Who: AMBIKA SAMBASIVAN
ARTIST; CO-FOUNDER, YALI BOOKS
Where: ALBANY, NY
The story of what you do/your journey:
I am the co-founder of Yali Books, an independent publishing venture with a focus on South Asian cultures and the artisan behind Studio Yali, our store for art and handmade collectibles. Yali Books began when my mother Kala Sambasivan, who is a writer, and I (as an illustrator) wanted to work on an illustrated book together. Our first book, Bye, Bye, Motabhai! was launched in 2013. We were thrilled that young readers and parents enjoyed our story! A reader recommended we send the book in for the South Asia Book Award and we were absolutely floored when they picked our book as an Honor Book for 2014. This was the moment we decided to take our venture to the next level. We have since invited authors and illustrators from around the world to join our publishing family. We are humbled by the talent within the South Asian community and proud to have published author D. Kalyanaraman’s fantasy novel, The Sorcerer of Mandala and illustrator Chandra Prabha Radhakrishnan’s eye-catching coloring book, Wanderlust: A Coloring Journal.
At the moment we are excited about our very first picture book (and sixth title), Milky Way, set to release this October. Set in the remote mountains of Ladakh in India, Milky Way is a sweet tale of friendship between a boy and the moon. Author Mamta Nainy and illustrator Siddhartha Tripathi have worked their magic to bring this charming story to life. We are hoping our youngest readers will love this story as much as we do!
Being an independent publisher, I get to wear many hats within the company. I handle book design, marketing, and sales, while my mother is the primary editor. We are constantly learning and evolving. There is never a dull day here at Yali Books!
Do you consider yourself creative? How so?
I consider myself extremely lucky to be able to live a creative life. Entrepreneurship is inherently a creative profession and I get to work with some incredibly talented authors and illustrators, so it is really a dream job! Nothing is routine at Yali Books – every book is a new challenge and I have to approach each one with an open mind and a creative outlook.
What does creativity/ being creative mean to you?
To me, creativity is the ability to spot opportunities. It is finding a captivating story within an everyday moment. It is discovering new ways to use a raw material. It is solving a problem in a way that hasn’t been explored before. At the heart of it, it is about having an open and joyful outlook towards life.
If yes, has your environment (childhood experiences, current situations, etc.) help shaped your creativity? What helped? What didn’t?
I am a proud alumna of the National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad (NID). I believe NID has played a large role in shaping my thought process and my approach. However, my mother has always been my creative role model. She is incredibly talented and she never stops creating something, whether it is a handmade gift or a new story she is working on. My childhood was spent in a whirlwind of games and projects she invented for my sister and me. She epitomizes the open and joyful outlook I admire in creative people.
What do you do to inspire yourself/ stay inspired? Do you have a creative practice?
I am active on various social media platforms for Yali Books. I have virtually met and followed a number of amazing people over the years. I consider social media to be my primary source of inspiration. I look for different ways of looking at the world, new techniques, and practices, visual and narrative approaches. When I start working on something, I consciously try to come up with alternative ways of approaching the problem. It could be as simple as finding different ways to draw something as an illustrator. This helps me examine various possibilities before settling on one method.
The one thing that you think is important for any creative to know/ or the most important thing that you would tell your younger self?
I would say—never get too comfortable. The best ideas come when you step out of your comfort zone, make a mess, fail and try again. In our quest to produce perfect, social media-ready images, we hesitate to make mistakes. My biggest learning over the years is to not fear the imperfect, the wonky, and the downright ugly. They are all steps in the right direction.
As a publisher and as a creative, what do you think of how creativity is viewed within the South Asian community? For example, my experience has been that creativity is usually seen as something to do with the arts within the South Asian community, and that’s considered something you do in addition to a traditional career. While that may have been true considering economic factors for earlier generations, is it valid in today’s day and age? What are we teaching our kids about thinking creatively?
This is a very important question. As commercial careers, creative fields of work are certainly gaining more traction and people are much more accepting of such professions. However, I think we have lost much of the respect we had as a community for creatives.
There was a time when poets, writers, and artists shaped nations and publishing was a courageous and politically-charged venture. We don’t award that kind of status to creatives anymore. The role of creatives in culture and politics within the community requires much more discussion and debate.
Additional comments: For example what would you recommend (ideas, things to do) for someone who thinks they are non-creative?
I don’t believe anyone is really non-creative. We just give ourselves these labels and limit ourselves. As an exercise, take an everyday situation, say your morning commute, and question different aspects of it. Ask ‘Why?’ like a child. Try and imagine alternatives. Start this as a game and soon it will become second-nature. The world will look very different, I promise!