Mindy Kaling at the Texas Teen Book Festival: “I think I was just a friendly, chubby kid”

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In case you missed it: on Saturday Mindy Kaling gave a one-on-one interview with Sarah Pitre of Alamo Drafthouse and Forever YA Book Club for the Texas Teen Book Festival, hosted by St. Edward’s University.

The writer and star of Hulu’s The Mindy Project talked about childhood influences, the start of her writing career, and her upcoming role in the film adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time, directed by Ava DuVernay. When asked to describe her teenage self as a YA protagonist, Kaling said that at fourteen years old, she was bookish, awkward, and an underdog.

“[I was] painfully shy, acneic, overweight–to the extent where you’re not worried about health but just shy of that,” Kaling listed. “I think I was just a friendly, chubby kid.”

Kaling also said she was ignored in school, which encouraged her writing abilities.

“I liked talking to people but was largely overlooked in school, so I found solace in books,” Kaling said. “I think fairly early on, when I was being ignored largely, I was left alone a lot because both my parents worked. You could either read or you could write. I think I always knew I wanted to write but it wasn’t until I was eight or nine years old that I learned that you could write for television.”

Kaling, who was at the festival promoting her books Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) and Why Not Me? said that when she was younger she started writing comedy skits for SNL.

“I was starting to write some short plays,” Kaling said. “I’ve realized that writing fiction felt, for me, so different, and so much harder than writing dialogue, which I’ve been doing for the past fifteen years. The reason I like writing essays so much is because I feel like I’m talking to a friend.”

When asked about the glamour of Hollywood, Kaling credited The Office for teaching her about the aesthetics of writing television shows.

“In order to find happiness for me, I just have to find situations where what is real is beautiful,” Kaling said. “In The Office, the most important thing is not everyone being beautiful. I like comedies where nobody cares about looks, where being funny is what’s most important.”

Kaling said that when she was a teenager, the book that affected her the most was House of Mirth by Edith Warton, and it still influences her writing choices today.

“I went through the whole Jane Austin canon, and then after that Charlotte Bronte, and then I read House of Mirth,” Kaling said. “In this book there was this lead who was stuck in her time, but also wanted selfish things and discovered her sexuality. Especially looking at all of these shows nowadays, that character’s still in my mind. I love flawed characters.”

Kaling also talked about her upbringing and how it influences her material.

“[My parents] were extremely strict but also very chatty. So I couldn’t go out or do a lot of things, but we’d sit inside and watch episodes of Seinfeld and talk a lot about why we liked them. Or we would listen to music on long car rides to Niagara Falls and talk about why it worked for us…people think the best quality in children is being expressive. In my house, it was much more important to be perceptive.”

“What is so cool is that the director, Ava DuVernay, has picked a really inclusive cast,” Kaling said. “And there’s a really interesting thing where she doesn’t want to say ‘diverse’, she thinks that’s a word that turns people off and doesn’t represent the same thing as ‘inclusive’, which I really agree with.”

When asked for more details about the movie, Kaling teased that the movie would be set in Los Angeles.

“If you’ve read the book, you know it takes place in England. If you’re not Caucasian, you feel like you love the book but you feel outside of it, like you’re admiring it in a really anthropological way,” Kaling said. “What’s great about [DuVernay’s] interpretation is just how inclusive it is.”


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