Interview with Sangu Mandanna

“When people ask me what this anthology is about, I’m often tempted to give them the complicated answer: it’s about race, and about how being different from the person you love can matter but how it can also not matter, and it’s about Chinese pirate ghosts, black girl vigilantes, colonial India, a flower festival, a garden of poisons, and so, so much else. Honestly, though? I think the answer’s much simpler than that. Color outside the Lines is a collection of stories about young, fierce, brilliantly hopeful people in love.”
—Sangu Mandanna, editor of Color outside the Lines

Color Outside the Lines debuts today and we’re happy to welcome author and editor Sangu Mandanna.

What have been the most challenging aspects of your writing journey?
True diversity in fiction, and diversity amongst the authors of that fiction, is a relatively new thing. When I first debuted, organisations like We Need Diverse Books didn’t exist and there was always this sense that diverse authors and stories were chosen to tick off a box rather than because the publishers felt they had true value. Since then, so many wonderful authors, agents and editors have done incredible work in forcing the industry to change, but we still have a long way to go before we even approach equality. Fighting for my place in this industry has, consequently, been the most challenging part of my journey.

Why is diversity in young adult fiction important to you?
Every child deserves to see themselves in their favourite stories. People like to say things like “oh, princesses are so over!” or “oh, superheroes have been done!” but until every child has seen themselves in those stories, and every other story, I don’t think any of us should get to say something’s over. Diversity in children’s fiction is about more than just ticking off a box and meeting a quota. It’s about giving authors an equal place at the table and, more importantly, it’s about making every child feel seen and worthy.

Was this your first opportunity to do something like this collection? How did it come about?
I have contributed stories to anthologies before, but this is definitely my first one as an editor and curator! The project came about because I wanted to see more stories in YA about the way race and culture affect our families, friendships and romances. My husband is white and our kids are biracial, so it’s something that’s very close to my heart and I wanted an anthology that portrayed not just the angst and culture clashes, but also the humour and heart. From that point, it was a matter of approaching all the authors I most admired and whose voices I most wanted in this collection and then, of course, we had to sell the anthology. Fortunately, our incredible publisher Soho Teen picked it up!

What are some of the unique challenges to editing an anthology?
The logistics of going back and forth between multiple authors, a publisher and agents can be quite overwhelming sometimes, because with most books it’s just you and your publisher, but it’s also a wonderful way to build and maintain friendships with other authors. Also, I am an author first, so it was something of a challenge to switch my brain from my default “wow this story is amazing!” brain to “okay but how can I help the author make it better?” editor brain!

How did you gather such a great group of authors together?
Luck! Honestly, I am amazed and grateful every day that so many brilliant authors were willing and excited to be a part of this project.

Interracial relationships is a compelling topic. Are there other topics you think we need to see more of in YA?
I’d love to see more portrayals of mental illness, more stories where characters of colour are just out there having fun, fluffy romances and big exciting adventures, and more stories about culture and family like Disney’s Coco.

For fun, what is something people would likely never guess about you?
I don’t like chocolate cake! I know, I know. It’s horrifying.

Contributing authors for this anthology: Adam Silvera, Samira Ahmed, Michelle Ruiz Keil, Danielle Paige, Eric Smith, Sangu Mandanna, Elsie Chapman, Anna-Marie McLemore, Lauren Gibaldi, Kelly Zekas, Tarun Shanker, Lori M. Lee, Caroline Tung Richmond, Karuna Riazi, L.L. McKinney, Tara Sim, Lydia Kang