She is the author of a dozen books for young readers. Among them are picture books including Chachaji’s Cup and Monsoon, early readers (Yoga Class, Holi), and a middle grade novel, Naming Maya.
Briefly describe the impact racism had on you as a young person.
I grew up in India and it wasn’t so much about racism, although I certainly grew up with other negative "isms." I’ve written in this blog post about how the privileging of English texts over ones in Indian languages had an impact on my childhood reading and on diminished fluency in my native language:
They hardly even acknowledged that India existed, and when they did they often showed it in a light that was less than flattering. So I didn’t even have to live in a foreign land that didn’t value my culture, to have this experience of what happens when you don’t see yourself in a book.
Has your personal experience of racism impacted your professional work as a writer?
I’ve been in the US since 1979, and I’ve seen racism take more and more subtle forms, become more nuanced. Back when I was in graduate school, it used to be teenagers yelling slurs as they drove past a group of us "foreign students.’ Now, it frames the conversation in ways that aim to drive the elephant from the room, as when people insist they’re color-blind. Oddly, I don’t know a single person of color who claims that! A long time ago, I left a writing group in tears when someone in the group suggested I assume a pseudonym and write stories about "regular" kids. As if my name, and the South Asian kids in my stories were, you know, irregular! And I had to wonder, when I began to submit work to publishers in the early 90′s, whether there was some rule that people from my part of the world could only be shown as illiterate and barefoot-and far away. I’m stubborn, though, so all these things only made me more determined to write the stories I wanted to write.
I’m no expert in the uses of literature to achieve social justice, but I do believe that children should read a lot, and read for pleasure, and that the present diversity in books for young readers could be even greater and even richer. And oh, please, we must somehow keep our public libraries alive.
Uma is on the faculty of the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults. Aline Pereira of PaperTigers describes as remarkable, Uma’s "commitment to good books for children and young adults related to South Asia and the South Asian diasporas and to promoting understanding within and across cultures." For more, please visit Uma’s blog, Writing With a Broken Tusk.