Coe Booth

Reading about Coe Booth’s journey to becoming a published writer is inspirational.   Having read many of her interviews and articles written about her, I can honestly say that she is phenomenal at crafting stories and she is truly meant to be a writer.  And she has received many awards since the release of her debut novel Tyrell to prove it.  Coe has earned the 2007 Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Young Adult Fiction, 2007 New York Public Library’s Books for the Teen Age, 2007 American Library Association Best Books for Young Adults, and the 2007 American Library Association Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers.  Writing stories since she was in the second grade, Coe is a born storyteller.  Writer Marion Woodman confesses that “storytelling is at the heart of life. As a child, I was never bored because I could always get on with my story.”  I imagine that this is very much true for Coe based on an article I read written by James Blasingame, Jr. where she reflected on just how connected she is to her writing, “I have been writing my whole life. I sometimes judge my happiness at a given time by my writing output, so no matter what I’m doing, if I’m writing, I’m OK, but if I’m doing something and I’m not able to write, I’m not happy. Period!” Being in touch with her emotional barometer aligns with what Maya Angelou once said, “There is no agony like bearing an untold story inside of you.”

I started reading Tyrell one morning as I sat in my car allowing it to warm up.  My car was ready to go, but I was still making my way through chapter one.  As I drove to work, the word griot kept echoing in my mind.   I know that griots are storytellers who are skilled in the oral tradition.  But griots are also tasked with being the chronicler of history and keeping their audience abreast of current events.  The guardians of the family genealogy, griots are trained to excel at what they do.  Like Coe Booth.  Tyrell is not her family history, but she is telling the story of so many of our young people.  She is telling the stories of so many people that she knew from her years as a social worker. Her storytelling is so powerful that I am able to visualize Tyrell as he walks such a tight rope trying to keep his head above some dangerous waters and make very grown up decisions.  As a former social worker, Coe is in tune with what’s happening to so many young people and their families.  She tells Tyrell’s story with great perception about him and those like him.  As someone who also has a degree in psychology, I believe that her educational background also aided her in telling Tyrell’s story and understanding who he is to help us as readers to see him better in our minds.

Tyrell made me pause a lot as I read because I wondered which of my former students lived a life similar to Tyrell.  How many did I write off thinking they just didn’t care about school or my class when really they had bigger problems than my homework assignment?  For all of my training to become a teacher, it’s books like Tyrell that are just as essential alongside the behavior management theories.  This is a story reminding us that sometimes we need to look beyond a person’s circumstances.  This is a story with heart.  If I was still teaching, this would be a story I would encourage many of my students to read even with the sexual content.  I also recommend that adults pick up a copy as well. 

Author Caitlin Matthews advises, “The one story worth telling is the one that strikes most nearly to the heart. For each person, that story will be different, for each heart is like a harp with its own distinct tuning.”  I’m thankful that the other story Coe was working on a few years back wasn’t meshing with her and she opened up a new file that later became Tyrell

Coe, it is a real pleasure to interview you.  I feel a kinship in that I didn’t outline my first book either.  I made notes here and there but no real outline.  I just went with the flow.  Did you stick to that with your next book?  Does that work better for you – discovering the story as it happens to you?

CB:  There’s definitely something exciting about writing without an outline.  The first time I had done that was with TYRELL and I really liked it, even though it got scary at times.  I kept thinking, “There’s no way I’m going to be able to tie up all these storylines.  What am I doing?”  But looking back, I do believe it worked best for me.  It was fun putting myself in Tyrell’s shoes and wondering what he would do next, as opposed to what I would do.  There’s a lot of acting involved with writing sometimes!

With my next book KENDRA, I wrote about 200 pages and then I hit a wall.  A big one!  So my editor suggested I outline the ending and it actually worked!  So the lesson here, I suppose, is every book is different.  I’m the kind of person who likes to jump right in and start writing, but if I get stuck (and if I’m up against a deadline!) I will give outlining a shot.

Currently you are in Switzerland doing a year-long writer-in-residency at Laurenz Haus.  How long have you been there?  How’s that going for you?  What are you working on over there?

CB:  I’ve been here since September and it has been such a great experience so far.  It’s the first time I’ve been to Europe, and Laurenz Haus is in such a central location that I’m only about ten minutes from both France and Germany.  I can’t tell you how grateful I am to be chosen for this!  The only stumbling block is the language.  Here they speak Swiss German, a language that is much different from standard German.  So the German 101 class I took last summer hasn’t helped me a bit!

