Making Our Own Market: DuEwa Frazier

July 23, 2014

We are honoured to welcome DuEwa Frazier to the Brown Bookshelf today. Poet, founder of Lit Noire Publishing, author of DEANNE IN THE MIDDLE, and much, much more — DuEwa is a true wonder woman. Grab your notebook and a glass of iced tea, lemonade, or just some cool, clear water…and prepare to be inspired.

duewa
If I could describe myself in one word, it would be determined. When I graduated from Hampton University as an English major, a few of my classmates asked me what I planned to do after graduation. I told them, “I’m going to be a writer and children’s author.” I didn’t know how I was going to do it but that was my goal and I was determined. Upon graduation I was chosen to be an editorial intern at a teen publication in Massachusetts, my family did not think it was a good idea for me to move to Massachusetts by myself, being so young and right out of college. So I moved back to the Midwest and became an elementary school teacher, I also started graduate school in Secondary English.

Through the 90’s and into the early 2000’s I wrote poetry and children’s stories. In 1999, I moved to my birthplace of Brooklyn. The internet wasn’t quite as booming as it is now, so when I submitted my work for publishing, I made phone calls to agents and publishers and sent my submissions via mail. I even submitted my children’s stories to Nickelodeon hoping to write for the hit show “Little Bill.” I started hand making children’s picture books, putting pencil sketched illustrations to words, in order to create visuals for the stories I wanted to share with young readers. During this time, I received rejection after rejection. Agents and publishers communicated to me that they couldn’t accept my work because I didn’t have a solid track record in publishing. I met an editor at an event who was seeking to publish poets. My first poem “Son of My Sun” was published in Essence Magazine’s December 1999 issue featuring Samuel Jackson and his wife on the cover. It was my first publishing experience and I was actually paid for it!

Years ago I heard the phrase, “What you put your attention on – grows.” This became true for me in my creative life. My poems were published in Essence several more times, as well as in literary journals, online and anthologies. I also published editorials and interviews online. Still, receiving a “publishing deal” through a book publisher was not something that was offered to me, and after a while I didn’t seek it. I kept writing, networking at author signings, attending conferences, reading, doing research, performing my poetry and saving money. Eventually, I taught myself how to self-publish. There was no one there to hold my hand through the entire process but I did receive support. I took writing workshops with the late, great poet, Louis Reyes Rivera and was mentored by Abiodun Oyewole of the Last Poets. I attended many of the Center for Black Literature’s National Black Writers Conference’s early panels and workshops. I later took children’s writing and non-fiction workshops at other centers in the city. I became a part of a community of writers who had academics and cultural consciousness in their backgrounds.

When I published my first book, Shedding Light From My Journeys in 2002, publishing became an act of community service for me and an added connection to my being an educator. My company, Lit Noire Publishing was founded in 2002. I became an author, publisher, cultural organizer and consultant all under one umbrella. I hired graphic designers and printers. I shared my book and the books of other authors with my middle school students in Brooklyn. Louis Reyes Rivera helped me edit my first collection. He gave me advice about selecting poems that relate to each other in theme. I had been performing on the poetry circuit in various cafes, arts venues and colleges. I was no different from many other writers and poets who wanted their work heard and read, but I made a conscious decision to publish my books because long after we are all gone, the books will still stand.

I am the author or editor of six books to date: Shedding Light From My Journeys (2002), Stardust Tracks on a Road (2005), Check the Rhyme: Anthology of Female Poets & Emcees (2006), Ten Marbles and Bag to Put Them in: Poems for Children (2010), Goddess Under the Bridge: Poems (2013) and Deanne in the Middle (2014). The anthology I edited, Check the Rhyme features 50 women poets from across the globe and was nominated for three awards: NAACP Image Award in Outstanding Literary Work – Poetry, African American Literary Awards Show – Poetry and Writer’s Digest Publishing Awards – Poetry. If your intent is to produce quality literature and share with a community of readers, your work will land where it is supposed to.

I have many writing projects that are “waiting” to be further worked on or picked up, including a few I am currently editing. Creation never stops when you have a passion for writing, but I am not interested in releasing a book every few months. I think each project should have its own space and time. A possible challenge in self-publishing is that you have to motivate yourself to use both traditional and alternative or creative methods of marketing and promoting your work. I have an entrepreneurial, pull myself “up by the bootstraps” spirit, so self-publishing and managing my work doesn’t frazzle me. But every writer may not be suited for it, because you do not have a publicist, manager and editor at your disposal 24/7 creating plans, representing your ideas and doing your bookings.

When you’re self-published, you become DIY all around and you have to be okay with that, including being okay with spending your money to fuel your ideas. However, I do support writers who have good experiences with traditional houses and I find value in it. It’s all about communities of readers and however you are able to share you work is what is most important.

To date, what I enjoy about publishing my work is that I have a certain amount of creative control and as long as I am here, my books will not go out of print. I have talked with writers who have had experiences with publishers who allow their works to go out of print. I do not know why that happened, but I thought it was unfortunate because we’re living in an age where our children need access to books in print to become literate. And one of our legacies is printed books. As an author, I love participating in programs with my books and interacting with readers – both youth and adults. There is nothing like discussing books and hearing about the interests of readers. I have been fortunate to participate in numerous literacy programs for youth, literary conferences and author signings where it has not mattered that I represent myself as an indie author. I have been a writer for fifteen years and I think I have shown my commitment to the work. But I have humility in knowing I still have much to learn and work to do. As a new children’s author, I believe there is great value in continuing to produce books in print, not just in digital format. When I teach workshops for youth, I bring my books with me as references and students enjoy paging through the books and reading from them. There is relationship that a reader has with a book, which digital reading cannot replace. You can curl up with a book and dog ear your favorite pages. You can make notes and symbols in books on the pages. And there’s nothing like the smell of a book – whether new or worn. I am also a big library geek, and I promote our young people to always have a library card and access books through the local library.
My new book Deanne in the Middle chronicles the experiences of 14-year old Deanne Summers who is starting her first year of high school.

