Last year, we at The Brown Bookshelf, a blog dedicated to highlighting youth literature written and/or illustrated by African-Americans, celebrated our tenth anniversary. This past February, Black History Month, we hosted our eleventh “28 Days Later” initiative. Each day, we featured an African-American creator of youth literature.
As a founding member of that blog, I can tell you that running it is a lot of work. Conducting the interviews, collecting visuals, formatting text presenting at conferences—not to mention that wonderful Declaration in Support of Children that hundreds of children’s authors and illustrators signed on to in support. A lot happens behind the scenes thanks to seven wonderful women who work tirelessly to keep the blog running. Not to discredit myself or the other guys on the Brown Bookshelf team, it’s a group effort. But let’s be for real, the success of that blog is because of the woman power behind behind it.
Thank you Paula Chase Hyman, Kelly Starling Lyons, Tameka Fryer Brown, Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich, Gwendolyn Hooks, Crystal Allen, Tracey Baptiste, for keeping the Brown Bookshelf alive. It’s important work you do. And even though you all maintain busy author/writing schedules—not to mention maintaining families and other obligations—you still find time to support other authors and illustrators. You are appreciated.
In today’s highlight, a few of our team members talk about their upcoming books, and they offer advice for aspiring female book creators. Here goes!
Kelly Starling Lyons
Upcoming books: My picture book, DOWN HOME WITH DADDY, debuts spring 2019. It’s illustrated by Daniel Minter and published by Peachtree. I feel blessed to be working with Daniel again. He brought ELLEN’S BROOM to life in such a powerful way and won the Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor Award for his work. In Down Home with Daddy, a boy searches for a special way to contribute to a reunion celebration. It explores the themes of home, legacy, family and connection. My editor gave me a peek at Daniel’s beautiful sketches. I love the emotion and sense of place.
The third Jada Jones chapter book is on the way too. The working title is SLEEPOVER SCIENTIST. In this book, Jada has her first sleepover but it doesn’t go as smoothly as she planned. The story explores her love of science and friendships. Thrilled to be continuing Jada’s journey with this book.
Kelly’s advice to aspiring female writers:
I treasure a pearl of wisdom I received from an editor at the Highlights Writers Workshop at Chautauqua: “Write the story only you can tell.” I pass it on often and believe it’s among the best tips I’ve received. Know that your experiences, history and dreams matter. You matter. Dig deep and mine your passions, struggles, heritage. Put your heart on the page.
Paula Chase Hyman
Upcoming books: I’ve swerved into the Middle Grade lane for my next book – SO DONE. Yet, at its heart, it’s like my YA books which all seem to revolve around the complexities of young friendships.
In SO DONE, we meet 13 year old Jamila “Bean” Phillips who is the younger sister of Jacinta, a character from my DRB series. Mila has spent the summer in the suburbs hiding a secret. When she returns home, the secret and the unspoken code of loyalty that her low income neighborhood, The Cove, insists on weighs heavily on her and eventually impacts her relationship with her best friend, Metai. We watch them grapple with how the secret and Mila’s aspirations are changing them and their friendship.
Paula’s advice to aspiring female writers:
Whenever I voice this, I feel like I’m being a kidlit snob – I don’t mean it that way – but there’s a part of me that feels like writing for children should be nothing short of a calling. When writing for kids, there is such a thin line between depicting the story through a young character and forcing an adult will into the young character’s actions. If you want to write for children, let it be because you want to help them explore the world around them on their terms – not an adult’s terms. This isn’t easy to do. We’re human and our baggage can easily get dumped into children’s books because too often we believe we’re trying to teach them a lesson. But my advice is – please, don’t. Every child deserves to read for pleasure and what they take from it, is up to them. And as I think on that, was that advice? I hope so.
Tameka Fryer Brown
Upcoming books: BROWN BABY LULLABY (illustrated by AG Ford, published by FSG, Due Fall 2019). In the story, Momma and Papi are trying to get through the evening’s routine with their strong-willed toddler. He’s a handful, but they wouldn’t have their sweet brown baby any other way. I also have a poem in the forthcoming anthology, WE RISE, WE RESIST, WE RAISE OUR VOICES, edited by Wade and Cheryl Hudson, published by Crown Books for Young Readers.
Tameka’s advice to aspiring female writers:
Identify your “heart stories” and learn to write them well. The themes and truths that are most meaningful to you, will likely drive stories that are meaningful to others.
Upcoming books: The paperback of TWO NAOMIS will be out in June, and then the sequel, NAOMIS TOO, is coming in September! I’m so excited for everyone to see what the Naomis are up to as they start middle school. I have a picture book biography coming out in August, about Clara Luper’s efforts to desegregate lunch counters in Oklahoma City in 1948, and a middle grade nonfiction project about space travel out later this fall. I’m thrilled to be included in the We Rise, We Resist, We Raise Our Voices anthology, out in September, edited by publishing legends Cheryl and Wade Hudson.
Olugbemisola’s advice to aspiring female writers:
For me, writing is most about listening. To the world, to my heart, to the questions that sometimes I don’t know I have until I start writing. Ask questions, take risks. Write without wondering if it’s “good.” Write because you have something to say. Write to figure out what that something is. Keep learning. Keep reading the world–in many different ways. Use what you learn to become the most you, not to imitate anyone else. Seek out supportive writing communities–maybe more than one where each serves a different purpose. One just to talk books and story, one focused on writing and critique, etc. Make books and other media your mentors — jot down excerpts, outline or storyboard your favourites, examine what works, what you love, and why. Mentor/offer support to someone else in the community, wherever you are in your writing/publishing journey. Practice, practice, practice. If you want to write, choose to make time for it, and know that it may mean giving up something else. Develop discipline in your “creative habit” in a way that can work in *your* life — for some, it’s ‘write every day’, for others it’s a certain word count in a week, or that 15 minutes whenever you’re on the bus, waiting in the car. And for many of us–like me–the ‘plan’ will need to be adjusted periodically. All of that is OK. Treat yourself and your story with love and grace and respect.
Go to the library, even if just to watch and listen to the other people there, to be around the books. Read a book like The Word, edited by Marita Golden, or Create Dangerously by Edwidge Danticat. If you don’t have access to conferences like the Kweli conference in NYC, try to attend local author talks and bookstore visits–those can often be like mini writing workshops. Follow writers and editors on Twitter that produce work you admire. Read through the 28 Days Later archives on the Brown Bookshelf — many of the creators profiled offer excellent tips, resources, and advice.
Know that your story is precious. Others’ limited imaginations and tightheartedness are neither your fault nor your problem to solve. Black lives are treasures. Listen to stories of the world, and to your own. Let your light shine without dimming another’s.
As you pull up to the table, bring an extra chair and another sister–there’s room at the table for us all.
All of our stories, across the Diaspora, all of the stories we live and the ones we imagine, have infinite value.
Your voice, your story, your own beautiful self matters.