Since I’ve been here I’ve been working on KENDRA.  Once I’m finished with the revisions, I will try to get most of the sequel to TYRELL written.  I also want to do some traveling, since I don’t know when I will have this kind of opportunity again! 

Can you tell us what your next book Kendra will be about?  I am eager to read that one already.  Will Tyrell be a part of her story?  Will their lives ever connect?

CB:  KENDRA is about a fourteen-year-old girl whose mother gave birth to her when she was fourteen.  Kendra is being raised by her very overprotective grandmother because her mother, Renée, has been away at college and graduate school.  Kendra has been waiting for Renée forever, and when she does return, Kendra learns that she’s still not ready to assume her role as Kendra’s mother.  This sets Kendra off on a downward spiral since she doesn’t feel she has anything to look forward to anymore.  So the story is really about the choices Kendra makes and the consequences she faces.

Kendra lives in the same “projects” as Tyrell, but she lives a much different life than he does and they don’t even know each other.  However, Tyrell does make a very brief cameo and Ms. Jenkins also pops up here and there.  It’s been a lot of fun overlapping the stories this way.

I read in another article that you are working on the sequel to Tyrell and you’re bombarded with questions and ideas for how that should go.  Don’t you just love when your readers respond to your story and characters in that way?  How is the sequel going for you?  Is Tyrell speaking to you or through you like he did the first time?

CB:  I think just about every reader who has written me has asked if there will be a sequel to TYRELL.  They tell me I left them “hanging.”  But not only do they ask me if there will be a sequel, they tell me what the entire storyline should be.  It’s so great. 

Writing the sequel will be pretty challenging since when I’m in the Bronx, I usually hear people talking like the characters in Tyrell’s world.  Unfortunately, I’m just not hearing that here in Switzerland!  But luckily for me, Tyrell’s voice is strong and (hopefully) I’ll be able to call it up whenever I need it. 

I know you began writing Tyrell as a grad school assignment.  How long did it take you to finish writing the book once you graduated from the New School?

CB:  Yes, I began writing it in grad school, and when I graduated I had only about one-third of it written.  (But at that time I was a full-time college professor and a full-time student, so I wasn’t able to write a whole lot.)  Once grad school was done I was able to finish it in about six months.  So altogether it took about a year and a half to write.  But I’m a slow writer! 

You mentioned in the article written by James Blasingame, Jr. that you grew up reading Judy Blume as a child and wanting stories like that to be written for Black kids.  You also mentioned that you have a desire to write for middle grade readers.  What are some of the topics that you want to write about for middle grade?

CB:  Oh, when I was a kid I loved me some Judy Blume!  And I really wished there were books like that featuring Black kids.  But there wasn’t anything out there like that.  So I started writing my own!  

I would love to write for middle-grade readers, especially books that will appeal to boys as well as girls.  That’s the age where kids really need to find books they can relate to or else they’ll be non-readers forever.  It’s such an important time in their lives and if I can write something that will connect with them, I would feel extremely good about that.  I have a million ideas right now, but nothing has yet clicked for me.  So over the next few months, while I’m working on the sequel to TYRELL, I will try to “marinate” a few ideas and see which ones have staying power. 

We know that since Tyrell has been released, you have received many well-deserved accolades from the industry as well as readers, but have you received any criticism about the story?  How do you deal with that?

CB:  While most of the reviewers had good things to say about TYRELL, I have received some criticism from individuals, mostly for the use of language in the book.  Some teachers of sixth and seventh grade classes have written me to say how much they liked the book and how they wish they could use it in their classes, but the language makes that impossible.  And they always ask me if I could write something for younger kids who are reluctant readers. 

I don’t find it too difficult to deal with that kind of criticism because I understand that TYRELL isn’t for everyone.  Some people aren’t comfortable with the language, and that’s their right.  I knew going into this that some people wouldn’t like it, but I’m really happy that so many people haven’t let that stop them from reading the book and teaching it, especially in high schools. 

Other criticism I’ve received from a few individuals is that TYRELL shows a very skewed perspective of African American life.  A few people have said I should write more uplifting stories with more upwardly mobile characters.  But this is only my first novel, and this one is about one particular boy.  It doesn’t mean everything I write will be exactly like this.  But I also think it’s important to write about characters like Tyrell because people like him exist.  And young people like Tyrell deserve to have books they can relate to available to them.

