Local author releases a middle grade novel that amplifies diverse voices.
Transforming the literature landscape for young readers, Edina resident and debut author Payal Doshi released her first middle grade novel Rea and the Blood of the Nectar this past June. Though reading has always been a part of Doshi’s life, it wasn’t until college when it occurred to her that her love for reading could be translated into a career. Breaking into the writing world, Doshi started her journey working as a features editor for a lifestyle magazine. Tired of creating the same type of content daily, she began to wonder if there were other ways for her to write about what truly intrigued her. Upon opening her laptop one Saturday morning, Doshi found herself writing a short story about an 8-year-old girl who ran into the forbidden woods to discover a magical and mysterious tree that left her feeling not only frightened, but curious. Discovering the joy that creating this enchanting tale brought her, Doshi instantly knew that this was the start of her new future. “It was like an epiphany. I felt so happy that I had just created this out of nothing,” she says. “It was so natural.”
Using this two-paragraph draft as her outline, Doshi says the premise of the tale is very true to what the book is today. What differed, however, was the diversity of her characters and the societal structure they were placed in. Building out her story, she says she subconsciously developed Caucasian characters and customs because that is what she was used to reading. Wanting to break barriers and ultimately dismantle stereotypes of individuals with diverse backgrounds, she began to edit her story to seamlessly include food, clothing and customs from her Indian culture and heritage. “All kids are amazing, and all kids are awesome. All kids should see themselves like that,” she says.
With the desire to increase the presence of Indian protagonists in children’s fiction, Doshi sent her finished manuscript to Mango and Marigold Press in Massachusetts, a publishing house founded by Sailaja Joshi to provide a source for her daughter to see characters like herself on the cover of a book. “At the time, there were five times as many books about trucks and dogs than there were about children of color,” she says. With a mission of sharing South Asian experiences, Joshi believes in the power of providing a space for children to see themselves in new manners. “It gives them the opportunity to explore different communities, cultures and experiences in a safe and wonderful way,” she says.
Prior to receiving Doshi’s manuscript, Mango and Marigold was at a standstill and ready to close up shop. Upon reading Rea and the Blood of the Nectar, Joshi says she knew this was what she needed to get back on her feet and continue her mission of amplifying new voices. “In a time when I was going to quit, Rea found me,” she says.
Now working on the second book in the trilogy series, both Doshi and Joshi are excited to see where Rea will take them. “If the books do well, that just means that there are that many more kids who are picking up books with diverse characters and not caring that they are different them,” Doshi says. “That is really why I write these books, to give kids a source of entertainment and give them a place to escape to a magical fantastical land.”