When Roshani Chokshi was growing up as a Filipino-Indian American girl in the South, she noticed something: none of the main characters in the books and TV shows she loved looked like her or had names like her or her siblings. There were “Alice”s, Kathy’s, and “Nancy”s, but to her knowledge no “Roshani’s”, a Hindi name which, in her case, appropriately means brightness or light.
Even those like her who were in popular media were pushed to the side, never the star or the main character that anyone and everyone admired. Neither did she see strong female characters that she could relate to. Not perfect princesses or extraordinary super heroines, but normal girls and women whose greatest superpower is sheer will. And “when that happens, there is a very deep desire to make yourself visible.”
Roshani, 31, is an award-winning Atlanta-based author who is hailed for the unique and honest representation she imbibes in her books, challenging both cultural stereotypes and what it means to be “feminine”. She’s surrounded by strong women of South Asian and Asia Pacific heritage, along with her Georgia friends. All the women she’s known in her immediate family were impactful, determined, and powerful in their own ways, and Roshani would infuse this, according to her, “spectrum of strength” into her ordinarily extraordinary characters.
According to Roshani, who grew up in a mixed-race home, “the cultural bridge for us was folktales; it was mythology, ghost stories, fables, and fairytales.” One particularly influential storyteller was her ba, or grandmother, on whose stories she later based her bestselling Aru Shah series for middle-graders.
Another one of Roshani’s childhood passions that remains to this day is Sailor Moon, a popular Japanese manga (a type of animated show) featuring schoolgirls that discovered that they possessed innate, universe-saving powers. She continued to explore these themes in her own writing. The novel idea of seeing strong, independent girls and women resonated with her, especially since she had many female role models in her own life.
Roshani initially went to law school, though she recognized being a lawyer wasn’t exactly where her passions lay. Although she was doing well at University of Georgia School of Law, Roshani felt unfulfilled. She felt unsuccessful and left behind. At that moment, when she felt she was “invisible to the world”, she began writing what would become her acclaimed debut novel, The Star-Touched Queen.
While writing The Star-Touched Queen, Roshani didn’t write for anybody but herself, re-exploring her passion for writing, which to her was an “exercise in joy and externalizing your emotions”. She didn’t even originally have the intent to get it published. Instead, she wrote because that was what allowed her to express her emotions. It was what made her happy. According to Roshani, her parents and family were a huge support during this time, encouraging her to pursue what she loved and being with her every step of the way.
“The importance of having female characters like this is to show us that there is a spectrum of strength,” says Roshani on why she passionately believes in the importance of having a variety of female characters in books and media. She grew up with many different models of strength, her mother, her grandmother, and her sister.
To her, though, each of the important women in her life displayed strength in different ways and each of them influenced her uniquely. This inspired her own writing, in which the female characters she creates and writes about are all strong in their own ways.
Whether they are physically strong, have an incredibly sharp mind, are unbelievably beautiful, or possess wittiness beyond measure, Roshani’s girls and women fight for what they believe is right. Sometimes they aren’t sure of what is right, and other times they aren’t sure of themselves, or if they can accomplish what they set out to do. But that contributes to their strength, because what greater victory exists than winning over one’s own mind?
So, what’s next for Roshani? Looking forward, Roshani is also excited to take on Filipino culture and lore in future books, paying homage to her maternal heritage in her distinctive writing style. Currently, Roshani is looking forward to taking a break from writing to read everything she’s ever wanted to read and catch up on the shows she’s missed (her current favorite is Owl House on Disney+). Her advice for aspiring writers in her own words? “Read widely and without judgment,” advises Roshani “…and to to listen to people, ask questions, dig deeper and be curious.”
• This story is being provided by SarisToSuits, a non profit body based out of Atlanta.