As I read Tyrell, I was very intrigued by Jasmine and her back story. I’m rooting for both Jasmine and Tyrell because they’re both good kids in spite of life’s circumstances.  Any plans to have a book about Jasmine and her adventures?  Will she be in Tyrell’s sequel? 

CB:  Yes, Jasmine will definitely be in the sequel to TYRELL.  I really ended up liking her, which kind of surprised me!  At first I thought she was going to be more of a minor character, but she just grew on me (and Tyrell!)  I don’t have any plans for a book about Jasmine, but one never knows…

What are you hoping for through your writing?  What do you see for yourself as a writer for the next 20 years? 

CB:  Wow, what a good question!  I guess my main goal is to write books that children and teens actually want to read, including those who don’t normally enjoy reading.  I love making that kind of connection with readers, one that will hopefully open the door to more reading in their future.

In 20 years I would like to have a body of work I’m happy with, books for both middle-grade and teen readers.  I’d like to grow and improve with each book, and maybe push the envelope a little!  I also have a not-so-secret dream of writing for television and film one day, but that would definitely be on the side.  Writing novels is what I’ve always wanted to do and hopefully I will still be doing it 20 years from now.

The Buzz on Tyrell
From School Library Journal
Starred Review. This is a thrilling, fast-paced novel whose strong plot and array of vivid, well-developed characters take readers on an unforgettable journey through the gritty streets of New York City’s South Bronx. At its heart is the painful choice the teen must make as he realizes the effect of his mother’s failure to do right by their family. ~ Caryl Soriano, New York Public Library

From Booklist
*Starred Review* . . . The immediate first-person narrative is pitch perfect: fast, funny, and anguished (there’s also lots of use of the n-word, though the term is employed in the colloquial sense, not as an insult). Unlike many books reflecting the contemporary street scene, this one is more than just a pat situation with a glib resolution; it’s filled with surprising twists and turns that continue to the end. ~ Hazel Rochman

Stay informed by visiting Coe at her website, MySpace or at the Longstockings blog.

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34 Responses to Coe Booth

  1. Erin says:

    I loved this interview. Thanks.

  2. I loved “Tyrell”, it was one of those rare books that I felt like I entered into, more than just read. This entry is the first that I’ve heard of “Kendra”- how exciting! Is there a release day established for Kendra yet?

  3. carlasarratt says:

    Erin and Sherrie, thanks for your posts. Sherrie, Coe never mentioned to me a release date for Kendra yet but once we hear anything, we’ll be sure to post about it here on The Brown Bookshelf.

  4. brauna says:

    Are you coming out with a movie of Tyrell? because if you are imma be your top seller because i just love the book Tyrell but i was wondering if you was also going to make a Tyrell number 2 because at the end of Tyrell he and his girlfriend moved with his friend and his brother was taking by the state and his mom was no where to be found so i want to know what happened to Tyrell,Tyrell brother and Tyrell mom. I know it will be an other page turning book. But I hope it comes out sooon.

  5. diana says:

    This book was really good and interesting. I can’t wait for the sequel. You should be proud of yourself and your smart work. It really did inspire me.

  6. Naty says:

    i was wonderin if you knew when the sequal of tyrell was comin out

  7. Dannira says:

    Tyrell was a great book, i loved it!!!!! i was so glad i checked it out at my library. oh.. and I CANT WAIT FOR THE SEQUEL. i agree with diana, you should be proud of yourself. keep up the good work.

  8. Dominique says:

    Its Kinda Crazy How Much I Love This Book, It Just Felt Like I Could Just Totally Relate To Some Of The Things He Was Going Through. And I Always Thank GOD For Bring Goe Booth On This World Because Without Her, We Wouldnt Have Been Able To Read This Wonderful Book..I Love It!!! And I Most Definitely Cant Wait For The Sequel..Anyways I Love That Freaking Book Lol!

  9. meka says:

