Ponweera is an author from Sri Lanka. She believes stories are one of the most powerful ways to bridge any gaps between humanity and build empathy, and that sense of responsibility pervades her writing ethic.
Liz Decker of Caprichos Books in Ocean Pines, Maryland, served on the panel that selected Ponweera’s debut for Indies Introduce.
Here, Ponweera and Decker discuss I Am Kavi.
Liz Decker: In researching for these questions I found your blog with a poem about writing a novel in verse and it was an excellent representation of how literature is an art form. What other forms of art do you enjoy creating?
Thushanthi Ponweera: To be honest, Liz, there are so many creative things I’d love to attempt but I haven’t had the time or peace of mind to do so. I’m a perfectionist by nature and have a mental checklist to tick off before I sit down to do anything, and it can get a bit stressful, which makes it counterproductive! I also have young kids, so life tends to get in the way. So writing is about all I have the energy to attempt, although I’d love to try painting and sewing.
LD: In what ways do you see verse in everyday life? Do you find yourself thinking in verse?
TP: Whenever I see extremes in life around me — visiting a clinic for newborns located next to a cemetery, a beggar asking for money while I load the car with a cart-full of groceries — moments I find jarring, I make sense of them by penning a verse (or rather typing away on my phone!). Maybe that’s why I Am Kavi deals with so many extreme experiences.
LD: What other books would you like to see kids reading about Sri Lanka?
TP: I would totally recommend fellow author and friend Nizrana Farook’s Serendib series —The Girl Who Stole an Elephant, The Boy Who Met a Whale, The Girl Who Lost a Leopard — available in the US from Peachtree. They’re middle grade books set in in a fictionalized Sri Lanka, featuring Sri Lankan protagonists from different cultural backgrounds, and they are very exciting!
LD: What is one thing you want kids and young adults around the world to know about Sri Lanka today?
TP: That’s quite a lot of pressure on me, Liz! If I am to connect Sri Lanka to something kids and young adults around the world might care about, it is to say that some of the world’s top brands of clothing are produced in Sri Lanka! So the next time you buy new clothes, check the labels. We so often forget that there are real people working very hard to create the products we consume — people who are way less privileged than those who ultimately buy these products.
Hm, I feel another book coming!
LD: What was your favorite part about writing I Am Kavi? Your least favorite?
TP: I wrote Kavi during the pandemic, and my husband, who is a pilot, wasn’t flying much at all during that time and was mostly home. So every time I wrote a few verses (I would aim for 500 words a day), I would ask him to read them back to me so I could hear how they sounded. And every time he finished reading them, he would say, “Thush, what happens next? I want to know NOW!” That was possibly my favorite part, knowing that what I was writing was interesting.
My least favorite part...I don’t think there was one! I even loved the edits!
I Am Kavi by Thushanthi Ponweera (Holiday House, 9780823453658, Hardcover Middle Grade, $18.99) On Sale: 9/19/2023
Find out more about the author on her website.
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