Not unlike many youth, Deanne faces bullying, peer pressure and issues in conflict resolution during her first semester. I wrote the story to have a dialogue with young readers about conflict and having friendships with those who are different from you. So many students are bullied and harassed for being different.

I felt Deanne in the Middle was a worthwhile story to tell. This is a story I began writing in 2007 and I submitted it to agents in the past. I was told there was “no market” for my story. ditm-FRONT-vEBOOK-1 And when I workshopped the story I was told that my characters didn’t “sound black enough.” Well as an educated person who has worked with youth of diverse backgrounds, and whose family is also diverse, I really didn’t know what “black enough” was. How many “yo shortys” and “what ups” can you put in a young adult novel to make it believable? For me, not many. If I were a teen, I would become bored with a book written with lingo just to target me and I would feel that the author is patronizing and stereotyping me. And these are among my reasons for publishing my novel Deanne in the Middle, and not waiting another five years or so for someone else to find the “market” in my work. There is value in my story because I know the youth who I serve and young readers deserve to have a myriad of stories to choose from when selecting books to read.

I suggest to aspiring authors and writers for children to: (1) write often (2) have your work workshopped and critiqued and (3) attend literary events and conferences to network. There are times when I could not devote 100% of my time to publishing due to working and attending graduate school (I earned three Master’s degrees from 2006 to 2013 and have an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from The New School) but I realize that it’s all about the journey. The journey is filled with learning experiences – how I learn from other authors and what I have to teach. I made a market for my work and have felt privileged to share my writing with young readers and connect with like minded authors.

Thank you for this opportunity to tell my publishing story!

For more from DuEwa Frazier, visit her online at duewaworld.com.

What are you waiting on? Go!


Day 12: Alice Randall and Caroline Randall Williams

February 12, 2013

My daughter was immediately enchanted by The Diary of B.B. Bright, Possible Princess, big time. From the moment she saw the luminous cover to her nonstop read of the lyrical, lovely tale, she was hooked. And no wonder. AliceandCarolineCookbookCaseThis mother-daughter team packs a powerhouse punch.

At Vanderbilt University Alice Randall teaches Bedtime in the Briarpatch: African American Children’s Literature. Briarpatch is an intensive examination of African-American children’s literature from the 17th century to the present. In her course and in her writing Randall is concerned with how African-American children’s literature can be used to reflect and challenge the larger society. Some of the books her students read include: Peeny Butter Fudge, by Toni Morrison and Slade Morrison, Please, Baby, Please, by Spike Lee and Tonya Lewis Lewis, We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball, by Kadir Nelson; Stitchin’ and Pullin’: A Gee’s Bend Quilt, by Patricia McKissack; Zeely, The House of Dies Drear, and M.C. Higgins, the Great all by Virginia Hamilton, Monster and All the Right Stuff, both by Walter Dean Myers;
Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry, by Mildred D. Taylor, The Watsons Go to Birmingham-1963 , by Christopher Paul Curtis, Tar Beach Faith Ringgold, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou and Life Doesn’t Frighten Me by Maya Angelou and Jean-Michel Basquiat.

Caroline Randall Williams is the great-grand daughter of the man many consider to be the father of African-American children’s literature, Arna Bontemps. Like Bontemps, Williams is poet and a children’s author.

Many thanks to both for their wonderful and wise words (and a fabulous bit of history below!):


    A Gift To You

“First, we want to wish all the readers out there a very, very happy Valentine’s Day and an inspiring Black History Month. Because it is Valentine’s week and Black History month we have a cyber Valentine for you made possible by the Library of Congress—a link that will allow you to peruse one of the great treasure troves of Black Kid Lit—The Brownies Book.

Edited by W.E.B. DuBois and Jesse Redmon Fauset , The Brownies’ Book was a
“Monthly Magazine for the Children of the Sun.”According to the cover The Brownies’ Book was “designed for all children but especially for ours. “ We love the Brownies’ book. And we think you’ll love it too. What reader of the Brown Bookshelf wouldn’t love a magazine that states on its cover that “it aims to be a thing of Joy and Beauty, dealing in Happiness, Laughter and Emulation, and designed especially for Kiddies from Six to Sixteen.”

There’s poetry, and short stories, there’s history, and letters. And there are wonderful photographs and drawings. Page after page of brilliance by and for African-American children. Elegant and amusing The Brownie’s Book was a kind New Yorker for children.”

    The Journey

Our journey to publishing was a bit circuitous. Though we have a big New York agent for this book, Conrad Rippy, we ultimately chose to publish with a distinguished independent publisher, Turner Books located in our hometown, Nashville.
B.B.coverandsketch

    The Inspiration

Working on the creation of a Black Fairytale Princess, B. B. Bright, we were very, very inspired by The Brownies’ Book which was only published for a year or two starting about January 1920. The Brownies’ Book celebrates the writing of Black children by publishing their letters. That was part of our inspiration to narrate our novel in the forms of letters written into a diary. The Brownies’ Book assumed that the child reader was sophisticated and curious and recognized that adults often peer over the shoulder of the children reading in the house. Like The Brownies’ Book our novel is written for children, and for folks who once were children. Other writers who have influenced us significantly that we love include Virginia Hamilton and Patricia McKissack. Both of these writers bring beauty and grace to the page—are willing to summon a kind of archetypical elegance—and they always tell a good story in a voice that is at once feminine and universal. That’s hard. But they do it and do it well. Creating a girl’s voice that boys would listen to was something we were seeking to do. But we were most strongly committed to writing to empower girls to be their full authentic selves and to know when they are being fully and finally themselves—they are royal. No matter who their parents are or what the situation into which they are born or live.

    The Back Story

This story began in a doctor’s office over twenty years ago. Caroline got bored and Alice started telling her a story—about a fairytale princess that looked like young Caroline with beautiful brown skin and brown eyes. Immediately Caroline started changing and adding to the story. Twenty years later we had a book—and a contract for seven more.

