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Hope in Desi Kidlit

While publishing can feel like an uphill battle, the Desi Kidlit Community is here to give you a lift.


This past Sunday, March 28th, was the second Desi Kidlit Summit, organized and hosted by Gayatri Sethi (author, Unbelonging, and educator), Saadia Faruqi (author, Yasmin series), and Sailaja Joshi (CEO, Mango & Marigold Press).

Sethi and Faruqi have created the Desi Kidlit Community to amplify the voices of all South Asian diaspora authors to write about the stories that matter to them, the issues they face, to empower those facing similar struggles and to offer insight to those who may not. The annual summit is an extension of that crucial work.


Spending a few hours in the community with approximately 100 South Asian creatives, including authors, both published and aspiring, illustrators, readers, and champions of South Asian stories, was incredible. And I'm not alone in that feeling. This number is twice what it was during the inaugural summit last year. So not only are people coming back, they're also bringing a friend.

 

 

How does the Desi Kidlit Summit manage to grow this engaement in a virtual setting?


For one thing, the intent is crystal clear. This is a space that is inclusive of South Asian diaspora experiences and it's about uplifting each other. As one attendee said, "build community, not competition."


The content for the spring summit is also perfectly organized by age group, but there's a common thread, "the audacity of hope," that weaves it all together, starting with the keynote speaker, Veera Hiranandani (author, The Night Diary).


The Picture Book Panel, moderated by Rashmi Bismark (author, Finding Om), and featuring Nadia Salomon (author, Goodnight Ganesha), Amitha Knight (author, Usha and the Big Digger), Sana Rafi (author, Little Seeds of Promise), and Meera Sriram (author, Gift for Amma), really brought home the need for a variety of stories even within the South Asian diaspora. As Sana Rafi put it, "We are in a box. Space is being made, but it's a tight box." There's hope for a book that isn't just about South Asian pain or trauma, but for books with South Asian kids just baking cupcakes on a Sunday.


This effort to dispel single stories and stereotypes associated with South Asian identities is at the core of the Desi Kidlit Community's mission. We've all heard the work begins at home, but Sethi and Faruqi are setting the bar for what it looks like to put those ideals into practice. Just look at the lineup for the Young Adult Panel, moderated by Intisar Khanani, (author, Theft of Sunlight). In a world where ‘South Asian’ is often used to mean Hindu and Indian, the panel included Adiba Jaigirdar (author, The Henna Wars), Anuradha Rajurkar (author, American Betiya) and Navdeep Singh Dhillon (author, Sunny G's Series of Rash Decisions). The speakers and stories center Muslim and Sikh stories, queer stories, and Bangladeshi stories. Furthermore, the space isn't centered around the American diaspora. Jaigridar hails from Ireland, as do her characters. Sethi and Dhillon have both lived in African and European countries, offering a unique perspective and South Asian experience.


The panelists all bring insights from their publishing journeys, dealing with creating in a pandemic and navigating an industry affected by white supremacy. They also share their craft and expertise as writers. The Middle Grade Panel, moderated by Payal Doshi (author, Rea and the Blood of the Nectar), featuring Sayantani DasGupta (author, The Serpent's Secret), Reem Faruqi (author, Unsettled), and Rajani LaRocca (author, Much Ado About Baseball), all touched on the components of a great story. This panel gifted me one of my biggest takeaways from the summit, from Sayantani DasGupta, a reminder to “trust the reader” and give kids credit! They are voracious readers with a strong sense of justice and they will get the message.

  


 Scope out the hashtags, #DesiKidlitCommunity or #DesiKidlitSummit and you'll find tweets from South Asian creatives uplifting the stories we so desperately want. And in an industry that is constantly centering white stories and white readers, this support is crucial to the continued success of South Asian stories. The Desi Kidlit Community is by us and for us. And while anyone in publishing is welcome to listen and learn, the experience is centered around the needs of South Asian creatives.


Often, when publishers acquire stories by authors of colors, they do not provide the same marketing resources or budget that they would provide to white authors. People can't buy a book they don't know about. This work then falls onto the author to figure out marketing and promotion after just having figured out how to write and publish a book.


Indie publishers like Mango and Marigold Press have started to fill that need by nurturing the stories traditional publishing often overlooks. Along with the Desi Kidlit Community, the foundation to truly uplift each other, and to uplift a variety of South Asian stories is there. This community is loudly and proudly sharing knowledge, wisdom, and support, in an industry that thrives on whisper networks.


Suddenly, the three hours seem jam packed with content. Add on that the chat is lively with individuals sharing their information to foster further connections and praise for every speaker.  But the vibe throughout the summit was incredibly grounded. Between panels, Nandini Bajpai gave a beautiful tribute in gratitude to all of the South Asian authors that have come before us, and paved the way for the South Asian stories we are sharing today.

 

 

Navdeep Singh Dhillon noted during the YA panel that hope is a verb, something you actively engage with and work on. This was the perfect preview to the closing of the summit.  In lieu of a speech, Sethi (author, Unbelonging) engages in conversation with Karuna Riazi (author, The Gauntlet) on Brown Solidarity with Black Liberation: Hopeful Actions for Us All. Truly, the work starts at home. Sethi and Riazi empowered attendees to go forth, in solidarity with the Black community. To speak up and out, but not over. To decolonize our writing, and check the anti-blackness within our communities as we write stories. Because to build a world where a variety of stories are valued and cherished, we have to lift up others, not only ourselves.


The closing conversation highlights the most underrated component to what makes this summit so successful. The work put in by the organizers. Sethi, also known as DesiBookAunty on Instagram, is known for sharing South Asian stories through her Chai & Chats, Pyarful Reads, and all around colorful bookstagram. She’s also consistently sharing Black stories, Indigenous stories, and anti-racist reads for all ages. She’s vocal in calling out anti-blackness in South Asian communities, and that makes her qualified to lead these conversations. Attendees can trust that these conversations will be held with the utmost care, because to the person leading them, this isn’t just a viral moment or part of the media cycle. It is a deeply intentional and painstakingly consistent effort to build community.


Whether you are a writer, blogger, agent, editor, educator, or reader, you need the Desi Kidlit Community on your radar. If you are like me, and you’re constantly gifting books to the kids in your life, Desi Kidlit Community is your one stop shop to finding a variety of South Asian stories. Check out the Desi Kidlit Store here.


About the author

Jaspreet Kaur is an avid reader and lifestyle blogger. She is the creator of the Sikh Readathon, and the organizer of the South Asian Book Bloggers Network. You can find Jas sharing the people, places, and things she loves on her blog or on IG @jasbeingjas.

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