The old saying, “if you want something done, ask the busiest person in the room to do it” has become somewhat of a lifestyle for me, starring me as the busiest person in the room. Note: This is not a boast! I could honestly, use a good lesson in saying no. But when Varian emailed me, pondering aloud who might be the best organization to start a Reader Girlz type group, to highlight children’s authors of color, even as I read the words I thought – well…I guess us.
Considering both of us hold full-time jobs outside of our profession as authors, it’s not as if we have deep industry-knowledge or access to the powers that be who determine what is published and what gets buzz. But we share a strong desire to see our own books succeed. And if another old saying, a rising tide floats all boats, is true, then it makes perfect sense that we’d jumpstart an initiative to shine the light on our peers in the children’s literature community.
In the year since my novel was released, I’ve experienced a sense of schizophrenia that, I believe, comes with being both a children’s writer and an author of color. I’ve traveled in circles with other YA authors and enjoyed the camaraderie that accompanies sharing the trials and tribulations specific to the world of writing for young readers, with those who understand it best.
I’ve also networked and socialized with many authors of color – primarily of adult fiction and non-fiction – where I’ve found a sense of belonging one usually experiences when race is the primary common denominator.
Both those circles are home – comfortable, comforting and a much-needed balm for the solitary life of a writer. And yet, some days I fit within neither. Just as the adult authors don’t necessarily understand some of the challenges facing a children’s writer, nor can my white YA peers comprehend some of the issues I face as an author of color.
The irony, I wrote my YA hoping to eschew being lumped into the neat, publishing box of “African American.” Yet, how do you do that when there are readers, parents and librarians looking for just that label on a book? It makes me wonder, who am I as a writer? And how much of who I am is marketing babble vs. just, who I am?Some days, it’s like having no home at all…until now.When Varian proposed that we create a group that would highlight voices of color writing for children – bring them to the forefront so librarians, teachers, parents and any book lover would discover or re-discover their works, I didn’t hesitate. For me, The Brown Bookshelf is more than a marketing vehicle. It’s a place where being both African American and a YA writer is finally, the norm.