    The Buzz

We were so excited that The Diary of B.B. Bright, Possible Princess was nominated for a NAACP Image Award; that was a big honor. Making it better we got to sit next to a hero of ours, Christopher Paul Curtis (The Watson’s Go to Birmingham) at the awards! We were also excited that The Diary of B.B. Bright, Possible Princess was nominated for a Cybils Award in MG Fantasy. We’re even more excited that there’s been some talk of turning The Diary of B.B. Bright Possible Princess into a movie. We’ve begun talks with an Oscar nominated producer about optioning the rights.

    The State of the Industry

It has always been hard to get African-American children’s books published and hard to get the word out about them once they are published. There are precious few of us working as agents booksellers, editors, publishers, or publicists. And precious few writing and illustrating. But our children read. There is a growing audience that gets larger by the day. Children are profoundly influenced by the books they read and don’t read. This keeps us writing, to close gaps. There are still far too many aspects of ourselves not reflected on published pages.

We take heart from our history from knowing what our foremothers and forefathers endured to get published and read. The history of African-American Children’s literature (something Alice teaches at Vanderbilt) is a history of writers who manage to triumph over obstacles and land in homes and schools, and set up residence in the hearts and heads of children of color.
ALICE

Many thanks for your amazing work!

Visit Alice Randall online at her Web site.


Day 1: Malaika Rose Stanley

February 1, 2013

Malaika Rose Stanley was born in Birmingham – Britain’s ‘second city’ – and now lives in the capital, London. She has been a teacher in Zambia, Uganda, Germany and Switzerland, as well as the UK – and at all levels of education including supporting autistic children in primary schools, teaching adult language, literacy, numeracy and creative writing, one-to-one tutoring, conflict resolution and teacher training. She has also worked as a researcher helping adopted people find their birth parents.

She is now a children’s author, whose books feature strong, positive African, Caribbean and Asian characters and reflect the cultural richness and diversity of family life, friendship groups, schools and society in general. Her work ranges from picture books to young fiction and she has recently had an adult short story included in the US-published anthology For Women – In Tribute to Nina Simone (ed Debra Powell-Wright). Her latest books, all published by Tamarind/Random House include Baby Ruby Bawled, Miss Bubble’s Troubles (2010 World Book Day Recommended Read), Spike and Ali Enson (2010 Book of the Year in The Independent national newspaper) and, most recently, the sequel Spike in Space. Skin Deep, the first novel in her Sugar and Spice series was published in 2011 and the second, Dance Dreams, is due to be published in the USA on 26 March 2013.

Malaika has been a Royal Literary Fund Fellow at London Metropolitan University and the London College of Fashion, a British Council Crossing Borders mentor for writers in Africa and a visiting author and workshop leader at various children’s literature festivals, Black History Month, World Book Day and other events. She has compiled a list of books featuring bi-racial characters published in the UK and the USA, which is available on her blog site.

It is truly a pleasure to kick off this year’s campaign with the very versatile Malaika Rose Stanley!

    The Journey:

I first started writing for children when my two grown-up sons were young and I felt that there were too few children’s books with black protagonists published in the UK – especially those that featured and/or appealed to black boys. I have always loved writing, but I only thought about trying to write for children after I went to enroll for an adult education class in French! I was so impressed by a display of covers from books published by authors who had previously attended the Writing for Children class – including Malorie Blackman - that I signed up for both courses (although I have to admit that I ditched French after just one semester).

I progressed from the basic course to a follow-up writing workshop where the one criteria for joining was to have a ‘work-in-progress’. During that time, I wrote my first published book, Man Hunt, very slowly and carefully. My editor did not demand any revisions and made only a few, small editorial changes. It left me with a very distorted and unrealistic view of the publication process. My writing journey since then has been much rockier. After my first three books, I returned to teaching and had a ten-year break from publishing, so I have only been a full-time author for the past four years.

    The Inspiration:

I’m giving my age away here, but my favourite books from childhood include
A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett, Heidi by Johanna Spyri and the Malory Towers series by Enid Blyton. The love of reading that these authors fostered in me continues to be an inspiration in my own writing.

As an adult, I have always admired and been inspired by the Australian children’s author, Morris Gleitzman, ever since I read one of his early books, Two Weeks with the Queen. I was impressed by his ability to write honestly about serious, challenging subjects but with humour and a lightness of touch. A couple of years ago, I heard him speak to about 6 adults and 60+ teenagers and he told us that the starting point for any story is to identify the biggest problem in the character’s life. He signed my copy of Now with the words, ‘G’day Malaika’ – which confirmed me as a die-hard fan.

All my own books start off based in reality, even when they stretch it to the limits and extend into fantasy, which is exactly what happens in Spike in Space:

Want a story that’s full of ALIENS and MONSTERS, and horrible, out-of-this-world smelly POO?

Then meet Spike! His adoptive family are from another planet, and now they’re taking him to live with them in SPACE!
Spike_in_Space
Can he survive a new school, a horrible bully and a deadly attack from a hairy monster?

Background:
I wrote the first draft of Spike and Ali Enson many years before it was actually published. My manuscript went through many re-writes but I believe that tastes and trends within the publishing industry also changed. When I first started writing, the demand seemed to be almost exclusively for ‘issue-based’ books rather than stories that just happened to feature black characters – and there seemed to be little room for ‘genre’ books such as sci-fi or historical fiction. My experiences have certainly helped to cement my belief that authors should write what they know and love, rather than trying to write for the demands of the market which are likely to be inconsistent and difficult to predict.
Spike_and_Ali_Enson
I have been incredibly lucky to have secured deals directly with the publishers for all my books so far, but just over a year ago, I finally signed up with my first-ever agent, Catherine Pellegrino. The advantages were immediate in terms of the size of my admittedly still-small advance and meagre royalties for Spike in Space, but it’s a complete relief to be able to focus on my writing without diverting my creative energies into negotiations about money or foreign rights.

