5 Burning Questions with Mathangi Subramanian

Mathangi Subramanian is one of our featured writers at our February 11th reading. Check out our interview with her below.

What is your first memory of writing for fun?

When I was five, maybe six years old, my mother went back-to-school shopping at Sam’s Club in Madison Wisconsin and got a huge, shrink-wrapped pack of spiral notebooks. She gave me one to “play with” and I started writing stories. Most of my characters back then were White – I didn’t realize you could write stories about people of color, because I hadn’t read any.

How many drafts = done?

Done? What does done mean?

I’ve never counted, but really, even after I turn in copyedits, I think of a million things I could have done differently. I consider something done when the changes I’m making are small, nit-picky things, like word choice and comma placement, rather than adding or deleting scenes. But I’m not sure if I ever really feel done.

What is your favorite book or favorite book-of-the-moment?

Abandon Me by Melissa Febos for memoir, and Perla by Carolina deRobertis for fiction. (These are my books of the moment. I don’t know if I could ever choose a favorite!)

What is it about your discipline that gets you the most excited?

I love writing and reading books that allow characters to be their full, layered selves. Representation is so important to changing what is wrong with our culture, and allowing everyone to live and breathe in all of their identities is essential. I like creating stories that do that, that give us all a little more space to fearlessly be ourselves.

What’s your favorite word or words? What about it/them appeals to you?

My daughter is four so I read a lot of picture books. Lately, I’ve been really into onomatopoeia just because it’s so much fun: nothing livens up a story like a good “kachunk” or “splat.” Thanks to preschool science, I’ve also gotten into cloud names – cumulus, cirrus, status, they’re all so poetic and so perfectly correct for the cloud they describe. My daughter is also really into inventing words – she’ll say something and then asks me if the word exists, and if it doesn’t, I’ll tell her to make up the definition. It’s my new favorite game.

Bonus Question: who inspires you the most, living or dead, real or fictional?

My friends in India who are out in the streets right now protesting the Citizenship Amendment Act in India. It’s a terrible, Islamophobic, casteist law, and some of my dearest ones are writing and marching and risking their lives and safety to protest. I admire them, and I wish I was there with them.


Mathangi Subramanian is an award winning Indian American writer based in San Jose. Her novel A People’s History of Heaven was longlisted for the Center for Fiction First Novel Award and named a Skipping Stones Honor Book. Her middle grades book Dear Mrs. Naidu won the South Asia Book Award and was shortlisted for the Hindu-Goodbooks prize. Her essays and op-eds have appeared in The Washington Post, Al Jazeera America, Ms. Magazine, and Zora Magazine, among others. A former Fulbright Scholar, public school teacher, and senior policy analyst at the New York City Council, she holds a doctorate in communication and education from Columbia University Teachers College. 

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