves everywhere—and it comes from the fact that my partner, Dhonielle Clayton, and I didn’t see ourselves in books as kids—and we still don’t. What’s more, 30 years later, my own little ones still won’t find themselves in books very much—unless we all do something to change that. We’re well on our way. Our first book, Tiny Pretty Things, is out May 26. And we have a lot more cooking. It’s superfun to hang with Dhonielle and brainstorm new ideas—and then bring in these smart, voicey writers who come in and transform that story into a reality so much more delicious and layered than we could have even imagined!
Joined Goodreads: January 2011
Number of books shelved: 241
Joined Goodreads: January 2011
Number of books shelved: 241
You’ve also covered books for Parade.com and other publications. Have you interviewed any of your heroes? One of my favorites—and this is a throwback!—was interviewing Jhumpa Lahiri when she won the Pulitzer, back when I was at People. Fiction from South Asian American writers was still rare back then, and I was completely enthralled by her work. But it was also fun interviewing John Green recently for Parade.com—especially because I asked him my husband’s question (boxers or briefs, hahaha!) and because I got him to talk about diversity. And I’m not a big fantasy reader, but Dhonielle is, so I brought her along to chat with Cassie Clare and Holly Black about their recent collaboration, Magisterium. We spent an hour with them, talking about writing, collaboration, work-life balance, and so much more, and that was AWESOME.
What are your predictions for some new trends in YA? Is there anything that you want to see more of? I think contemporary is definitely it right now. But I think it’s veering toward high-concept contemporary with a bit of edge, like Amy Zhang’s Falling into Place, Amanda Maciel’s Tease, or E. Lockhart’s We Were Liars. (Or Tiny Pretty Things—just saying!) I think we’re also seeing a lot of genre mash-ups: edgy retellings, like Renée Ahdieh’s upcoming The Wrath and the Dawn, and edge-of-your-seat action, like Sabaa Tahir’s upcoming Ember in the Ashes. And I love twisty reads, like Adam Silvera’s More Happy Than Not. As for diversity, we’re starting to see some of it and need even more! But I definitely hope that’s not just a trend.
Speaking of, tell us about volunteering for the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign! What have you been doing? What do you think the impact of the campaign has been? Dhonielle and I got involved with the campaign after volunteering to help out at BEA—and with the #WeNeedDiverseBooks team, we feel like we’ve found our tribe. I’ve never met such a dedicated, committed, forward-thinking group of writers, and they all bring such a passion to the team. It’s entirely a volunteer effort, we’re all working hard, and there are BIG things ahead, including the Diversity in the Classroom initiative with First Book and Read Across America, the Children’s Lit Diversity Festival in 2016, and the Walter Grants for writers from diverse backgrounds. Speaking of which—we’re full speed ahead with the #WNDB IndieGoGo campaign right now! It’s how you can help #WeNeedDiverseBooks and earn awesome perks while you’re at it, like agent and editor critiques (including one from CAKE!), unique artwork from children’s book illustrators, and the much-coveted #WeNeedDiverseBooks swag!
Is diversity something that you think about in your writing? Are there books that have inspired/influenced you? Growing up one of the few brown girls in my class—in the whole school, really—when I think back to my childhood and teens, there’s no way I couldn’t address diversity in my work. And it’s CAKE’s mission, bottom line. That said, not every character I write is a small Indian girl with glasses and braces (yes, really!) from central New Jersey. The first book I ever saw a brown character in was Bombay Talkie by Ameena Meer. I met the author when I was in college, and it was the first time I truly realized that I could be a writer, too. She was so kind and encouraging, and she totally said that if she could do it, so could I. But there have been many books featuring diversity that have inspired me over the years: Chitra Divakaruni’s work, Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Jhumpa Lahiri’s Interpreter of Maladies, Amy Tan’s Joy Luck Club, Junot Díaz’s Drown, Laurie Halse Anderson’s Wintergirls. Tanuja Desai Hidier’s Born Confused was a discovery, both for its diversity and its lyricism (and she just released a follow-up, Bombay Blues). A recent fun one was Like No Other by Una LaMarche. It’s a love story set in the heart of Brooklyn, and the characters are vastly diverse. It actually draws from the reality of the neighborhoods where the characters live. That’s meaningful diversity.
What’s your best Goodreads discovery? Amy Zhang’s Falling into Place, which I mentioned above. As soon as I read the description of that book, I had to grab a copy. And I could not put it down.
Favorite childhood book? Oh, classics like Little Women and Anne of Green Gables and Bridge to Terabithia. Oh, and Lord of the Flies. That book completely shocked me. It was thrilling. What I realized so much later, of course, is the complete lack of diversity in all of those works. I’ll still be so happy to share them with my daughter (we already started Little Women), but her library is definitely going to be augmented with diversity on the shelves.
Favorite Book Quote"Oh, it’s delightful to have ambitions. I’m so glad I have such a lot. And there never seems to be any end to them—that’s the best of it. Just as soon as you attain to one ambition you see another one glittering higher up still. It does make life so interesting."
-Anne Shirley, Anne of Green Gables
Go-to YA recommendation? I always tell people to start with the works of the amazing Laurie Halse Anderson. Her way with story and structure, amazing. Speak was a revelation, and Wintergirls sealed it for me. Also, Jandy Nelson’s The Sky Is Everywhere. It's perfection in an impossible love story.
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