A Guest Post by Anuradha Rajurkar & the Class of 2k21 Books


“Language exerts hidden power, like the moon on the tides.”

--Rita Mae Brown 

Anuradha Rajurkar: We book lovers know that language has the ability to inform, cultivate empathy, and empower. But can you pinpoint the time in your past when this realization first made itself clear? For me, as a painfully shy girl born to immigrant parents and growing up in the Midwest, it was when I discovered that escaping into books was a soothing balm. There, I’d find a sense of connectivity, comfort, and belonging. I learned that words contain the power to invoke feelings of joy, wonder, and a delicious retreat from everyday anxieties. I reveled in the feeling of being a part of something collective and larger than myself. By the time I became a teenager, I began dreaming one day of becoming a writer, telling my own stories that might inspire those feelings in others.

I interviewed debut middle grade Class of 2k21 authors Payal Doshi, Shakirah Bourne, Graci Kim, and Melissa Hope about those early experiences that revealed to each of them the power of language, and which set them on their journeys to become authors.

Payal Doshi: As a kid, books were my escape into fantastical worlds or real-life adventures. I didn’t have a deeper understanding other than I simply loved to read them. I did, however, know the power of a well-chosen word and so on the advice of my father, I carried a pocket dictionary in my school bag or purse (right through my mid-twenties!) so I could look up the meaning of a word I didn’t understand. However, it was when I began writing my debut novel that I learnt the true power of the stories we consume as children. Without realizing it, the first 70,000 words of my draft only featured characters who were white and it was only when my writing teacher disappointedly asked me why I hadn’t written about Indian kids that I paused to think about my decision. What shook me was not that I had written a story with white kids. It was that I hadn’t thought to write about Indian kids or my experiences even once. Writing a story with white kids was not a conscious decision I had made; it was what came naturally to me because those were the ONLY types of stories I had read and consumed in children’s literature. Ever since then, it has become a mission and passion of mine to write middle grade fiction with Indian and South Asian characters because I don’t want another Indian girl or boy to wonder if their stories are worth sharing with the world.

Shakirah Bourne: I had been secretly writing what I now recognise as Sweet Valley High fan-fiction when I was eleven–my main characters were cheerleaders who wanted to kill each other (thanks to the influence of R.L.Stine's Fear Street). One day I mustered up the courage to show the story to my Drama teacher, and he loved it so much he decided to read some of it out loud to my entire class. I was mortified, and spent the entire time hiding my face with my head on the desk. Afterwards, one of the boys in class, who was going through that mean phase, came up to me and I prepared myself for the insults. To my surprise, he told me he liked it and wanted to read more. He stopped teasing me and would pester me to finish chapters so he could find out what happened.

I learned that words had the power to turn my first bully into my first CP.

Graci Kim: When I was in primary school, a teacher gave us the task of writing a story about our family life. As an avid lover of books, I was really excited about the assignment. I excitedly handed in my story, filled with anticipation about my teacher’s feedback. When she did eventually pull me aside, she asked me a question that threw me for a loop. “Why did you describe your family as being blonde and blue-eyed?” she asked. I remember being incredibly confused. What did she mean, why? Those were the rules of books, weren’t they? After all, despite having made a sizeable dent in the young readers’ section of my local library, I had never once read a book about a Korean girl like me. No matter what you looked like in real life, everyone had to be white in books…didn’t they? The impact of that experience didn’t hit home until a few decades later, when I started to think seriously about writing. It dawned on me that books are so much more powerful than we realise. And not just because of what’s said on the page--but as much for what isn’t said on the page. Representation is crucial for our young people, because there is no greater oppression than being invisible.

Melissa Hope: I was nine when I attended a youth group with my older sister. They were learning about journals and the teacher began reading funny, heartwarming moments from her own. I had never heard someone read from their own diary before, and I was impressed with how she captured moments in her life and told them as if they were a story. I wanted to do that too. Then she read us a page from someone else’s journal, a journal entry from a young woman who was thinking about her place in the world and what she hoped her family would do if she died. This same girl died suddenly within two weeks of writing that journal entry. This shocked nine-year-old me. After that, not only did I want to document my life and keep my memories alive, but I also wanted to leave something behind after I died. Proof that I was here. That I lived. Those two feelings have always stayed with me. From that time on, I have written in journals, and it was in journaling that I penned my author voice and developed my first novel.

Don’t you love how these authors’ origin stories connect to their present-day authorly journeys? Those early experiences with language shape the essence of who we are as writers—an essence that seeps into our stories.

Consider exploring our debuts below if you revel in stories founded in the very magic and power of language. Thanks for reading!

With love,

The Class of 2k21 authors

Pre-order Payal Doshi’s REA AND THE BLOOD OF THE NECTAR here


Pre-order Shakirah Bourne’s JOSEPHINE AGAINST THE SEA (July 6, 2021 | Scholastic) here


Pre-order Graci Kim’s THE LAST FALLEN STAR (May 4, 2021 | Rick Riordan) here

Add THE LAST FALLEN STAR on Goodreads here

Pre-order Melissa Hope’s SEA OF KINGS (April 27, 2021 | Jolly Fish Press) here

Add SEA OF KINGS on Goodreads here

Pre-order Anuradha Rajurkar’s AMERICAN BETIYA (March 9, 2021 | Knopf ) here

Add AMERICAN BETIYA on Goodreads here


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