On Saturday, Oct. 1, writer and actress Mindy Kaling graced Austin by attending the 8th Annual Texas Teen Book Festival at St. Edward’s University.
Story by Allyson Waller
Photos by Sarah Holdeman
Joined by ForeverYoungAdult.com creator, Sarah Pitre, Kaling captivated the crowd with stories about her childhood, school bullies, and becoming a budding writer. “It was a good balance on her books, TV, and writing life as well,” international relations and global studies freshman Fabiha Mobin says. “As a brown woman, I definitely relate to her. I think the fact that she’s so successful as well, it’s something that I strive for.”
Kaling spent the first half of the panel describing herself as a “chubby” and “overlooked” child who ultimately “found solace in books.” From a young age, she was passionate about writing. She shared a love for comedy with her friend Mavis. “It was completely normal for the two of us to write out a sketch from Saturday Night Live, print it out, then laminate it with tape and put it inside of a notebook,” Kaling says as the crowd laughed in response.
When she spent time at her mom’s work, she read books and churned stories from a typewriter. “I got into writing by being left alone in total boredom,” Kaling says, “I would start writing on the typewriter and I would write spooky plays and make my parents act them out.”
Kaling’s humble beginnings were followed by success. She starred in and wrote for hit show The Office. Kaling’s latest television series, The Mindy Project, is another comedy favorite. “I love the Mindy Project so much,” art teacher Stephanie Campbell says. “I think she does a really good job of writing a wide variety of characters at the same time being really heartfelt and funny.”
While describing her upbringing, Kaling did not shy away from mentioning her experience with bullies. She received negative comments on her weight and was told that she would be “really pretty” if she lost some weight or if she just pulled her looks together, she would have “so much going” for her. Kaling now knows exactly how to respond to people who have nothing nice to say. “What has changed is the way I look at each situation and how I’ve decided to maneuver my career and not be around those people,” Kaling says.
The ability to be comfortable in one’s own skin is something that resonates with her fans in a society that emphasizes physical beauty. “I like that she has her own style,” attendee Erin Hollie says. “I’m sure she’s feels the pressure of being in Hollywood, but she’s still herself and still relatable. She’s someone that I feel like I can aspire to be like and not feel that I have to change myself completely.”
When asked how she establishes respect in a male-dominated industry, Kaling offered hope. She described comedy as a genre that welcomes women writers. Although she admitted that mentioned there is still some struggle, she expressed how the number of women writers in Hollywood is increasing. “I think she’s a legit boss,” attendee Victor Grant says. “She’s a woman and she runs the show, writes on the show, and controls her brand. She owns it and that’s really inspirational and really cool.”
Kaling’s ongoing projects include her role as Mrs. Who in the latest movie adaption of A Wrinkle in Time, directed by Ava Duvernay. She says her favorite memory of her career was from three weeks ago, when she got an e-mail from actress Emma Thompson "saying she would do this movie" she wrote. Later in the discussion Kaling went on to share some interesting facts about herself. She revealed her celebrity crush on actor Pierce Brosnan and expressed her affinity for teen shows like Freaks and Geeks and My So-Called Life.
Towards the end of the event, fans flocked in line and hoped to talk with Kaling. “I feel like a hot man,” Kaling blurted as fans expressed their nervousness. Many were grateful they had the opportunity to come and meet her in person.
Kaling advises her fans to be who they are and nothing less. In her books, Kaling talks about “how as a woman, especially as an Indian-American woman, she feels like she has to be ‘the representor,’” law student Emily Eby says. “In law school, I feel like I have to be ‘the law school representative woman’ and take the whole weight of professional women on my shoulders. Mindy is really good at reminding women you don’t have to be everything, just be your thing."