The Buzz:

“This fast-paced action adventure… designed to appeal to those who like their stories to be tinged with fantasy, thrills and spills, all the drama unfolds in shortish chapters, with a range of galactic vocab and cartoon-like illustrations to add zing.” (Junior Magazine)

“In a hilarious sequel to Spike and Ali Enson, Spike is off to live with his adoptive family on another planet… The combination of everyday things with which all kids are familiar and the excitement of life in space make this a fascinating and enjoyable series, which also carries a strong message about the importance of families and the reassurance they give.” (Parents in Touch)
Skin_DeepDance Dreams Cover

“This touching story of changes, new beginnings and dealing with difference is ideal for sharing with young children facing new experiences or beginning a new school year.” (The Book Trust)

My Brief Thoughts on the Industry:
I strongly believe that the children’s book publishing industry needs to actively challenge and reject the idea that books about black and ethnic minority characters will only appeal to readers from the same background. This view leads to the misconception that their commercial potential is limited and in turn makes it difficult for authors and others from diverse backgrounds to break into publishing.

The industry needs to accept that not all books by or about black people have to focus on the so-called gritty reality of racism or discrimination or identity – but that they should not ignore ‘issues’ if and when they arise in ‘slice of life’ stories – and have a wider approach in terms of ‘genre’, eg magic, sci-fi, thrillers, etc.
To find out more:
Visit Malaika Rose Stanley online at her Web home and on her blog.

Wonderful and inspiring words — thank you so much, Ms. Rose Stanley!


Day 25: Malorie Blackman

February 25, 2012

Award-winning author Malorie Blackman seems to have done it all and won it all — she’s the recipient of the FCBG Children’s Book Award, Fantastic Fiction Award, Lancashire Children’s Book of the Year, Sheffield Children’s Book of the Year — and those are just some of the awards she’s won for her groundbreaking NOUGHTS & CROSSES series. Set in a fictional dystopia, NOUGHTS & CROSSES is science fiction with action and depth, exploring love, racism, violence and more. The series is complex, offering no easy answers. When describing the inspiration for the title, Blackman said that noughts and crosses is “…one of those games that nobody ever plays after childhood, because nobody ever wins…”

Ms. Blackman’s first book, NOT SO STUPID! was published in 1990; since then she’s written over 50 books for children of all ages, including Pig-Heart Boy which was made into a BAFTA winning serial, Hacker and Whizziwig among others. An accomplished playwright and television writer, Blackman is a graduate of the National Film and Television School, and divides her time between book and script writing. “I can’t remember a time when I didn’t write poems and short stories,” she’s said. “I’ve always been as interested in imaginative flights of fantasy as well as reality.”

Born in London, Ms. Blackman was always an avid reader, and was partly inspired to write by the memory of her own childhood, her times searching the library in vain for ordinary stories with a black central character. “I wanted to show black children just getting on with their lives, having adventures, and solving their dilemmas, like the characters in all the books I read as a child,” she has said. In an Webchat on Mumsnet, Ms. Blackman spoke more about her love of children’s literature: “As I love strong, challenging stories, I think the best place to find those on a regular basis is in books for children/young adults. I don’t know of any children’s writer who writes on controversial topics merely to be exploitative or gratuitous and I have read books for adults which have turned my stomach, quite frankly. But there’s usually an element of hope in children’s books which appeals to me.”


Malorie Blackman’s latest published work, BOYS DON’T CRY was published in 2010, and described in The Independent as a book that “shows her writing at its best, creating characters and a story which, once read, will not easily go away.”

You’re waiting for the postman – he’s bringing your A level results. University, a career as a journalist – a glittering future lies ahead. But when the doorbell rings it’s your old girlfriend; and she’s carrying a baby. You’re fine to look after it, for an hour or two, while she does some shopping. Then she doesn’t come back and your future suddenly looks very different…

Watch the BOYS DON’T CRY trailer:

Listen to Malorie Blackman in conversation about the NOUGHTS & CROSSES series with the Scottish Book Trust,and on The Guardian podcast, discussing her work and writing from the POV of a teenage father.

For more about Malorie Blackman, visit her website.


Day 10: Atinuke

February 10, 2012

Author and storyteller Atinuke’s delightful and award-winning ANNA HIBISCUS and NO. 1 CAR SPOTTER books are truly a deep breath of fresh air in the world of children’s literature. Anna Hibiscus lives in “amazing Africa” with her extended family in a wonderful house in a beautiful garden in a big city. Oluwalase Babatunde Benson is known as “No.1 car spotter” by friends and family because he can identify every make of car that goes by on the busy road that passes the village. Atinuke’s sharply-drawn characters, her loving attention to detail and sense of place, and her buoyant sense of humour shine on every page of these chapter books.

Atinuke was born in Ibadan, Nigeria, where she “wanted firstly and desperately to be a Boy, then an Adventurer, and lastly, An Author.” She decided to become a reader, and then a storyteller. “I got through the trials and tribulations of life by escaping into books and making up stories in my head. My journal stayed with me through all my adventures, crammed with poetry and reflections and questions.”

After a stint at boarding school, adventures in England, France, Germany and Spain, a bout of illness led Atinuke to write ANNA HIBISCUS. Atinuke’s nuanced tales, called “memorable and enchanting”, explore issues of class, family, and tradition with love; and they invite readers to explore “different ways of living, different ways of viewing the world all without preaching, judgement and without feeding stereotypes.”

For more of Atinuke, visit Mitali Perkins’ blog and an interview at Playing By The Book.


Day 4: James (Jim) Haskins

February 4, 2012

James Haskins

As the author of more than 100 books for adults and children, James Haskins built a literary legacy that is breathtaking. If his name doesn’t ring a bell, it should; He won the Coretta Scott King award for his biography, The Story of Stevie Wonder, in 1976, and went on to win several more CSK honours.

