Interview with Sheetal Sheth on Bravo Anjali!
By Rashmi Bismark
Rashmi: Hi Sheetal - We are so excited for the continuation of your Anjali series with Mango and Marigold Press! This is the first picture book series featuring a South Asian American main character. How thrilling! So in Always Anjali, we saw Anjali navigate issues of bullying as she reclaimed meaning and pride in her name. What can we expect from her in your latest book, Bravo Anjali!, which was released on September 21, 2021?
Sheetal: In this installment, we see how Anjali deals with being the only girl in the room. She has to decide if she's going to take her space and own her excellence.
Rashmi: Wonderful, and we see Anjali really come into her own in Bravo Anjali! as she faces some challenges with her peers around sharing her talents unapologetically. While she plays her musical instrument with more confidence and finesse, it seems like the kids in her class resent her. She wonders how to balance her friendships with her burgeoning creative strengths. This is such an intriguing conflict to explore. Plus you have added some gender dynamics into it as well. What led you to highlight these issues?
Sheetal: I wrote Bravo Anjali! during the height of the #MeToo movement. The Hillary/Trump election really took things to a whole new level and I was disturbed at the level of misogyny and sexist vitriol I was seeing 24/7. I decided I wanted to tackle this, but in kidtalk. How can I bring this conversation to our kids? It’s abundantly clear we need to be having these conversations with our children. Young. It’s the only way we will move the needle forward. So in this book, Anjali is the only girl in her class (which is quite common) and she’s the best. The boys don't like it. And so the story begins...
Rashmi: Can’t wait to see what unfolds! Bravo Anjali! showcases Anjali's relationship with classical Indian music, particularly with a beloved percussion instrument - the tabla. Were there any experiences in your own life that inspired this exploration? Why the tabla?
Sheetal: I LOVE the tabla and so wish I could play it! But really, any excuse to bring music into the conversation and celebrate the tabla! Even though I don't play the tabla, it really bloomed from the idea that I wanted a way to talk about the themes of misogyny and friendship and delve into the everyday microaggressions that can happen. The tabla is a traditionally male dominated instrument so it was the perfect entry point.
Rashmi: In addition to writing, you are a very talented actor, producer, and advocate. How has your work in film and activism with organizations like Equality Now and others enriched your writing?
Sheetal: It's impossible to separate. I am a storyteller and all of my life's experiences and values are poured directly into my writing. I am always going to want to center the traditionally marginalized. I will always want to share and champion the stories that come directly from all my other work as I know it's imperative. And I will also push the narratives. I think there is nothing we can't talk about with our children. I know they want 'in' on these conversations. They crave them and need them. So I am always looking for ways to layer in something more while also keeping the books accessible and entertaining.
Rashmi: I love that. So what message do you hope readers come away with after reading Bravo Anjali!?
Sheetal: To 'never dim your light!!' But also, I wanted to give our boys and girls language and space to talk about these big feelings they may have.
Rashmi: I just have to ask... Is there another Anjali book in the works? What can we expect from Anjali as the series continues?
Sheetal: YES! I have already written the third book and it is slated to be out next fall. You will see Anjali's world continue to expand in many ways!
Rashmi: I’m sure there are lots of Anjali fans out there (including me) who are happy to hear that! Anything else you'd like to add?
Sheetal: Thank you for this community. I love this tribe and appreciate you all so much.
Rashmi: Thank you, Sheetal, for joining us, and thanks for all the work you do.
Bravo Anjali! by Sheetal Sheth, illustrated by Lucia Soto, and published by Mango and Marigold Press is available now. Always Anjali (illustrated by Jessica Blank) is Sheetal’s multi-award winning debut and the first book in the Anjali Series.
More about Sheetal Sheth: Despite being told she’d have to change her name to work, Sheetal persevered to become an award winning actress and producer, known for her provocative performances in a wide range of memorable roles on film and television. Sheetal puts a spotlight on under-represented groups, not only through her trailblazing work as an actor, but also by being an outspoken advocate. Sheetal served in President Clinton’s AmeriCorps, is on the advisory board of Equality Now, and is an ambassador for The Representation Project. She believes if you can dream it, you can be it - even if you don’t see it. Sheetal, her husband, and their two kids live in New York and Los Angeles.