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May 24, 2011 > Local teacher authors coming-of-age novel

Local teacher authors coming-of-age novel

By Miriam G. Mazliach

Last year, was a busy year for Risha Krishna, Ethnic Studies teacher at Mission San Jose High School (MSJHS) in Fremont. Between a three-week trip on a Fulbright Scholarship to Germany and a one-week seminar to Cambridge University in England, sponsored by the Gilder Lehrman Foundation, her plate seemed full. Added to those, was a previous excursion to the American South with 30 other Bay Area teachers to retrace the footsteps of Martin Luther King, Jr. and learn more about the Civil Rights movement.

But somehow, she still managed to find the time to realize a dream - publication of her first book, The Curry Club, co-authored with Trevor Neeb whom she had met during grad school days at Stanford.

Logistically, working on the book proved a bit problematic, since Neeb lived in San Diego. However, they managed to get beyond the geographic constraints and as needed, Neeb flew up to the Bay Area to work with Krishna at the Stanford and Milpitas libraries.

The plot of the book follows the main protagonist, Ashwara, and her friend Maria, from age eight to adulthood, during the 1980's in Southern California. Ashwara emigrates from India to the U.S.; Maria is a well-to-do Latina girl. Their friendship blossoms across cultural lines and they learn what it means to be hyphenated Americans (Indo-American or Hispanic-American). "Although it's generally based on experiences I have heard from students over the years, it is a fictionalized coming of age novel for young readers, geared for tweens and teens," says Krishna.

She actually began writing the book back in 2005 while in South Africa for five weeks, on another Fulbright Scholarship trip. During her time there, Krishna kept a journal, which spurred on her interest in writing.

The book was completed by 2009, and the process of finding a children's publisher kicked into gear. After the initial book deal fell through, plans were put aside for a while as the demands of life and work took over. Two years later Krishna and Neeb achieved their goal, when AuthorHouse agreed to publish the book.

"The general theme of 'fitting in' appeals to anyone, anytime in your life," says Krishna. "Ashwara and Maria are proud to be their ethnicities but are not governed by their cultures."

The book's title pertains to the club created by Ashwara's mother, who is worried that her daughter is becoming too American. She invites other Indian mothers and their daughters to learn about traditional cooking, food, and music. But, soon it evolves into a multi-cultural group, as other non-Indian girls and their moms join in to participate. Krishna adds, "The girls are all coming of age and see that we are all quite the same in many respects and learn that challenges can be overcome through camaraderie."

Several years later, as Ashwara and Maria graduate high school, they have to deal with some adversity when making decisions about college. Stereotypes are confronted, particularly those directed at Maria, by people who incorrectly assume she is from East L.A. or Mexico, just because she is Hispanic.

"The bi-cultural [and even multi-cultural] theme of the book shows we're not part of an isolated bubble," says Krishna. "It shows how you can be friends with anyone and embrace adversity."

In the classes Krishna teaches, many of her students are first and second generation Americans. She relates, "After 9/11 happened, I decided to create the Ethnic Studies Program at MSJHS, with lessons that are empowering, engaging and use critical thinking skills. It's been my life story to get involved."

This summer, Krishna and Principal Sandra Prairie will be taking nine students to Germany in a cultural student exchange through the University of Gottingen. The students will be staying with a family for one week and interacting with German high school students, who will hopefully visit Fremont next year.

Principal Prairie comments, "Risha Krishna is one of those teachers that is a principal's dream - inquisitive, professional who can melt the walls of her classroom and bring the world in. A book is a natural step; seems just like breathing."

Krishna is open for book talks and can be reached via Facebook. Her book is available at

Here are two upcoming appearances:

Risha Krishna: Author of The Curry Club

Thursday, May 26
4 p.m. - 5 p.m.
Fremont Main Library, Fukaya Room
2400 Stevenson Blvd.
(510) 745-1401

Sunday, June 5
2 p.m.
Half Price Books
43473 Boscell Rd., Fremont
(510) 744-0333

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