Born at home September 19, 1941, in rural, segregated Demopolis, Alabama, to parents who did not attend high school but “fostered a love of books and of reading” in their son’s life, Haskins had a thirst for literature. Because the public library did not admit Black people, his mother bought encyclopedias, one at a time, from the local supermarket, and brought them home to her son. A White woman who knew his mother also began to check out library books for Jim to read.

In his segregated school, where textbooks were out of date and inaccurate, the need for the story of the Black experience to be shared was painfully evident, and when Haskins went to the prestigious Boston Latin School, he took to heart lessons in activism, and responsible dissent. As a student at Alabama State University in Alabama, Haskins contacted Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and worked with the leaders of the Civil Rights Movement in protests against segregation. For his work toward justice, Haskins was expelled from Alabama State. He went on to complete his Bachelor’s degree at Georgetown University, then went back to Alabama State for another bachelor’s degree, and followed that with a Master’s degree from the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque.

Haskins went on to work as a stockbroker, and then a teacher in Harlem, NY. His teaching experiences led to his first published book, Diary of a Harlem School Teacher (1969). In addition to the CSK awards and honours, Haskins was also awarded the Carter G. Woodson Award for young adult non-fiction for his books Black Music in America, The March on Washington, and Carter G. Woodson: The Man Who Put “Black” in American History. His Count Your Way series (on the Arab World, China, Japan, Russia) won the Alabama Library Association Award for best work for children in 1988, and in 1994, he was presented the Washington Post Children’s Book Guild Award for a body of work in nonfiction for young people. Haskins went on to write and teach in a dazzling array of capacities, including a stint as guest curator for the Smithsonian Institutions Traveling Exhibition Services, general editor of the Hippocrene African Language Dictionaries series and the John Wiley & Sons’ Black Stars series, and a member of the board of the legendray Black history magazine Footsteps, published by Cobblestone Press. Professor Haskins served on the faculty of the Department of English at the University of Florida; the African-American Studies Program has established a fellowship for visiting scholars in his name. Dr. James Haskins died on July 5, 2005, but this was a man on a lifelong mission to educate and enlighten the world, and his legacy as an author for all ages and historian lives on and shines bright.


Celebrating the Multifaceted, Multicultural, and Multicolored World of YA Fiction

May 2, 2011

Diversity in YA Fiction (DIYA) is a website and book tour founded by two young adult authors, Malinda Lo and Cindy Pon, to celebrate diverse stories in YA. From the site:

“DIYA is a positive, friendly gathering of readers and writers who want to see diversity in their fiction. We come from all walks of life and backgrounds, and we hope that you do, too. We encourage an attitude of openness and curiosity, and we welcome questions and discussion. Most of all, we can’t wait to have fun sharing some great books with you!”

Cindy is the author of Silver Phoenix (Greenwillow, 2009), which was named one of the Top Ten Fantasy and Science Fiction Books for Youth by the American Library Association’s Booklist, and one of 2009′s best Fantasy, Science Fiction and Horror by VOYA. The sequel to Silver Phoenix, titled Fury of the Phoenix, will be published in April 2011.

Malinda is the author of Ash (Little, Brown, 2009), which was a finalist for the William C. Morris YA Debut Award, and named one of the Kirkus Best Young Adult Novels of 2009. A companion novel to Ash, titled Huntress, will be published in April 2011. Cindy and Malinda will be joined on tour by a marvelously diverse array of award-winning authors across the country; with the launch just days away, Malinda took the time to answer a few questions for The Brown Bookshelf.

Where and how do you see the biggest changes happening regarding diversity in children’s literature?

I think that in recent years there has been a huge growth in books that feature diverse main characters but don’t focus on diversity as an issue. I really welcome that development, because while I know there’s a place for the issue novel in children’s literature, I personally am not drawn to those kinds of stories. I like to read books that focus on story, and in that story, it’s wonderful if the characters happen to be black or Asian or gay. I think that sometimes race and sexuality can be better understood when experienced sort of sideways, via a broader story that isn’t specifically about race or sexuality.

What would you like to see “gatekeepers” such as booksellers, librarians, educators, etc. do to support more diversity in children’s literature?

I know that gatekeepers are already encouraging readers to try out books that feature diverse characters, and I thank them for that! One thing I don’t want is for these books to be seen as chores, you know? I think that gatekeepers should consider booktalking these books without emphasizing the educational or politically correct aspect. Kids don’t want to read books that are good for them — at least, I never did! — they want to read books that excite them in some way. So many of the books I’ve seen from authors on our diversity tour are full of adventure and thrills and romance. I think it would be great to position these books based on those hooks.

Along with the blog and tour, can we expect other initiatives from DIYA? What are your goals for the project?

Although the majority of our tour will take place from May 7-14, we’ll definitely be around for the rest of 2011. This summer we’re launching a Diversify Your Reading Challenge for libraries and readers everywhere. Our goals are to challenge readers to read novels featuring diverse characters, and to invite librarians to focus on these books as well. We’ll have some great prizes!

Later this year in October, we’ll be doing some events in San Diego during the World Fantasy Convention. Our website will be going strong all year, so be sure to stop by and see what we’re up to. And we hope to see lots of folks out on the road during our tour in May!

The tour begins in a few days — find out when DIYA will be in your neck of the woods. And those great prizes? You can win one now! Leave a comment on this post for a chance to receive a book from one of the tour authors. (Winner and book will be chosen at random; giveaway open to U.S. residents only.)


Day 25: Harriette Gillem Robinet

February 25, 2011

Vanguard author Harriette Gillem Robinet was born in Washington D.C. and spent her childhood summers in Arlington, Virginia where her mother’s father had been a slave under General Robert E. Lee. She attended the College of New Rochelle in New York and received graduate degrees in microbiology from Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. And she didn’t stop there.