    i loved the book tyrell and i hope that you would make a part2 to it

  10. Errin says:

    OMG!!!!!!!!!I LOVE LOVE LOVE “TYRELL” IT IS MY FAV BOOOK OF ALL TIME!!!!!! I CAN’T WAIT FOR “KENDRA” TO COME OUT!!!!!!!!I WAS SO INTO TYRELL THAT I FINISHED IN A WEEK…. THAT A FASTED I EVERY READ A BOOK…. I HAD TWO OF MY CUSIN THAT I TALK TO THE MOST INTO THAT BOOK. THEY LOVE IT TWO… I WAS SO INTO TYRELL THAT MY MOTHER WOULD HAVER TO YELL AT ME FOR ME TO EVEN TAKE MY EYES OFF THE PAGE…..THE END WAS ONE OF THE BEST PARTS… WHEN JASMINE AND TYRELL WAS TOGETHER I GOT GOOSE BUMPS CAUSE I KNEW SOMETHING WAS GOING TO GO DOWN…. AS SOON AS KENDRA COMES OUT I AM GOING TO BYE THAT BOOK…MY MOTHER KIND OF DOESN’T WANT ME TO GET KENDRA SHE DIDN’T EVEN WANT ME TO READ TYRELL…. BUT ME AND MY FATHER KNEW THAT I WAS NEVER INTO TO BOOKS LIKE THAT SO I GOT TO READ IT… KNOW I AM TRYINGH TO MAKE HER GET ME KENDRA SOON AS IT COMES OUT. I JUST MIGHT MAKE MY DADDY BUY IT… LOL… I LOVE YOU COE BOOTH CAN’T WAIT FOR THE NEXT BOOK…. ALSO EVERYONE AT MY SCHOOL THAT HAD TO REAAD TYRELL FOR A SUMMER READING LOVES IT….. BEST BOOK EVER

  11. monica says:

    love dat book it is bangin… no lie!

  12. cha cha says:

    all i gotta say is make a sequel and a movie

  13. cha cha says:

    o yeah and put the book and the movie on commerical

  14. suzanne says:

    I REALLY LOVE YOUR BOOK.WHEN I START READING IT I COULD NOT PUT IT DOWN. I EVEN STAYED UP REAL LATE TO FINISH YOUR BOOK.DO ME ONE FAVER,JUST KEEP MAKING THE BOOKS

  15. bola temba says:

    when i finished reading tyrell i cried.I cried because the boy was taken .I was so into tyrell ieven gave him a face.To me he lookes like tyrese gibson.Please write tyrell 2.

    • Destine' says:

      Tyrell was a great book. What i liked most was that although is mother was irresponsibile he’ll still fill in a handle business.

  16. Alexzandria says:

    THAT BOOK WAS AMAZING!!!THAT BOOK WAS EVERYTHING ND A BAG OF CHIPS!! I FINISHED IT IN LIKE 3 DAYS!!! AND MY MOM WAS ALL OVA ME ABOUT DOIN WHAT I NEEDED TA DO. THE BOOKED WASS FILLED WITH IRONY!!! AND U CUD NEVA PREDICT WHAT WAS GOING TO HAPPEN!!! I REALLY THOUGHT SUMTHING WAS GONNA “GO DOWN” WITH TYRELL AND JASMINE!!! AND I CANT BELIEVE NOVISHA!! SHE WAS VERY SECRETIVE AND ENEN HAD A DIARY THAT SHE KEPT AWAY FROM HIM!! SO THEY BOTH HAD SERCRETS!!! WHEN YOU MAKE THE SEQUEL PLZZZZ MAKE SURE THAT IT IS WELL ADVERTISED CUZ IMA BE ONE OF THE FIRST ONES TO BUY IT. EVEN IF THE LINE IZ MILEZ LONG!!! LOL. A MOVIE WOULD BE REALLY NICE TO!!! THANK YOU MZ.COE YOU ARE AMAZING AND YOU BOOK REALLY INSPIRED ME!!! I LOVE YOUR WRITIN AND I AGREE WITH YOU, ITZ REALLY HARD TO FIND NICE BOOKS WITH BLACK CHRACTERS!!! SO KEEP UP THE GREAT WORK!!! I THINK WHAT URE DOING IS REALLY GREAT. JUS KNO DAT I SUPOORT U ND YOU BOOKS 100%.
    BTW IM N 7TH GRADE
    I FOUND THIS BOOK IN MY SCHOOL LIBRARY!!! I HOPE THEY ORDER ALL OF YOUR OTHER BOOKS!!!!!!! I LUV EM!!!!!!!!!

  17. Alex says:

    Yo coe! This book is off tha chain! I dnt like 2 read books but my teach told me 2 just read the first chapter…. after that I couldnt get my eyez to stop readin yo! Im about to read Kendra and i hope itz az crazy az Tyrell. Keep writing those bookz girl.

  18. kendra says:

    i loved the book tyrell. i didnt know that there was a book called kendraeither. it sounds interesting so imma definatly have to read it. cant wait for the sequel!!!

