Interview with Award-Winning Author Rukhsanna Guidroz

Rukhsanna Guidroz
Rukhsanna Guidroz
Rukhsan­na Guidroz

Award-win­ning author and Maui res­i­dent Rukhsan­na Guidroz has always lived life on her own terms. Born in Eng­land and edu­cat­ed at the Sor­bonne in Paris, Rukhsan­na has been a world trav­el­er, jour­nal­ist, radio pro­duc­er, and now, teacher. Her books fea­ture plucky female char­ac­ters in sto­ries that charm and delight young readers…and their adults, too.

Hi, Ruk­shan­na! For those who haven’t met you, could you please tell us a lit­tle about yourself? 

I am an edu­ca­tor and writer. I moved to Maui from Hong Kong in 1996.

Where did you grow up? 

I grew up in Man­ches­ter, Eng­land, and grad­u­at­ed from a small pri­vate school out­side the city. Man­ches­ter has cold, wet, grey win­ters. I remem­ber the sun­ny days being such a wel­come sur­prise. I went to Seat­tle in March last year, and the crisp, cool weath­er was famil­iar to me. Even though I’ve lived in a warm cli­mate for 30 years, my body still remem­bers cold tem­per­a­tures. I don’t think I could live any­where else but Hawaiʻi now that I’ve been spoiled.

Who is your biggest supporter? 

My hus­band is one of my biggest sup­port­ers. Writ­ing and forg­ing a path as an author can be a long, lone­ly endeav­or. There have been many times when I’ve con­sid­ered giv­ing up and mov­ing on. My hus­band has always believed in me and encour­aged me through uncer­tain times. 

Why did you become a writer? What inspired you to write for children? 

I have always enjoyed writ­ing. In mid­dle school, I wrote a poem that end­ed up being pub­lished in the school mag­a­zine. I nev­er con­sid­ered pur­su­ing writ­ing as a career, but there was some­thing in me that felt the need to write that poem. It was a chan­nel through which I could freely express myself. There came the point in my life when I felt I need­ed more than just writ­ing sto­ries for myself. I start­ed see­ing the sto­ries in book form. When writ­ing was­n’t enough, I knew I was ready to begin sub­mit­ting my work to agents and editors.

As a teacher and tutor, I have always enjoyed being with kids. Spend­ing time with them allows me to see the world through their eyes. When you put your­self in some­one else’s shoes and per­ceive the world around you, it’s incred­i­ble what you see. 

What do you enjoy most about writ­ing for kids? What are some of your great­est chal­lenges in writ­ing for children? 

Mina-and-the-MonsoonWrit­ing for kids allows me to be a child again. Our youth­ful years are often spent work­ing out our place in this com­pli­cat­ed world. Feel­ings can be mixed up and con­fus­ing. We are try­ing to under­stand who we are and where we belong. That vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty is a uni­ver­sal theme. It’s what we all share as human beings, no mat­ter where we live or what sit­u­a­tion we were born into. For me, it’s a rich ground for explo­ration and story.

My most sig­nif­i­cant chal­lenges are stay­ing in their youth­ful space and not return­ing to adult life before I fin­ish my work. Remain­ing in char­ac­ter as I write can be tricky. I have to con­stant­ly remind myself who I am and what dri­ves me as a char­ac­ter in the sto­ry. I have found tricks to help me, though. Tak­ing breaks for tea, a stretch, or a walk helps me. Chang­ing the font in my doc­u­ment can feel like I’m read­ing a peer’s work, not my own. That dis­tance allows my con­struc­tive voice to come through and spot areas that need adjusting. 

What are your hopes and dreams for the year and beyond in terms of your writ­ing career and what you would like to see pub­lished in the future? 

I would like to think I could be a pro­lif­ic writer and write book after book. That’s not me. I wish it were, though. I want to write a chil­dren’s fan­ta­sy nov­el at some point. The idea fright­ens me because it’s a genre I’ve nev­er writ­ten in, and maybe the chal­lenge is what attracts me. Start­ing my next project is always refresh­ing, excit­ing, and intim­i­dat­ing at the same time. 