Harriette Gillem Robinet’s list of awesome achievements is LONG. Four of her books books were named Notable Books in social studies; CHILDREN OF THE FIRE won the 1991 Award from Friends of American Writers; WASHINGTON CITY IS BURNING won the 1997 Carl Sandburg Award; THE TWINS THE PIRATES AND THE BATTLE OF NEW ORLEANS won the Midland Authors Award in 1998; FORTY ACRES AND MAYBE A MULE won the 1999 Scott O’Dell Award for historical fiction for children; WALKING TO THE BUS RIDER BLUES was nominated in 2001 for the Edgar Award by Mystery Writers of America; and was a Jane Addams Award Honor book in 2001; a finalist for the 2003 William Allen White Award in Kansas; a finalist for 2003-2004 Texas Bluebonnet Award Master List; and a finalist for the 2003 Rebecca Caudill Young Readers’ Book Award in Illinois. Her most recent, TWELVE TRAVELERS, TWENTY HORSES, is an action-packed favourite of chilren everywhere, telling the story of Jacob 13, Chloe 13, and Solomon, 9, who travel West with other slaves and a foolish young master who calls himself Honorable Mister Higginboom. They must keep their master from robbing a stagecoach and make sure the Pony Express takes Abraham Lincoln’s election news to keep California in the Union. School Library Journal said of it: “The details of the difficulties on the trail and the mini-mysteries regarding gold and murder both serve to ratchet up the thrill level. While valuable for curriculum support, the true gift of this historical adventure is its offering of a slave narrative that builds esteem rather than pity.”

Today Harriette Gillem Robinet lives in Oak Park, Illinois with her husband, McLouis Robinet. They have six adult children and four grandchildren.

Can you tell us a bit about your writing process? How do you work out your stories? Do you always begin the same way, say with story or character? Do you have any routines or resources that you’d like to share?

I do research for six to eight months, gathering information about the pivotal historical events, names at the time, foods they ate, and other details. Then I begin to set my characters into the story.

Which of your characters are favourites (I know, that’s a hard one!), and why? Which characters were more difficult to write? How do you discover and get to know your characters?

I love all of my characters. To make sure that no character is the same from one book to the other, I use character charts. My characters have their own lives, hopes and fears. I have European American children, as well as African American children, boys as well as girls, and in the end goodness triumphs.

What kind of reader were you as a child? What did you connect with? What were the ‘turning points’ for you as a young reader? What literature do you continue to treasure? What made you think? What kinds of readers have you met along the way?

As a child, I loved books. My mother took books away from me and made me go out to play. At night, I read with a flashlight in the closet. I haunted libraries and I read a lot of non fiction, such as about going to the North Pole and about the revolutionary war.


Can you elaborate on why think that historical fiction is essential at this time? How do you see today’s readers connecting with the stories of history?


History is like a lantern that can light children’s paths throughout life. How can we know where we are going, or appreciate where we are, if we do not know where we are coming from?

You’ve also written about people with physical challenges. What drew you to those stories?

We have a son with cerebral palsy, and I spent hours in clinics and hospitals with him. Disabled children need to find themselves in books. Each one of my books has a disabled character, such as Pascal in FORTY ACRES AND MAYBE A MULE. He is hemiplegia cerebral palsy, that is, paralyzed on one side of his body. That book won the Scott O’Dell award for Historical Fiction.

What’s the best advice that you’ve gotten/or would like to give to writers today?

If you love to write, you have to write. Put the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair, and do it.

What can we look forward to seeing from you in the future? What are you working on now?

I have two new books written and looking for a publisher.

Thank you so much, Ms. Robinet! It’s been an education and a real honour.

Visit Harriette Gillem Robinet online and get schooled.


Day 19: Rachel Renee Russell

February 19, 2011


Rachel Renee Russell grew up in Saint Joseph, Michigan, a small city located on the shore of Lake Michigan. She has 2 younger sisters and 2 younger twin brothers. She wrote and illustrated her first book in 6th grade as a birthday present for my brothers. Her New York Times bestselling series, beginning with DORK DIARIES: TALES FROM A NOT-SO FABULOUS LIFE (Aladdin/Simon & Schuster, 2009), and DORK DIARIES TWO: TALES FROM A NOT-SO FABULOUS PARTY GIRL (Aladdin/Simon & Schuster, 2010) is a favourite of kids everywhere (I see children clutching it on NYC subways all of the time!), and was recently name-checked in a Times article about the growing popularity of e-readers among kids and teens.

Called “charming and funny”, by Graphic Novel Reporter, DORK DIARIES follows eighth grader Nikki Maxwell, who chronicles through text and sketches her move to a snooty new school; her epic battle with her mom for an iPhone; her enthusiasm for drawing & art; and a love/hate fascination with the new school’s queen bee, a girl named Mackenzie who becomes Nikki’s rival in a school-wide art competition.

The saga continues, when, settled in at her new school and flanked by awesome friends Chloe and Zoey, life is looking up for Nikki Maxwell, especially since her crush, Brandon, asked her to be his lab partner—a seriously awesome development. However, when Nikki overhears mean girl Mackenzie bragging that Brandon’s taking her to the Halloween dance, a bummed Nikki signs on to spend Halloween at a kids’ party with her little sister, Brianna, instead. After she finds out Mackenzie was lying and her dream of going to the party with Brandon could be a reality, Nikki has two events to juggle… plus plenty of other entertaining trials and tribulations along the way.

You can feel the fun, can’t you?

Russell is an attorney, but enjoys writing children’s books more than practicing law. She currently reside in northern Virginia.

What aspect of storytelling most appeals to you? What’s the biggest challenge?

I enjoy taking my readers on an exciting journey that will ultimately lead them to some sort of self-discovery. I feel the most challenging aspect of storytelling is plot development. I also work really hard to present unique and interesting characters that readers can relate to.


Which of your characters are favorites (I know, that’s a hard
one!), and why? Which characters were more difficult to write?

My favorite character is Nikki Maxwell. Although she is insecure and a bit of a dork, she has a wicked sense of humor. Because I have two daughters, I’m very familiar with how teen girls think, act and speak. However, I sometimes struggle with writing authentic teen male characters.

How do you discover and get to know your characters?

