Sandhya Menon on Diversity in Literature

Whether it be a simple essay or a full-length novel, writing can be a challenge. Finding the right words to represent your ideas may seem daunting and complex. And the idea you may have for your writing, however brilliant it may seem in your head, must accurately represent the culture or experience of which you are speaking.

Although there has been a recent positive trend of authors portraying firsthand experiences in the subjects they write upon, this has not always been the case. According to statistics released by The Cooperative Children’s Book Centre, Blacks, Latinos, and Native Americans wrote less than 10 percent of all published novels in the 21st century’s first decade. In the year 2016, this number increased to 28 percent, the highest year on record. With this increase of representation, readers can relate to the main character no matter their hometown, religion, or heritage.

New York Times Bestselling Author, Sandhya Menon, has experienced firsthand the Indian-American culture’s traditions and ceremonies, a key aspect of the plot of her book “When Dimple Met Rishi.” In this romance novel, two Indian-Americans, Rishi Patel and Dimple Shah, are secretly set up by their families, but eventually, develop their own romantic relationship while attending the same computer summer program at Stanford. When I asked what was Sandhya’s inspiration for publishing the novel, she said it was “the lack of good, representative YA romance and romantic comedies. I wanted a fun, sweet book that wasn’t about the struggle of being a POC in America.”

When I asked if she philosophically aligned with her characters’ culture and felt that the book educated newcomers about Indian culture, Menon said “I definitely share Dimple’s views about feminism and ambition, and Rishi’s views about art and the good things Indian culture can bring. For instance, I am extremely family oriented, and that pulls heavily from the collectivistic culture in India. As for educating newcomers about Indian culture, I feel like the book is a doorway into Indian culture. It doesn’t provide you [with] every last detail about cultural nuances and customs — it can’t, as a fiction book, without bogging down the plot — but it does provide enough context so someone without any ties to Indian culture won’t be lost. First and foremost, it’s a love story and a coming of age story.

Unlike her main character, Menon has never been involved in computer coding. She said “I’ve been involved in psychological research, but never computer coding or one of the earth sciences. Certainly, even in psychological research, women are seen as emotional and not as competent as men, even when research shows otherwise (ironically enough). We have so much work to do in every STEM field out there.

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