I would love to see more books out there by mar­gin­al­ized voic­es. Those lit­tle unknown sto­ries are pre­cious gems and much need­ed in our world. I think it’s essen­tial for our chil­dren to see them­selves in books so they can feel val­ued and val­i­dat­ed. Lit­er­a­ture has the pow­er to do that.

There are not a lot of sto­ries for kids by writ­ers from your com­mu­ni­ty. Why do you think that is? What do you think we can do the change that? 

I have nev­er met any­one who is Indi­an-Chi­nese. It took me many years to real­ize that being seen as unique or unusu­al is not neg­a­tive. As a per­son of mixed her­itage in Eng­land, I always felt like an out­sider. But now that I appre­ci­ate my iden­ti­ty, I see the pos­si­bil­i­ty of many stories.

Leila-in-SaffronIt takes courage to write, and then, of course, you have to find a way to pub­li­ca­tion, whether it’s tra­di­tion­al­ly or self-pub­lish­ing. On your way to pub­li­ca­tion, you have to find peo­ple who believe whole­heart­ed­ly in you and your work. The pub­lish­ing indus­try has been dom­i­nat­ed and still is by white peo­ple. When brown and black peo­ple fill some of its key posi­tions, per­haps there will be more books that reflect the true diver­si­ty of this world.

Can you share a bit of your cur­rent work? 

I am cur­rent­ly work­ing on a pic­ture book biog­ra­phy about a chef. Food was such an impor­tant part of my child­hood. It brought the fam­i­ly togeth­er, whether we were hav­ing a good or bad day. It was an equal­iz­er and neu­tral­iz­er. My moth­er embraced my father’s Indian/Pakistan roots, and our meals were most­ly com­prised of ingre­di­ents and dish­es from his cul­ture. My sis­ter and I had a favorite dish we loved to cook. Grow­ing up, we ate a lot of Chi­nese food, and dim sum was a favorite Sun­day. Writ­ing a book about cook­ing came nat­u­ral­ly to me.

Which of your books did you have the most fun writ­ing? Which were the most challenging? 

Writ­ing each of my books was a dif­fer­ent expe­ri­ence. When I wrote Mina vs. The Mon­soon (Yali Books) I had fun craft­ing a sto­ry about a qui­et­ly per­sis­tent girl who is pas­sion­ate about soc­cer. Imag­ing the scenes of this sto­ry were espe­cial­ly fun because I had many col­ors and their tones in mind, and the illus­tra­tor who cre­at­ed the art­work per­fect­ly cap­tured the feel I wanted.

Samira-SurfsMy nov­el in verse, Sami­ra Surfs (Pen­guin Ran­dom House) is about a Rohingya refugee who finds peace and empow­er­ment in an all-girls surf com­mu­ni­ty. It was prob­a­bly the most chal­leng­ing writ­ing because I had nev­er writ­ten a nov­el-length sto­ry. It is also a his­tor­i­cal sto­ry, and I spent near­ly two years research­ing the polit­i­cal and social aspects of the con­tex­tu­al set­ting. It stretched me as a writer, but I learned much along the way.

What beliefs are your books challenging? 

My books chal­lenge the idea of lim­i­ta­tions on girls. I did­n’t set out to write about this theme, and I did­n’t real­ize it was so impor­tant to me until I start­ed writ­ing. I believe it’s vital that any human being who wants to express their voice should have the avenues to do that. Girls and women are often over­looked in work, sports, and edu­ca­tion­al arenas.

In my sec­ond pic­ture book, Leila in Saf­fron (Simon & Schus­ter) young Leila comes to appre­ci­ate who she is through self-dis­cov­ery. It’s a sto­ry of female empow­er­ment, although it can apply to boys or any­one unsure of their iden­ti­ty. I think my biggest com­pli­ment would be if even one girl is inspired to speak up after read­ing one of my books.

What’s your expe­ri­ence with get­ting your books published? 

Writ­ing books can be an exer­cise in open­ing your heart and sur­ren­der­ing. Once a pub­lish­ing con­tract is made, the author has to let go of com­plete con­trol of the book. A whole team of peo­ple comes on board, and the project then becomes a col­lab­o­ra­tion with an agent, edi­tor, illus­tra­tor, art direc­tor, etc. I have had pos­i­tive expe­ri­ences with my work and can only speak to the val­ue of work­ing with pro­fes­sion­als who know how to shep­herd a book from idea to bookshelf.

