• June 2013

From Stories to Storybooks: Building Bridges Between Many Different Worlds

By Marga Fripp
Empowered Women International

Here at EWI, we know these women can and will succeed. Each year, we work with dozens of budding entrepreneurs who have a great idea, and the ambition to turn it into a successful business.

Below, you’ll find an inspirational story about Sushmita Mazumdar, a natural connector who wonders about everything and everyone. Her childlike appreciation for the world around her and her desire to inspire everyone to see in it what she does is what makes Mazumdar such a special artist.

We’re so excited to have such a vibrant EWI community, and we look forward to watching all of our members grow and prosper.

If you’d like to join our community, or have questions about EWI, send me an email.

From Stories to Storybooks: Building Bridges Between Many Different Worlds

By Therese Pennefather
Empowered Women International

“There are people sitting right next to us, and we don’t know their stories!” exclaims book artist, writer, and educator Sushmita Mazumdar.

Mazumdar’s chosen form of artistic expression is hand-making books, most of them true stories, beautifully brought to life using vivid colors, captivating design, and a variety of unusual materials. Though a talented graphic artist, Mazumdar is not an illustrator, which has forced her to devise imaginative ways to make her stories visually stimulating without relying on the drawings used in most children’s books.

She does this by working with a combination of graphic designs, many different types of paper of various textures, and countless other materials, such as denim, lace, and string.

The result is books that are beautiful to the eye and fascinating to the touch.

One of her creations contains a picture of a window over which Mazumdar has hung real, miniature lace curtains; another has a picture of a spoon in which she has glued real lentils.

One of her most popular titles is “Homework: An enchanting story of patience,” which is made from a real matchbox. Instead of containing matchsticks, the box holds tiny cards that act as the pages.

Mazumdar’s creations are unquestionably works of art, but they are not intended to sit behind glass at a museum or to gather dust on the shelves of a collector. They are made to be touched and played with and read, shared by parents and children; they are made to connect.

It was her desire to create a connection with her son, Arijit, that inspired Mazumdar to take up bookmaking.

When he was 4, Arijit announced that he would not eat the spinach-and-rice lunch that she had prepared. He wanted a turkey sandwich and orange cheese. He further stipulated that he was not going to speak Indian anymore. He was an American, and from now on he would speak only English.

Mazumdar, who was born and raised in Mumbia, India, and lived there until 1999, wanted a way to help her son understand where she was from and to appreciate that people there aren’t really all that different from people here in the United States. She decided to adapt some stories she had written about her life in India and make them into storybooks. Teaching herself the basics of bookmaking, she made the first of what has become a series of books about Munmun, the big-city girl.

Since then, she has continued to make books out of her own stories, but she has also helped other people bring their stories to print. It is clear that she relishes the collaborative process.

One of her most beautiful works is a book of remembrance that she created for a man who had lost his wife. On one of the pages, the figure of a woman is cut out. When you reach the end of the book and close it, you find that missing figure on the back cover, still part of the story, but hidden.

She created another book with a friend about his life growing up on a farm in Germany. Mazumdar explains that she knew nothing about farm life in Germany and had never been interested in it before, but she knew “that if I wanted people to understand me, I had better understand them.” This is a theme that runs throughout all of her works. Her own books celebrate her heritage.

The books that she has created with other writers often contain references to Indian culture alongside references to her co-creators’ cultural identities. She rejects the analogy of America as a melting pot, preferring to think of it as a salad where all of the ingredients work together without losing their shape or individual flavor. “In a melting pot, everything gets mushed up. I’m not mushed up!” she declares.

Empowered Women International has played an important role in Mazumdar’s success.

  • When she decided to turn her bookmaking hobby into a business, she knew she needed help. She enrolled in some business classes, but was discouraged to find that her teachers and fellow students couldn’t grasp what she was doing and didn’t know how to help her.
  • She stumbled onto EWI by chance and met with founder Marga Fripp. Mazumdar was overjoyed to find that Fripp instantly understood her vision and was able to guide her in many of the areas where she felt ill-equipped, such as marketing, copyright law, and contracts.
  • She completed the EWI Entrepreneur Training for Success course and has continued to rely on EWI for help as she navigates the small-business world.
  • With the help and support of EWI, Mazumdar has been able to create a business out of her passion for story and her unique artistic ability. Doing so has brought her into contact with many of the collaborators that she has since worked with, allowing her to create more diverse projects. Book by book, story by story, she continues her work, building bridges to many different worlds.

Mazumdar explains: “EWI is different because it understands artists and business. It also understands that artists don’t understand business. I have also turned to EWI to provide a sounding board, which is so necessary for artists. They are my co-workers and my bosses. If an idea doesn’t work, they are the ones I can trust to tell me.”

Click here for more information about Mazumdar and her work.

About Marga Fripp and Empowered Women International

Empowered Women International is an award-winning nonprofit organization that channels the entrepreneurial drive and creative talents of high-potential immigrant, refugee, and low-income women in the Greater Washington DC Metro Area into micro-businesses that create jobs, provide sustainable incomes, and allow them to integrate into the community and pursue the American Dream.

We offer a holistic model of empowerment and use the power of the arts to bring people together, empower women, and build multicultural understanding. Art has exceptional storytelling and healing qualities and transcends language, cultural, and economic barriers.

Economic and self-empowerment are powerful tools to liberate and transform each woman, so she can achieve independence and self-sufficiency. EWI’s strategy is to empower the whole woman, not only teaching her the skills she needs to launch and grow a business, but using peer-to-peer relationships, a mentor family, and a network of support that helps women build confidence, connect in the community, and recognize their power as changemakers.

Check out our monthly series of women entrepreneurs who are not afraid to dream big, embrace chance, and overcome adversity. If you know someone who can benefit from our services, send her our way. To reach me, email Marga C. Fripp, EWI founder and president at margacfripp@ewint.org.