Interview with Shobha Tharoor Srinivasan

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About the Author: “Shobha Tharoor Srinivasan is a California-based children’s author, professional voice talent, poet, and translator who came to this second career from the world of non-profit, where she spent two decades using her words to bring funds to disability initiatives.  Her voice can be heard in documentaries, educational and journalistic initiatives, and audio books, both in India and the United States, and her essays and stories have appeared in publications including India Currents, Skipping Stones, and Scroll.in. She has published five children’s books in India with DC/Mango Books and Tulika, and her work was anthologized in A Hug for the World (Clear Fork Publishing). All proceeds from that volume were for victims of Hurricane Harvey.  Indi-Alphabet was published in 2018 by Mango & Marigold Press (formerly Bharat Babies) and was recognized with a Purple Dragonfly Award for Diverse Literature. How Many Lines in a Limerick? (Clear Fork) will be available on September 15, 2020. A children’s book on the artist Raja Ravi Varma is forthcoming from Westland Publishing. You can learn more about her at www.shobhatharoorsrinivasan.com.” (Bio and headshot provided by the author.)   

Website: www.shobhatharoorsrinivasan.com

Twitter: @ShobhaTharoor

Instagram: @shobha.ts

A huge thank you to Shobha Tharoor Srinivasan for her below interview with Pine Reads own Julian Esquer and Hannah Miller. Don’t forget to check out her latest release from Clear Fork Publishing, How Many Lines in a Limerick?, today! 

To read our review of How Many Lines in a Limerick?, here


Hannah Miller: To kick things off, would you mind speaking about how you came to be a published author? What was your journey like? 

Shobha Tharoor Srinivasan: Reading and writing have always had appeal and I availed of opportunities to write when they came to me. My first “children’s story” was published when I was a teenager. It was in the weekend children’s supplement of a major newspaper in India. I had a byline in a column on “careers” in our bi-weekly college newspaper as an undergraduate in Elmira College, NY, so, that was the start of my journey as a published author. I would conduct “information interviews” with people in various fields of work and share their career advice with students. It was good fun and I learned a lot. I’ve also had short, reflective essays published in India and in the USA. 

The first book I published in the United States was an e-Book with Solstice Publishing called “Around the World you Travel,” in 2010. I had just made a career transition from non-profit Development work to Voice-Over work and writing. In the years since, I have published 6 books in India and the United States, with How Many Lines in a Limerick as the 7th. 

HM: In addition to writing children’s books, you also have professional pursuits in many other fields—as a model, voice-over talent, and poet (just to name a few). How has your multi-faceted career influenced your writing? What is it like to be a storyteller in different mediums? 

STS: There are parallels in each field. With the children’s audio books that I narrate as a Voice Over talent I use the modulation, inflection and expression of my voice to draw children to the stories I read aloud. As a writer, I use compelling and creative words to engage readers. Print modelling, which I’ve done for a number of advertising campaigns, is also a way of using yourself to tell the story of a product. Grant writing uses the power of words to draw funders to programs and projects that they wish to support. It is important, however, to separate performative work from honest exposition. In all the mediums that I’ve mentioned, sincerity in the telling of the story is crucial for it to be received well by readers.

HM: Your newest book, How Many Lines in a Limerick? explores numerous poetic forms in a fun, engaging way. From haikus to villanelles and, of course, limericks, which poetic form is your personal favorite? 

STS: I’m drawn to them all for different reasons. Haikus are wonderful because they use few words to capture a moment or a feeling. But I enjoy the challenge of writing a poem like the sonnet or nonet that has a specific structure and meter. In “When Mummy was Away”, which is the example poem to illustrate the form of the sonnet, I was able to show children that a fun rhyme could be written in simple, iambic pentameter as well.

HM: As the author of multiple picture books told in verse, what inspires your love of poetry and desire to share this medium of storytelling with children?

STS: Many years back I volunteered in a weekend enrichment program for elementary school children where I designed and taught a class called “Fun with Poetry.” I was surprised how daunted some young people were by the idea of poetry, and by what they saw as an inflexible form with rules for rhyme schemes and meter.  But by the end of the day, they had all written poems and had such fun with their own compositions. The idea of a “poetry reader” that unpacks poetry in an accessible way had been percolating in my mind since that day. 

Julian Esquer: While reading through How Many Lines in a Limerick? I couldn’t help but think of my own personal life, especially while reading “My Friend. Did you have anyone in mind while writing these poems and if so, do you mind sharing one? 

STS: Thank you for sharing that “My Friend” made you reflect on your own friendships! I want readers to find themselves in the words that they read on the page. We return to books we love because they resonate with us. I draw on memories of my childhood, my trials and triumphs as a parent, and the creative thinking that emerges from interactions with my grandchildren, who are 2 and 7, to come up with ideas for my own work.

JE: Most books that teach poetry simply explain what each type is and what it is supposed to look like. You take it a step further, describing each poetic form through a poem written in the same style. What gave you the idea to do this? 

STS: I thought by writing the poem in the form intended I could share the structure of the form both visually and viscerally. I wrote the poem “Sonnet” first as it was easy to show an octave and a sestet that advances an idea, and write it in a ten-syllable metered line of short and long syllables. Iambic pentameter is quite musical to the ear and you may have noticed that many of the poems we read aloud to children use this rhyme scheme.  I’ve mixed more complicated structures like that of the Villanelle with the simpler Acrostic and the short couplet to share a variety of forms with the reader. In the example poems, which tend to be more light-hearted, readers can see the forms reflected in the pages in fun and hopefully even surprising ways. 

JE: One of my favorites within How Many Lines in a Limerick? is “Living Situations. The inclusion of Gita and her two dads, Jose and his Abuela, and more, highlights a diversity in children’s home lives. What inspired you to write this poem?  

STS: Thank you! Children learn from their friends, on the playgrounds, and from the books they read. I feel strongly about the value of diverse literature, by which I mean literature that reflects and represents the fullness of our collective lives and experiences. We are living in troubling times where our identities are threatened and our family structures questioned. We are all part of a global community and our writing must reflect that diversity. I am committed to writing books that are inclusive. 

JE & HM: What advice do you have for aspiring writers and artists? 

STS: This may sound like I’m stating the obvious, but Read, Read and Read some more of the type of books you want to write; and also tune in to conversations with other writers and artists. There are many wonderful communities that support emerging writers and artists like the Institute of Children’s Literature, ICL, and the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) which provides regional support, advises on opportunities and grants, and hosts webinars and conferences in the children’s literature space. For Voice Overs its important to familiarize oneself with the vast field of opportunity, avail of the right coaching, practice, practice, practice and then create a demo that you can use to find work. I offer VO coaching to students who want to learn more about the field. 

JE & HM: Finally, what’s next for you? Do you have any future picture books in the works?  

STS: I have a couple of new books already in the pipeline. An early reader, The Story of Raja Ravi Varma, [the prince from Travancore who was also an eminent artist] will be published next year by Red Panda, the children’s imprint of Westland Books. I have also signed a contract for another picture book with Clearfork Publishing, this time composed entirely in haikus, about the wonders that a child glimpses and enjoys each day. Two more manuscripts are complete but still awaiting the right publisher/home. There’s Sandalwood’s Story, a picture book that uses an environmental framework and the informative description of particular trees to talk about subjects like self-confidence and self-esteem, and a rhyming picture book, Parvati the Elephant’s Very Important Day about a temple elephant in Kerala, India.

Pine Reads Co-Assistant Directors, Julian Esquer and Hannah Miller 

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