Actually, I’m still in the process of getting to know my characters. I’ve found that the more time I spend writing about them, the better I get to know them.

What would you like to write that you haven’t written yet?
Is there anything, a different genre or style, that you’d like to try?

My Dork Diaries books are realistic fiction, so I would like to try writing fantasy or paranormal. I’d love to one day write a Young Adult book for older teens and a Chapter book for younger children.

What brings you joy?

I’m happiest when I’m spending quality time with my family.

What interview question would you like to be asked, and what’s your answer?

Your daughter, Nikki, helps illustrate the Dork Diaries series. Has she ever considered writing and illustrating her own book?

As a matter of fact, yes. Nikki is currently working on her own illustrated novel.

Congratulations to her! And a mother-daughter collaboration is inspiring. What can we look forward to seeing from you in the future? What are you working on now?

I’m looking forward to releasing a book offering fun and creative tips about how to keep your own personal Dork Diaries. I’m currently finishing Book 3 which is Dork Diaries: Tales From a Not-So-Talented Pop Star. It will be released in June 2011.

Ooh, there are a lot of people looking forward to that — thank you, Rachel!

See reviews of DORK DIARIES from School Library Journal and Graphc Novel Reporter.

Visit Rachel Renee Russell online, and be prepared for fun!
Check out the Dork Diaries book trailer and hilarious blog. And hear from Rachel herself on her inspiration, writing process, and more.


Day 15: Lynn Joseph

February 15, 2011

Lynn Joseph was born in Trinidad in 1963 and was raised in a family of three children by a mother who loved books, and who read Shakespeare to her and her sister Christine, as bedtime stories.

Lynn, like most writers, loved to read and she remembers her very first book, a collection of Grimm Fairy Tales with a hard blue cover given to her by her parents when she was very young. She read that book until the cover fell off and then had to be taped back on over and over again.

From the time Lynn was six years old, she walked along the dusty dunes of the river that ran next to her house in Petit Valley, Trinidad, making up stories in her head and often telling them out loud to herself. She began writing creatively at eight years old, starting with poetry. On the shelves of her mother’s bookcases were many books of poetry including books by Derek Walcott, and Kahil Gibran, which she tried to read.

At the age of nine, Lynn moved to the United States with her family, but continued to return to Trinidad for three months of summer each year. The world became divided into school (the States) and summer (Trinidad). Lynn wrote all the time, poems, short stories and entered school contests and published in school literary magazines and newspapers. She became an editor of her high school newspaper and later an editor on her college paper.

Lynn attended University of Colorado, Boulder and graduated from the Denver branch in 1986. She moved to New York City and immediately was hired to work at Harper & Row Publishers, now HarperCollins. It was heavenly to be surrounded by books all day long and to be paid to read manuscripts and to give her opinions on books.

Lynn went on to attend law school; she had drawn up a life plan at 15 years old that included being a published author by 25 and graduating with an advanced degree from some institution by 30. She did both and then was confounded as to what else to do with her life. Somehow, at 15, the age of 30 seemed so far away and unlikely that she couldn’t plan any further than that. After she published her first book, Coconut Kind of Day: Island Poems, Lynn went on to write short stories, A Wave in Her Pocket and The Mermaid’s Twin Sister, several picture books, and then a novel, The Color of My Words (HarperCollins, 2001).

Featured on Summer Edward’s Caribbean Children’s Literature blog and Anansesem literary magazine, The Color of My Words has been described as “evocative”, “lyrical”, “poetically structured, vividly imagined” (The Horn Book), and “achingly beautiful” (Kirkus Reviews). If you haven’t read The Color of My Words, Lynn Joseph’s words below offer a hint of the gorgeous story mosaics she constructs.

Lynn has two sons, Jared and Brandt, who read her manuscripts first before anyone else. Lynn worked as an attorney for the City of New York, where she was a trial lawyer. She currently works for a law firm in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Lynn loves writing more than anything else in the world. She also needs to live near the sea. She now resides in Long Beach, New York and doing what she loves most, writing and watching the ocean.

Why do you write? What inspired particular works — an image, a conversation, a person, a situation, etc.? Can you describe some surprises along the way of a story?

I write because I am supposed to write. It is my true purpose in this world and I have always known that since I was 8 years old. Before I went to law school and got married and had children, I wrote all the time and managed to publish 8 books. Then nothing . . . . I was living LIFE! Being a mother, an attorney, and always thinking in the back of my mind, one day, one day, I will get to the writing again. Well, my youngest of two sons is 16 now and I work from home as a lawyer, so now, at long last, I am truly writing again. And it helps that my 16-year-old son, Brandt, encourages me. And I figured, what better way to show him that following your dreams is what matters than by doing it myself. And I love it. I just finished a new manuscript for HarperCollins who published The Color of My Words and I am excited to be back!

As for what inspires my books — well, The Color of My Words and my new novel, The Flower Girl, are both set in the Dominican Republic or in Dominican communities and I would say that what inspires me is traveling and living in different countries and cultures. I realized that kids and teenagers are the same no matter where you go, they really are remarkably special in their curiosity and wonderment and once you can see that, it inspires characters and stories set in their world, but which embrace universal themes.

Can you tell us a bit about your writing process? How do you work out your stories? Do you always begin the same way, say with story or character? Do you have any routines or resources that you’d like to share?

Without planning it out, my writing process was the same for my new novel, The Flower Girl as it was for The Color of My Words. I wrote between midnight and 6 a.m. while drinking a pot of black tea (caffeine) with lemon and I was completely alone with my characters; no noises in the house, no one talking, or disturbing my immersion in this other world.

