Interview with Award-Winning Author 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

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