[Meet the Author] "Culture again!": Interview with YA author, Ramin Ganeshram (Part 1)

Ramin Ganeshram, author of Stir It Up! 
Ramin Ganeshram is the author of a YA (young adult) novel, Stir It Up!, published by Scholastic (USA) this August. I first caught wind of Stir It Up! back in July when I noticed it popping up on book blogs all over the Internet— positive reviews all around. When I learned that the book's protagonist is a Trinidadian-American teen, I just had to see what all the fuss was about. I recently asked Ramin a few questions about her new best-selling book via email. Here is the first half of my interview with her. Read the second half here


S: Hi Ramin, how are you?

R: I’m great—thank you for asking. I hope you are well too!

S: Thanks. I’ve been following the entries on your newly released YA book, Stir It Up! on all the various book blogs. Most people who have read your book seem to really like, if not love, it. The book was released on August 1st. How does it feel?

R: Of course it’s a wonderful feeling, but it’s a little odd for me too. I am a journalist, food writer, cookbook author and this is my 3rd book, 5th or 6th when you talk about ghost writing and partnerships. But it’s my first novel and my first book for kids. I’m overwhelmed with the attention it has gotten—and so please as well! I never thought though, that the major recognition would be for a kid’s book! It makes it all the sweeter.

S: Now, I know this is not your first taste of success as a published author. In 2006, Hippocrene published your cookbook, Sweet Hands: Island Cooking From Trinidad & Tobago which did very well and you’ve been a contributing writer with numerous food publications. Yet, YA is an entirely different market is it not? Seems like a 180 degree turn. What made you decide to write a YA book of all things?

R: It’s an interesting story. I had actually written a lightly fictionalized account of my family in Trinidad during WW2. The book was being sold as a novel when it was more a true story, retold. In any case, it didn’t sell but the lady who would become my editor, Andrea Pinkney at Scholastic, had seen the manuscript and loved it. She kindly asked me if I’d ever consider a book for teens about Trinidadian culture. I said yes, but the food aspect was a must-have for me. She agreed, we brainstormed, and Stir It Up! is what I ultimately got cooking!

S: That is an interesting story. I know Andrea Pinkney has written some great children's books herself. So in a nutshell, please tell our readers what your book, Stir it Up! is about.

R: It is the story of Anjali Krishnan, a Trinidadian-American teen who aspires to be the youngest and first Caribbean chef with her own cooking show. Her parents have other ideas that center around her attending Stuyvesant, New York City’s premier high school for intellectually gifted children. Although the Krishnans own a roti shop in the Indo-Caribbean neighborhood of Richmond Hill, Queens, where the family also lives, they want their daughter to have a better future than one linked to food service. When Anjali is given an unexpected opportunity to fulfill her dream—by competing on a “Top Chef” style show for teens on Food Network— she must go against her family’s wishes, ultimately losing and regaining their trust, in order to have a shot at the future she envisions for herself.

S: Anjali does sound like a spunky character. Her going against the grain is part of why this story appeals to me anyway. Which brings me to another question: why this story? Ultimately, what message(s) are you seeking to convey to teens?

R: The message is this: follow your dreams and never give up but be aware of others while you do it. There is an appropriate way to go for the gold—and that doesn’t include only thinking of yourself. Be willing to share, discuss and make your dreams known to get the support of those around you.

S: Just to clarify for our readers, how old is the main character, Anjali, in the book? Also, is she perhaps a reflection of yourself at that age?

R: She is thirteen and she is way cooler and more self-assured than I ever was at that age. Sure, I’m ½ Trinidadian (she is fully Trinidadian) and I loved to cook but I wasn’t anywhere near as passionate as Anjali. As an older teen I was as passionate about writing as Anjali is about cooking and, similarly, my parents didn’t see it as a “real” job though they acknowledged my talent.

S: And now I have to ask this. Is it true that the book sold 140, 000 copies before the release date? I read that somewhere on the Web (not always the most reliable source I know).

R: Yes, it did, that’s accurate—as a Scholastic Book Fair/Book Club featured selection.

S: That’s incredible, congratulations. Can you even believe it?

R: It’s very hard to believe. Dumbfounding actually!

S: Indeed. Let's switch gears a little. Here in the States, authors of color often talk about the difficulty of getting their books picked up by the mainstream publishing houses. Was it hard getting Stir It Up! published? How long did it take you to get an offer?

R: Well because of the particular nature of how this came about it wasn’t in a regular publishing stream, however I agree with this assessment. My novel did not sell although it was widely thought to be well written, evocative, and historically accurate. I imagine this is because the mainstream American audience would feel highly disconnected from the protagonists (descendants of Indian indentured laborers) in that book.


Check in next week for the second half of my interview with Ramin Ganeshram!


About the Interviewer...

Summer Edward was born in Trinidad and Tobago. She is the Managing Editor and Kids Editor here at Anansesem. She lives in Philadelphia, USA.

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About Anansesem

Anansesem is an online magazine of Caribbean children's and young adult literature by adults and children. We strive to bring you the best in news, reviews and creative content from the world of Caribbean children's publishing.
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