Aug 1, 2023

Visiting New Spaces: A Q&A with Meera Sriram

Interview by Kristi Wright

I first met Meera Sriram at a happy hour social for kidlit writers. She had already been published in India and was actively working on breaking into the USA market. It was lovely to chat with her that night and since then, we’ve met at numerous children’s literature events. She’s a fabulous person with a lot to say, and I’m delighted to call her a friend. I’m also a huge fan of her work. Her sensory and empathetic writing is such a pleasure to read. I’m excited to see her body of work grow and grow. – Kristi Wright

KidLit Craft: What do you love about writing for kids?

Meera Sriram: I love that every story is a unique opportunity to take kids to a not so often visited “space”—people, place, experience—to evoke wonder and spark conversations. I feel empowered and hopeful when I think about how my stories have the power to influence a child’s worldview.

KidLit Craft: In A Gift for Amma: Market Day in India (illustrated by Mariona Cabassa), you combine the sensory descriptions of items found in the market with the story of a girl buying a gift for her grandmother. Likewise, in A Garden in My Hands (illustrated by Sandhya Prabhat), you combine lovely descriptions of henna designs with the story of a girl desperate to not ruin her beautifully decorated hands before a family wedding. When you wrote these, which came first–the descriptions or the story? Or did it all come together at once?

Meera Sriram: It was definitely the colorful markets (in A GIFT FOR AMMA) and the henna designs (in A GARDEN IN MY HANDS) that came first! I was well aware of their potential to be descriptive even when they were seed ideas. In both narratives, I needed a story arc, a framework to anchor the core idea. In other words a simple “plot” to hook and engage the reader. Otherwise, they would’ve ended up list-y—a list of market items or in case of DUMPLING DAY just a long list of different dumplings, without the context of a neighborhood potluck.

KidLit Craft: With your non-fiction Dumpling Day (illustrated by Inés de Antuñano), you wrote in rhyme. Do you have any recommendations for writers who are interested in rhyming?

Meera Sriram: Honestly, I’m not an expert in rhyme. But here’s what I think—don’t hold on to a rhyming pair of words and build sentences or ideas around it. They always end up feeling forced. Instead, push harder (even if it’s more work) to find better vocabulary or try other creative ways, without compromising on what you set out to tell at that point in your story.

KidLit Craft: I was so impressed by how you handled the mature content of Amrita Sher-Gil’s life when you wrote Between Two Worlds (illustrated by Ruchi Bakshi Sharma). Somehow you made her beautifully relevant to children, without introducing certain aspects of her life that might have been harder for them to process. Can you walk us through how you made your decisions when it came to telling her story?

Meera Sriram: Thank you for acknowledging and appreciating that because it was not an easy thing to pull off. With a personality as rich and complex and layered as Amrita Sher-Gil, there was so much to share and celebrate. First, I let all the information marinate in my head for several weeks until the story I wanted to tell surfaced. I realized my heart was set on telling the story of Amrita straddling two cultures and eventually finding her “voice” by blending her two worlds. When this thread crystallized, I decided to save all the factual information (dates, names of people and places, titles of her artwork) for the backmatter. This allowed me to write lyrically. In the end, the story resonated with many children and families navigating intersectionalities.

KidLit Craft: We’d love to hear about your revision process. How do you get from your first draft to the final published version of your stories?

Meera Sriram: This might sound odd but I thoroughly enjoy revising! I love sitting with all the feedback from critique partners, parsing through every comment, processing every suggestion, and later experimenting and incorporating changes as needed. I read aloud every version countless times. Sometimes, I rewrite the whole thing! Regardless, the process always opens new doors, most often one door at a time. A light bulb moment in the first iteration, the right words the next time around. Slowly, you derive a sense of what works and what doesn’t. A raw idea gets rounded. And rough edges begin to feel polished. It’s a beautiful evolution over time. And pure joy when you read aloud a sound and solid picture book narrative! There are no shortcuts though—you revise and revise and revise….you make every iteration count!

KidLit Craft: If you had one piece of advice for other writers of children’s books, what would it be?

Meera Sriram: You are not going to be surprised 🙂 Well, never shy away from revisions. It’s the only way to get there—to take your work to a better place and grow as a writer.

KidLit Craft: How has the kidlit community been a part of your writing and publishing journey?

Meera Sriram: The kidlit community has been an integral and incredibly wonderful part of my career. From critique partners who offer their time and wisdom to support my writing to big-hearted creatives who share resources, help promote, include me in events, and invite me to collaborate, this fraternity has lifted me in many ways. I’ve found some of the most generous cheerleaders, thoughtful friends, and powerful storytellers in this community.

KidLit Craft: What can Meera Sriram fans look forward to next?

Meera Sriram: Hahaha…thanks for asking. Well, THE SPICE BOX, a story that has stayed with me for over seven years, and one that’s very close to my heart, will finally be out in Spring 2024 from Knopf / PRH. I’m thrilled that readers will get to experience the story through Sandhya Prabhat’s vibrant artwork, again!

Thank you for this great conversation! I really enjoyed how your questions were specific and nuanced. Thanks for having me!

Meera Sriram grew up in India and moved to the United States at the turn of the millennium. She is the author of several picture books, including A Gift for Amma, which School Library Journal called an “excellent story for young readers to enhance their understanding of color and an aspect of traditional Indian culture” in a starred review. Sriram’s latest picture book is A Garden in My Hands, called “an intimate lyrical story about an ancient artistic tradition” by Kirkus in a starred review. An electrical engineer in her past life, she now enjoys writing for children and advocating for early and multicultural literacy. Sriram loves yoga and chai, and lives with her husband and two children in Berkeley, California.

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