Do you have a web­site? Are you on social media? Do social media play a role for you as an author? Do your read­ers con­tact you? What do they say? 

I have a web­site and social media accounts, so my read­ers can find and engage in my work fur­ther. I was reluc­tant to go so “pub­lic” at first, but I see the ben­e­fits of being vis­i­ble world­wide. I have received some enthu­si­as­tic emails, tweets, and posts, which always bright­en my day.

What advice can you give an aspir­ing writer? 

Nev­er give up. Work on your craft and find oth­er writ­ers. Build a com­mu­ni­ty, join one, and get involved in a cri­tique group. Writ­ing is a soli­tary activ­i­ty and can lead to long lone­ly peri­ods indoors. Often in my break with friends or out in nature, I’ll find inspi­ra­tion, a way through a block, and a word or phrase that was elud­ing me. Do any­thing you can to savor and refine your creativity. 

Thank you, Rukhsan­na, for a shar­ing your work and your man­aʻo with us! 

You can learn more about Rukhsan­na Guidroz by vis­it­ing her web­site and fol­low­ing her on Insta­gram and Face­book

Interview with Polynesian Illustrator Shar Tuiʻasoa


Tal­ent­ed Poly­ne­sian artist, illus­tra­tor and design­er, Shar Tuiʻa­soa is the cre­ative force behind the huge­ly pop­u­lar Punky Alo­ha Stu­dio. Fol­low­ing grad­u­a­tion from Kailua High School (Go Surfrid­ers!), Shar pur­sued a degree in fine art in Cal­i­for­nia Shar-Tuiasoabefore return­ing home to Hawaiʻi.  Best known for her beau­ti­ful images of Poly­ne­sian women, Shar’s graph­ic illus­tra­tions are bold, col­or­ful and always exciting. 

Alo­ha, Shar! For those who haven’t met you, where did you grow up? 

I grew up in Kailua on O’ahu, and it is where I live today with my ‘ohana.

Who is your biggest supporter?

My part­ner, my hus­band, my side­kick, Keali’i. He has stood by me through this crazy roller coster. From day 1.  He helped me get through col­lege, he helped find my way back to me. When I first start­ed Punky Alo­ha, he helped me pay for my busi­ness license and for my first busi­ness cards and prints. I guess you could say he was an ear­ly investor.  He helped my run my shop in the very begin­ning, and still helps me install murals to this day.

Why did you become a artist? What do you enjoy most about cre­at­ing art?

Surf QueenI have always want­ed to be an artist. I don’t know that I ever thought about being any­thing else. And that’s not to say that I was always good at draw­ing, because I def­i­nite­ly was­n’t. Haha! That took a lot of years of hard work.  But I grew up watch­ing my mom draw. She is a won­der­ful illus­tra­tor and painter, and she raised us up sur­round­ed by art.

I think what I love about mak­ing art the most is just being able to cre­ate the world that lives in your head. It’s almost like hav­ing a bit of con­trol over some­thing in your life. Even if it only exists on paper, being able to share your visions with peo­ple can be empow­er­ing and healing.

You also wrote and illus­trat­ed a pic­ture book. What inspired you to write your first book?

Punky AlohaAs an illus­tra­tor, I think many of us have mak­ing a chil­dren’s book on our buck­et list. I know I did. So when I was pre­sent­ed the oppor­tu­ni­ty, I went with what I knew best: me. I based my book on my child­hood and what some of my expe­ri­ences were like.

What are some of your great­est chal­lenges in writing?

I don’t con­sid­er myself to be as strong a writer as I am an illus­tra­tor, so I came across a lot of chal­lenges, espe­cial­ly writ­ing for chil­dren. I want­ed to go on this epic adven­ture with my pro­tag­o­nist, but you only have 32 pages and 800 words to do so, and you also have got make sure you remem­ber who your audi­ence is — 3–7 year olds! So it presents all sort of chal­lenges but also oppor­tu­ni­ties in find­ing new ways to tell a story.