  19. jomari says:

    woow!tyrell was one of the best books i have EVER read.i know that because my dad had to tell me to put it down.but i didnt because it was so good.that book taught me i cant take what i have for granted.the way tyrell’s life changed after his pops went to got locked up was a real reality check.and i can not wait till the sequeal.and till then imma really to get kendra!
    keep doing yo thang girl(:

  20. Taneeshia says:

    HEllo I know mrs. booth pro’bly wont have the time n day ta read dhis but if she does I wanta let ha know ha book TYRELL changed my liife I can relate to some of the stuff he’s go n through I picked up the book cuse the back of TYRELL head look like this boy that I like..lol weird huh but then I started reading it n was lyke DAMN he go n through some shyt n when I look at me I see sum simularities (sp?) well to make a long storiie short I loved the book n cant wait for the part two cuse lyke foreal I felt drove at the end im liike is this really the end of the book..when it was gettin good she wanna cut me off like dat is it really hood liike dhat hommie lol well once again LOVE THE BOOK KEEP IT up mrs.Booth

  21. dana says:

    YOU HAVE TO MAKE A MOVIE ON THE BOOK TYRELL FOR REAL THE BOOK WAS SO GOOD WHEN I WAS READING IT WAS LIKE A IMAGINE IN MY HEAD WHILE I WAS READING THE BOOK

  22. slim says:

    this book was so good i couldnt put it down i hope she has a number 2 or a movie hey im a good actrist i can play novisha this book was so mindblowing good job mrs. coe both.

  23. jamyne says:

    OMG i loved the book Tyrell and i really want to read Kendra.lol the 1st book was really crazy!

  24. jessica says:

    omg i love this book!!!! please please please make a sequel!!!!!!!!! the book cant just end like this!!! i wanna know wat ty and novisha gonna do about their relationship and if he gonna go to jasmine school!!!!

  25. Kieshira says:

    I really loved the book Tyrell!!!! I was hoping for a part two as well lol. I really want to know if him and Novisha will ever make things right, if her goes to Jasmine’s school, if troy is still in foster care, what happened when his father got out? I reallllyyyyyy want to know!!!! Omggg.

  26. darneisha says:

    i lu da book tyrell it iss so gud you r a gud writer that book is something sum kids can look at 2 get a better start in life instead of wat tyrell was goin through nd i wish the book was longer so i knowed wat happened next nd wat happens to tyrell his mom nd baby bro u shud make a 2nd one

  27. kristen williams says:

    i love the book tyrell it was awsomei mean i could not put it down at all….to me tyrell was betta dan kENDRA WAY BETTA i think that the book need to be a movie….The way tyrell and Jamsminehad a relation ship was gudd,i could relate to some of what he had to say bout dads,it was deep..
    Rite more books

  28. Devin says:

    plz tell me when the sequel is coming

  29. maciel says:

    omgg i love tyrell that book is so good i loved how you can relate how the lives of homeless teens are
    one question all the girls in my school wanted to read this book so like i read it it would be a great oner if you send books to my school;; so can you send some to my school?
    schools: ps/ms278
    lacation: west 219th streeet
    grade:8th
    principal:ms.guido
    thanks if you do

  30. simone says:

    omg coe booth thanku so much 4 making this book i love it so much n cant wait 4 bronxwood to coe booth but i was wonderin if you were making a movie to tyrell because if u were omg i would be like your number 1 nest seller
    anyways thanks for being a great author

  31. ANTONIO says:

    I LOVED TYRELL SOME OF DA THINGS DAT ARE GOIN ON IN HIS LIFE ARE LIKE MINE THIS BOOK REALLY SPOKE TO ME I WOULD RECOMMEND DIS BOOK TO ANY N EVERY BODY WHICH I ALREADY BEEN DOIN TYRELL IS ONE OF THOSE BOOKS WHERE IT MAKES U THINK ABOUT DA MORE IMPORTANT THINGS IN LIFE I ALSO READ KENDRA N BRONXWOOD I LOVE DA BOTH OF DEM TOO BUT I REALLY TOOK TO TYRELL THANK YOU COE FOR WRITIN THESE AMAZIN BOOKS N I HOPE THERE ARE MANY MORE BOOKS ABOUT TYRELL N HIS LIFE

  32. Santash says:

    I REALLY THINK THAT COE SHOULD DO A BOOK FOR RENEE. JUST TO SEE WHAT RENEE THINKS ABOUT HER DAUGHTER KENDRA, AND BEING A MOTHER TO A TEENAGER AT HER AGE.

  33. brandon says:

    tyrell was the only book i ever finshed for the first time in my life time the only book i ever read and liked it

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