Joyful Representation in the Age of Book Bans, by author Maya Prasad
It’s a strange time to be a BIPOC or otherwise marginalized author in the US. On the one hand, movements built by We Need Diverse Books and #ownvoices have led to an increase in books being published by us. There’s still plenty of work to be done, but we’ve seen books by queer, trans, and BIPOC authors top bestseller lists. We know that there are kids who are hungry for these books!
But apparently that’s also gotten notice from people who don’t want those stories to be told. Book bans are on the rise, particularly in schools across the country. (Here’s a good summary from PEN America: https://pen.org/report/banned-usa-growing-movement-to-censor-books-in-schools).
Basically, there are long and varied lists of books that are being challenged or questioned and taken off shelves. Some of them explicitly deal with racism and queerphobia. But many of these banned books are also joyful books about us simply being us. About us falling in love or going on adventures or coming of age.
They don’t want our voices to be heard. We were supposed to stay the minority. We were supposed to stay in the shadows. White supremacy rears its ugly head but it’s often couched in deceptive language. Books about queer characters are vilified with the word “grooming” to suppress queer identities. Books about racism are “too difficult” and “uncomfortable” for their white kids. (Never mind that the same folks don’t care about how uncomfortable brown and Black kids have felt when reading Little House on the Prairie or To Kill a Mockingbird in class.)
My debut novel Drizzle, Dreams, and Lovestruck Things features four Indian American sisters with a diverse cast. One of the sisters likes girls and the father is bi. DDLT is supposed to be joyous, romantic, a cozy escape. It’s been described as “a warm hug of a book.” That’s exactly what I was going for.
Yet, simply living and describing our identities is political today. When I was drafting this book, I knew that it would be odd to write about four Desi sisters and never touch on questions of identity or casual racism. That’s not real life. We are more than Indian names and delicious Indian food, and our identities are part of our worldview. When you grow up brown in the US, you never forget your skin color. How could you, when you’re constantly othered? When people are surprised at how well you speak English, or repeatedly ask you where you’re “from.” Even supposedly liberal white folks sometimes exoticize us in deeply cringey ways.
Hence, even though I consider the world of the Singh sisters to be highly romanticized, I also had to do what I believe is inherently the most meaningful part of being an author: provide some insight into humanity and the world as I know it.
They say books create empathy. That’s exactly what the forces behind book bans don’t want. They don’t want us to be accepted. They don’t want us to be normalized. They don’t want their kids to see our humanity, which we have laid bare through our creative works. It’s a threat to them, a threat to the whitewashed cis hetero history they cling to.
I won’t stop writing. I won’t stop creating brown joy. I won’t stop squashing stereotypes and calling out casual racism. And I’ll simultaneously charm you—and yes, your kids and teens—into falling in love with my unabashedly brown characters. The queer ones, too.
Meet author MAYA PRASAD
Maya Prasad is a South Asian American author, a Caltech graduate, and a former software engineer. She currently resides in the Pacific Northwest, where she enjoys hiking, canoeing, and raising her budding bookworm kiddo. Drizzle, Dreams, and Lovestruck Things is her debut YA novel, to be published by Disney-Hyperion in October 2022.
Visit her website www.mayaprasad.com or find her on Instagram and Twitter @msmayaprasad.
Filed under: Teen Fiction
About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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