Rachel Moulden for Digital First Media
Supriya Kelkar has always desired to share her stories with the world. Her efforts have been rewarded, as her latest book, “Ahimsa,” was named to the Amelia Bloomer list for feminist books.
A Metro Detroiter of Indian heritage, she started writing during her middle school years with a strong interest in becoming a Bollywood screenwriter.
She wrote a thesis paper the summer before her senior year of college, applying film theory to several Hindi films. She gave her paper to the director of one of the films she had written about, and he gave her a job as a writing assistant after she graduated from film school. Eventually, she became one of his screenwriters.
She worked on the films “Lage Raho Munnabhai,” “Eklavya: The Royal Guard,” and was an associate producer on the Hollywood feature “Broken Horses.”
Kelkar says there is a stark difference in screenplays and books, and the craft is different, as well.
“There were some things I had been trained to do in all my years of studying screen writing that I had to change when I started writing novels,” Kelkar says. “As a screenwriter, unless it is vital to your story you don’t waste time describing the way a person physically moves through a scene. It took me a while to realize I did need to take that pause to fully describe the world my characters live in and how they interact with their world, since books are not a visual medium like a screenplay.”
As an author of children’s books, Kelkar says it’s really important to her to write stories that inspire kids to realize their potential, know how important their voice is, and to be kind.
“Growing up in the 1980s and 1990s, there weren’t books about Indian-American characters being published in America, I never got to see myself in a children’s book. So, I feel it is really important to make sure everyone’s story is represented so that every kid gets a chance to see themselves in a book and know that their story matters,” Kelkar says.
In “Ahimsa,” Kelkar tells the story of a young girl whose family becomes involved in the Indian freedom movement of the 1940s. She wanted to write this story after learning about her own family history. Her great-grandmother was part of the nonviolent, passive resistance, civil disobedience movement in India in the early 1900s.
Kelkar’s great-grandmother was arrested for her part in the movement for independence from the British, and spent time in jail. After independence, she went on to become a two-term congresswoman in India.
“I was so fascinated with this story of a strong, female character who was not afraid to use her voice that I was inspired to write ‘Ahimsa,’” says Kelkar.
The writing process was incredibly long, Kelkar says.
She wrote the first draft of “Ahimsa” in 2003, but it wasn’t working, so she set it aside. Every year, she go back to it and revise it, throwing out characters, adding story lines, until “I finally got it to a place I was happy with in 2015.”
She had to do extensive research throughout those years, and during the editing process. On top of that, she consulted experts, people who lived through the era, as well as her great-grandmother’s biography, and several books about history.
She hopes readers will learn from reading her book.
“One of the most important things about the nonviolent resistance mentioned in the book is that it is a tool anyone can use to stand up for what they believe in,” Kelkar says. “I hope readers are inspired by Anjali’s journey in ‘Ahimsa,’ and have the courage to always use their voice.”
Kelkar’s advice to aspiring writers is to always be open to change and to continue to learn and better their craft. She is working on both contemporary and historical middle-grade novels, as well as a picture book she describes as exciting.
To learn more about Kelkar’s books, visit supriyakelkar.com.