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Mindy Kaling wants more diversity in publishing, so she's starting her own book imprint

Mindy Kaling. (Courtesy of Amazon)
Mindy Kaling. (Courtesy of Amazon)

Since “The Office,” Mindy Kaling has become a one-woman empire.

She acts, writes, does comedy, directs and produces TV and film, and she’s written two bestselling memoirs. So it comes as no surprise that the Hollywood powerhouse has now moved into publishing.

She’s teamed up with Amazon to create her own imprint. Mindy’s Book Studio will publish books that Kaling selects, and she’ll also have the first option to develop those books into feature films.

Many celebrities create book clubs, but Kaling wanted to go a step further.

“Throughout my career, I’ve been labeled as sort of unusual and an outlier for someone from my background. What I’m finding more and more is that I’m not that unusual — and there’s tons of women of color who are interested in comedy and write these incredibly funny books,” she says, “and I just want to help people get to see them.”

Mindy’s Book Studio will look for books from emerging and established diverse voices, which she says means breaking the traditional mold of the “impenetrable” industry. Kaling says she and her imprint will be fully accessible through social media, so it doesn’t matter if a writer lacks an agent or isn’t fully aware of how to craft a book proposal.

So if you’re a writer looking to grab Kaling’s attention, she notes whether it be romance or revenge, she enjoys a range of genres with “a juicy incident.”

“I love characters that want big things and are not subtle,” she says.

Interview Highlights

On what kind of books she’s looking for

“… As a child who grew up very nerdy, books were my only friends. And so when I was growing up, I read everything. And obviously, romantic comedy is something that I’ve worked a lot [on] in TV and coming of age stories, but I was not a snob. I wasn’t picky at all. Like I would read ‘Sphere’ by Michael Crichton, and I would absolutely love a thriller like that. But I’d also read ‘Blood Meridian’ and be like, ‘Am I even supposed to be reading this? Cormac McCarthy is a genius!’ I just read everything, and I was that girl that was in love with ‘Jane Eyre,’ and as I got older and ‘Bridget Jones’s Diary’ came out, I loved that.”

On potential bias on looking for books that could become films

“Well, I think it’s no surprise that I tend to like books that have a cinematic feel to them because of my imagination, and I think a lot of readers feel that way, too. … Storytelling is so imaginative these days in the way that films are told that I think that there’s a lot of books that you wouldn’t necessarily think would make a great movie that can now. To me, being able to work with a writer and a screenwriter to help make that vision become a reality would be really fun because that’s where I feel like my talent lies.”

On opportunities for women in writing across industries

“I definitely think that the enormous amount of scrutiny, particularly in the past five years, on the way that a writing staff looks has made it … I don’t know if it’s gotten easier, but it has definitely created more [opportunities]. There’s still tokenism. There’s still all of that going on. But I do feel like there is a real, sincere interest in employees and writers and showrunners to find new voices now, which is really wonderful.”

On the challenges of writing a memoir

“I absolutely loved writing. My job is very social. I go to a set, there’s 150 people there and I’m chatty and people pleaser, so I’m just always around people. But there’s something kind of solitary [about writing a memoir] and I don’t get to reflect a lot, and sometimes that makes me uncomfortable. It’s not necessarily the most comfortable position to think back on my life. And so I really appreciated that about the book. I don’t go to a therapist. I have, you know, under five friends. So for me, being able to write a memoir and reflect on my life through my own voice in a comedic way is cathartic. So I love that. It also, you know, I’ve been living at home with two small children for almost three years, and so it’s a great way to be like ‘Mom’s working’ and I can close the door and have some time for myself.”

On the challenges of writing a novel

“… Narrowing my interest down has been very hard because I, as you know from this interview anyway, I love thrillers. And frankly, I know I want the protagonist in the book to be a woman of color, and there is just so much to explore …”

On what project she’s most recognized for

“It depends. If it’s a woman or especially if it’s a woman of color — like I was in Harlem probably three years ago walking out of Red Rooster and I saw two nurses and they are two women of color and they’re like “Mindy from ‘The Mindy Project!’ ” If it’s a teenage boy, it’s ‘The Office.’ They’re like “Kelly from ‘The Office.’ ” And sometimes if it’s like an older, kind of erudite-looking person, it’ll be from a New Yorker story that I wrote. Those are the main things.”

On what part of the imprint endeavor she’s most concerned about

“I want to make sure that I can give enough momentum to these talented writers and really showcase the books positively. I think a big part of my job with the imprint is marketing these writers and explaining through my own voice why their books are incredible and why they’re worth reading and the hope that I have the reach. I have so many friends, between Oprah and Reese [Witherspoon], who are doing this, and it helps the writers so much. I want to be able to do that but with this specific group of people that I’m looking for — and I just don’t want to let them down. So that’s the biggest thing is that I hope I have the reach that can help them and help their careers.”

On her current book recommendation

“A book that I absolutely love that is coming out this year is a book called ‘Kismet’ by Amina Akhtar. She’s this incredible writer. She writes very witty, funny thrillers, and if you like ‘Big Little Lies’ [or] ‘Nine Perfect Strangers,’ you will love this. She writes about New Yorkers in a really funny way, and I’m really excited about that book.”


Emiko Tamagawa produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Todd MundtSerena McMahon adapted it for the web.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

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