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Event recap: What Desi authors want you to know

Writing under censorship and navigating the predominantly white world of publishing poses challenges for NJ's Desi authors.

More than 70 people came out for our first event on Saturday. It was so great meeting some of you in person and introducing Central Desi to the community members who are just learning about this resource.

We share some takeaways below, and this one-minute video by Cody Hmelar captures the essence of the gathering:

We’re planning another event in fall, so stay tuned and spread the word. Central Desi is a free community open to all Desis in the Garden State. Encourage your friends to subscribe and follow us on Instagram to get news about the community and learn about opportunities to connect.

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What Desi authors want you to know

Saturday’s event featured a panel with four South Asian American authors with roots in New Jersey: Pooja Makhijani, Namrata Patel, Priyanka Taslim and F.S. Yousaf. Though they write across a range of genres—children’s books, romance, YA novels and poetry—they had a lot in common when it comes to matters of identity and navigating the predominantly white world of publishing.

Here are some key ideas they shared:

  1. On publishing as a Desi author: "The publishing industry has a long way to go in giving the right resources to South Asian authors, and, in general, diverting resources to smaller authors that are just as talented as the big names," said F.S. Yousaf.

  2. On writing under censorship: "There is a fence we put ourselves in, and more of us are breaking out of it,” said Namrata Patel, who mentioned that Scholastic recently gave schools the option to opt out of receiving “diverse books” in book order catalogs. Authors of color have to “hustle differently,” she said. 

  3. On expanding definitions of what it means to be Desi: “My upcoming book is about a ritual of breadmaking between a mother and a child. Are they making naan? No, they’re making sourdough, like I do every week,” said Pooja Makhijani. “It’s about how our culture means many things. There are pieces of me in my sourdough. Just because it’s a California-style sourdough doesn’t mean it’s not Desi.”

  4. On diversifying class depictions in South Asian stories: “Paterson is a working class community, predominantly black and brown, and those kids in general do not get to see a lot of positive representation of a place like Paterson,” said Priyanka Taslim, who said her book “was for the brown girls, but for all sorts of girls who may not see themselves in those sorts of escapist stories because their reality is boring down on them.”

Audience members said the topics resonated for them and they looked forward to more opportunities like it.

“This is the first time I’ve been to a gathering of South Asians talking about art and literature,” said Anupa Ohtiv, a lifelong Plainsboro resident. “It’s something I’m not used to seeing in our community, and I’d love to see more events like this.”

Pragati Parikh, an attorney who grew up in Brooklyn but now lives in New Jersey, said she appreciates that the authors are breaking the mold to talk about tougher topics the Desi community faces.

“With Pooja, I appreciate that her books focus on serious issues our community faces. No one is talking about divorce, mental health issues, or even the things our kids are going through,” Parikh said.

Ifrah Akhtar contributed to this article.

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