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This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at NYU chapter.

Author, activist and PhD student Nisha Sharma draws inspiration from her own family in her latest new adult romance, The Letters We Keep, after she found letters her grandmother wrote. 

“I read the heartfelt words from [my grandmother’s] mother, whom she could never see again after she left India and moved to the United States. I found hope and fear, happiness and sadness, and the truth about what my grandmother sacrificed to find opportunity in a foreign country,” Sharma said. “My nani had wrestled with her family’s expectations versus her own wants and needs, establishing a life for her children far from everything she’d known. Imagining her emotional struggle and the ferocity of her love was the genesis of this novel.”

On her first day of freshman year, aspiring engineer Jessie Ahuja is introduced to two campus legends. There’s the legend of Davidson Tower, where more than fifty years ago, two students in love disappeared in a devastating fire. And then there’s Ravi Kumar, a handsome and privileged billionaire nepotism baby who’s aggravatingly charming and nice, in spite of having everything Jessie’s frugal family can only dream of. The two find common ground when a campus prank locks them both in the library’s dilapidated haunted tower. There, Jessie discovers handwritten letters from the fabled lost students in a hollowed-out copy of Persuasion. The passionate notes offer clues about what really happened to the interracial star-crossed lovers. In their search for the truth, Jessie and Ravi grow closer and begin to fall in love. But can they overcome the respective destinies and the social strata that define them? Or are they as doomed as the couple they’re investigating? 

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Nisha Sharma is a YA and adult contemporary romance writer living in the Philly suburbs with her husband and a plethora of animals named after characters in literature. Her books have been included in best-of lists by the New York Times, Entertainment Weekly, Cosmopolitan, Washington Post, Time and more. Before she left the corporate world, Nisha spearheaded DEI initiatives at billion-dollar companies. She has continued her advocacy work by fighting for marginalized authors in publishing. When she’s not writing about people of color experiencing radical joy or teaching about inclusivity, Nisha can be found hitting the books for her PhD in English and Social Justice.

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In this Author Spotlight, I ask Sharma to dive deeper into her personal connections to her new book, from her family inspiration to her own college experience. 

What made you want to write about college students falling in love? 

I really loved new adult romance when it experienced a big boom back in 2015, and I’ve always wanted to write one for myself. Then about a year ago, there was this viral TikTok of a woman who was fighting with another student for a study room, and they’d be so passive-aggressive about it. I knew that this was my opening for the story. The letters came later. When I was trying to write the book, my grandmother passed, and I found letters that she kept from her own mother. This culmination of experiences led to the book as it is published today. 

You uncovered old letters from your grandmother that prompted you to write this book. Were there any parts of The Letters We Keep that were true, based on your real-life experience?

No, The Letters We Keep is a purely fictional narrative. At this point in my career, I’m more interested in having conversations about topics that interest me than writing about moments in my life in the work that I produce. So for example, with The Letters We Keep, I wanted to really dive into generational wealth gaps and the evolution of romance in South Asian diaspora cultures. My grandmother’s letters were just the inspiration I needed to get started.

Your book dedication is probably one of my favorites I have read. Why did you want to “honor immigrant women who want to go to college” with this story? 

In The Letters We Keep, the woman who wrote the letters was one of the first in her family to go to college in the U.S. That was a privilege during the late sixties and early seventies time period. Not that it didn’t happen, because there are plenty of circumstances where immigrant South Asian women received college educations in the U.S., but it was difficult for families who either couldn’t afford it, or who had traditional values that limited opportunity for women. My mother immigrated with her parents to New York when she was thirteen. She wanted to study computers and English, but her mother strongly encouraged her to get married. She was never able to finish her degree. That story is very similar to many of the other women in her generation. 

But that doesn’t diminish their value, diminish their importance and their contribution and their role in the South Asian community. With the limited access to knowledge they had, many were able to raise strong, successful families through pure grit. I wanted to acknowledge this sacrifice as a wrote about privileged characters who were able to attend university.

What parts of yourself do you see in Jessie and Ravi? Did you learn anything about yourself when you were writing their characters?

I loved my time in college. I met some of my closest friends during the three years I was in undergrad. I actually live down the street from my college roommate. However, Jessie and Ravi are wholly different people than my own experience in college. I’ve written almost ten books in my career, and at this point, I’m really interested in having a conversation about themes and conflicts on the page. With Jessie, it’s her sharp focus on a goal that is so intricately tied to what her parents want for her. With Ravi, it’s his quiet forms of rebellion against his family.

You mention the use of stereotypes in your letter to the reader. You write that you “find truth in them.” What do you mean by that? 

I think it’s important to acknowledge that stereotypes often come from a place of repeated similar experiences. Members outside of the community then begin to assume that everyone has that shared experience. When I first began writing as a South Asian author, my plan/hope was to create stories that deviated from any and all South Asian diaspora stereotypes. We were more than the “typical” Desi child narrative. However, the more I began to tell stories, the more I realized that avoiding all experiences that resembled any of these stereotypical lives too closely was doing a disservice to my readership. For me, as a writer, the most difficult and the most important part about telling Ravi and Jessie’s story in The Letters We Keep was to make sure that even though their career aspirations felt very stereotypical on the surface level, their experiences as individuals was unique and nuanced. That is the truth that I found the most compelling as I wrestled with stereotypical identities.

Why is it important to you to write stories about BIPOC characters? 

Because there aren’t enough. If we look at any of the data models, marginalized stories are still underrepresented by alarming numbers. In children’s book publishing, there are more stories written about talking animals than there are about Black children. There have been a total of two black romance authors on The New York Times list in the last three years. The lack of lived experiences for BIPOC readers in the pages of books is a travesty. I should not be able to say there are less than 3 romances published in the diaspora featuring divorce as a past trauma. I should not be able to say that there are less than 5 rom coms featuring South Asian characters wrestling with a former cheating spouse. 

Romances are a way to validate BIPOC experiences, to provide solace in knowing that BIPOC readers are not alone in their identities. But it also presents an opportunity for non-BIPOC readers to see experiences other than their own. 

Thanks so much for answering my questions! It’s so inspiring and beautiful to read diverse stories in the adult genre with the BIPOC voice and experience focus. Wishing you much success with your new book. Thank you Olivia Haase from MB Communications for extending this interview opportunity. Excited to see what else we work on this summer. 

Sabrina Blandon is an English major at NYU with a minor in creative writing. Avid reader herself and literary advocate, she has interviewed over 60 authors from New York Times bestselling ones to debut authors for Her Author Spotlight blog series for Her Campus NYU and Her Campus Hofstra. She loves exploring everything New York City has to offer and is a major foodie.