I also do a lot of research before and while writing. I research anything that is factual about a setting or a character’s hobbies. Either I try to experience it myself, or I read about it, or I interview people for their expertise. For my new book, The Flower Girl, the protagonist Nina grows orchids on her fire escape in Washington Heights, NY, so I went to Orchid Shows, and I researched online how to grow orchids and I also spoke to orchid fanatics, of which there are many! I even tried taking care of my own orchids, but . . .that didn’t go so well! The point is to live your story as much as you can, so that when you sit down to write it, it is real to you as the author: your characters are real, the setting is real, the music my characters enjoy, I listen to as well! For The Flower Girl, I not only went to Washington Heights and hung out with my Dominican friends, but I also went to see the Broadway show, In the Heights, and I read everything I could online about the neighborhood, the police presence, the public schools, the stores, etc.

There is nothing like that night quiet with a pot of black tea — the magic of story flows. What were the magical stories for you as a child? What did you connect with? What were the ‘turning points’ for you as a young reader? What literature do you continue to treasure? What made you think?

Like most authors, I read all the time as a child and teenager, and, of course, I won’t go anywhere in the world without one or two books in my backpack or car. The idea of being caught somewhere without a book to read is horrific. And it has to be a real book, not something on a tiny phone where I can’t feel the essence of the words pouring into my soul. One summer when I was about 12 years old I decided to keep track of every book I read. I was in Trinidad, sitting on the cool tile floor of the steps, and I read book after book every day, until I had read 101 books in about 99 days. Most of the books were by the famous British children’s and YA author Enid Blynton. Enid Blynton, a truly prolific author, wrote the books that influenced me most, specifically her Famous Five and Secret Seven series and her Malory Towers series. I also borrowed all of the Hardy Boys books from our cute neighbor, Marcus. No one had the Nancy Drew books so I missed out on those.

I still find YA books the most interesting and I read them more than any other genre. I not only read the Twilight series before women my age were reading it but I read it twice!

Perhaps the most influential book was Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand, which I read at 16-years-old over Easer vacation. It is over 1100 pages long and it was wonderful to have an entire week to do nothing but read, read, read! That was when I knew that I wanted to be a writer. That book was also pivotal for my older brother Gerard who was 18 at the time and just finishing high school as a mediocre student. I was so excited about this book that I was jumping up and down telling him about it and he actually picked it up and read it. It changed his entire life. He went from disliking reading to finishing an 1100-page novel and then plunged headfirst into reading all kinds of books on philosophy. As a result, he went on to become a writer, actor and producer and owner of his own movie production company, a subsidiary of which is named after the leading character in Atlas Shrugged. The power and magic of books is immense!

It’s amazing, yes? The deepest insights into our joys can be drawn from story. What brings you joy?

My son, Brandt Scott. Brandt lives in the present moment only, yes with goals and hopes, but always in the present, and that is what makes him so joyous to be around. It is what I strive for myself, to live in the present moment. I enjoy nothing more than listening to him play jazz piano or play his guitar and sing, and when he learned my favorite song on the guitar and sang it for me on my birthday, I cried tears of joy. So, whether we are taking practice SAT tests, and going over the answers together, or riding bicycles through Copenhagen as we did last Summer, I’d have to say that living with Brandt fills my heart with pure joy.

Tell us about a favourite book you’ve read lately.

I am currently reading very slowly so that it won’t end, The Fire in His Mind, the biography of Joseph Campbell, the eminent mythologist, and author of books, such as The Hero With a Thousand Faces, and Masks of God. Campbell lived a remarkable life from 1904 to the 1980s and his journey could be summed up in three words, by which I try to live my own life: Follow your bliss! I highly recommend Campbell’s works on mythology as well as his biography for every creative soul. It is without comparison the most influential body of work I have encountered in my life. Reading The Fire in His Mind, I am learning more than I did as an English major in college! I am constantly jotting down books to read, ideas to pursue, and I even ordered online two old out of print books on the writing process, read by Campbell himself. As soon as I finish reading his biography I am going to start over again.

Thank you so much, Lynn! It’s been a pleasure.

Praise for The Color of My Words:

“In finely wrought chapters that at times read more like a collection of related short stories than a novel, Joseph (Jump Up Time) presents slices from the life of Ana Rosa just as she is about to turn 13. Through the heroine’s poetry and recollections, readers gain a rare intimate view of life in the Dominican Republic. Ana Rosa dreams of becoming a writer even though no one but the president writes books; she learns to dance the merengue by listening to the rhythms of her beloved ocean; and the love of her older brother, Guario, comforts her through many difficulties. The author’s portraits of Ana Rosa and her family are studies in spare language; the chapters often grow out of one central image — such as the gri gri tree where Ana Rosa keeps watch over her village and gets ideas for her writing — giving the novel the feel of an extended prose poem. The brevity of the chapters showcases Joseph’s gift for metaphoric language (e.g., her description of Ana Rosa’s first crush: “My dark eyes trailed him like a line of hot soot wherever he went”)…it’s a testimony to the power of Joseph’s writing that the developments readers will empathize with most are those of greatest importance to her winning heroine.”
-Publishers Weekly

“Joseph paints the world of Ana Rosa and her family in this gem of a novel. The girl dreams of being a writer, but knows that this is a very unusual wish in the Dominican Republic. Like her ever-drinking father, she is a dreamer, but like her Mami, who fears for her daughter’s safety if she writes, she learns that time is like the river that rushes by and never passes again. When the government tries to destroy the houses in the village to make room for foreign investors, Ana Rosa writes an article quoting her beloved older brother, Guario, and tries to get support for protecting their homes. Her article is distributed by three newspapers, but her words are not powerful enough to divert money, contracts, bulldozers, and guns. On her 13th birthday, the government troops arrive, shooting begins, and Guario is killed. Six months later, as a late birthday celebration, Ana Rosa receives a typewriter and hundreds of sheets of white paper. Now she has her brother’s story to tell and the words are filling up her head. Although Ana Rosa lives in a Caribbean country, readers everywhere will connect with her story, especially those who have dreams, disappointments, tragedy, environmental concerns, and a love of words and writing. Each chapter opens with a poem that sets the mood. A finely crafted novel, lovely and lyrical, this book is a unique addition to library shelves.”
–School Library Journal

Visit Lynn Joseph by the virtual sea.


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