What are your hopes and dreams for the year and beyond in terms of both your art and writ­ing career and what you would like to see pub­lished in the future?

My old­er broth­er is a very tal­ent­ed writer. He went to film school and has this real­ly great comedic way of sto­ry­telling. We have been talk­ing about work­ing on either a graph­ic nov­el togeth­er or maybe a children’s book. Some­thing. So that’s in my mind a lot right now. Ive also got a cou­ple ideas brew­ing, so we shall see what the future holds. An ulti­mate dream of mine would be to have an ani­mat­ed series based on my books with a full pasif­ka and local to Hawai’i cast! Pasi­fi­ka showrun­ner, edi­tors, ani­ma­tors, voic­es, etc!

That would be amaz­ing! There are not a lot of books for kids by Native Hawai­ian and Pacif­ic Islander writ­ers. Why do you think that is? What do you think we can do the change that?

There aren’t, sad­ly 🙁 In fact, Punky Alo­ha was the first children’s book pub­lished by a big main stream pub­lish­er that was writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by (and starred) a Pacif­ic Ulu MamaIslander. I didn’t real­ize that until it came out. And I think the lack of rep­re­sen­ta­tion is some­thing that is final­ly being addressed more and more.  On one end the media very rarely gives us a plat­form, so if we aren’t see­ing our­selves rep­re­sent­ed, why would we even think we belong in cer­tain spaces? So I think its a part­ner­ship in a way. We as PI and NH (Pacif­ic Islander and Native Hawai­ian) should feel inspired to take up cre­ative space, and we should do what we can to learn those skills so that we can share our sto­ries with our voic­es. Also, these cre­ative plat­forms should keep look­ing out for all the tal­ent we have to offer because there is A LOT! I always say: Greet oppor­tu­ni­ty with prepa­ra­tion. So when there is an oppor­tu­ni­ty for you to share your cre­ativ­i­ty, be sure you are pre­pared with a strong voice and a strong skillset! We got this!

We do! Do you have a web­site? Do you blog? When did you get start­ed on social media? What do your read­ers say?

I do 🙂 is where you can find my port­fo­lio of work, info and shop. I start­ed my social media pres­ence around 2018.

Lanikai DiverWhat advice can you give an aspir­ing author/illustrator?

My advice is to keep going! Keep work­ing at what you are doing and most impor­tant­ly, cre­ate work that you love. If that is what you are putting out into the world, that is what you will be hired to do.

What beliefs is your work challenging?

I like to chal­lenge what our PI stereo­types. I have always tried to illus­trate our peo­ple as I know them to be. They are my fam­i­ly, my friends, my peers. There have been so many ver­sions of how we are illus­trat­ed that its hard to sep­a­rate fact from fic­tion. So it’s a del­i­cate bal­ance.  I also like to chal­lenge peo­ples per­spec­tive on what we in Hawai’i are capa­ble of doing. It’s easy to dis­miss us because we are from a small clus­ter of islands in the ocean, but we have as much to offer as any­one and we can do any­thing in the world. There is so much tal­ent here.

Where do you get your inspirations?

Punky PuaFrom home. From Hawai’i. From Moana (the ocean, not the Dis­ney char­ac­ter. Even though I love her haha!)

Do you have any plans for anoth­er book?

I do! I have two set to release in 2024. One will be anoth­er Punky Alo­ha book, and the sec­ond is a book I have illus­trat­ed for Illi­ma Todd. She has writ­ten a beau­ti­ful book about Mau­na Kea, and I am so excit­ed to work on it.

We canʻt wait! Can you share a bit about what youʻre work­ing on next?

Right now I am just jug­gling a bunch of projects. I have a few murals com­ing up, and some free­lance projects, try­ing to bal­ance it all with also hav­ing a fam­i­ly to nur­ture and spend time with 🙂

This has been awe­some! Maha­lo nui, Shar, for shar­ing your art and your man­aʻo! You can learn more about Shar Tuiʻa­soa by vis­it­ing her web­site, Punky Alo­ha, and fol­low­ing her on Insta­gram