Interview: Mitali Perkins

We’re excited that Mitali Perkins was willing to answer a few questions for us. She’s likely to be busier than ever as her most recent book, You Bring the Distant Near recently made the longlist of the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature. Congratulations Mitali and thanks so much for sharing with us.

You Bring the Distant Near
Farrar, Straus and Giroux Books for Young Readers / Macmillan Publishers

Summary: This elegant young adult novel captures the immigrant experience for one Indian-American family with humor and heart. Told in alternating teen voices across three generations, You Bring the Distant Near explores sisterhood, first loves, friendship, and the inheritance of culture–for better or worse.

From a grandmother worried that her children are losing their Indian identity to a daughter wrapped up in a forbidden biracial love affair to a granddaughter social-activist fighting to preserve Bengali tigers, award-winning author Mitali Perkins weaves together the threads of a family growing into an American identity.

Here is a sweeping story of five women at once intimately relatable and yet entirely new.


You Bring the Distant Near shows three generations of a family. Did this multi-generational aspect create challenges as you wrote?

The challenge came in balancing the four younger voices, as one of the story’s main threads is the slow, healing change in the relationship between Ranee and the U.S.A. The blessing of writing fiction, however, is that you get to express multiple personalities, so all four girls are different versions of me, more or less.

What led you to write this story of family and identity?

This novel is my love letter to the country where my parents brought me when I was seven years old. It’s my celebration of being hyphenated, caught in that narrow place between cultures — something I’ve been exploring throughout my writing life. My personal need to be grateful for my U.S. citizenship and the “healing of my hyphen” (sounds weird, I know, sorry) converged with what I see as a national need for gratitude and healing.

There are five perspectives in this story. Did one of the characters resonate with you more than the others?

I am most like Sonia — a bookish introvert who loves to write and read and has wanted to champion the marginalized since I can remember.

You likely had your own struggles with identity as an immigrant teen. What or who helped you navigate that?

Reading was my lifeline. I started reading early and became an addict of story. To imagine other lives as a child is akin to learning a language early: you become fluent in learning to walk inside someone else’s skin. I’m so grateful for the libraries that fed my addiction when I couldn’t afford to buy books.

Have you always been a storyteller?

I’ve always been a story-lover. My father was a fantastic storyteller. He loved to make us laugh by playing with language. I’m still growing into that identity myself.

On your blog, I saw you have created a playlist for this novel. Are these songs you listened to while writing to step back in time or are they related to the story in some other way?

Most of the songs I compiled in the playlist are mentioned in the novel. The first one, “To Sir With Love,” is especially poignant to me and and my sisters as it would be to Sonia and Tara in the novel as I see it as a tribute to our wonderful Daddy, who is very much like the fictional father in YOU BRING THE DISTANT NEAR.

Mitali Perkins with her mother and sisters in front of the library after arriving in the 1970s. (photo provided by author)

Where to learn more about Mitali Perkins online: Author website, Blog, Twitter and Facebook.

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