More than a decade ago, L. Divine dreamed of creating books that would inspire young adults to read for pleasure. The teacher and scholar came up with a main character, Jayd Jackson, a teen from Compton, California who attends a predominantly white school and navigates the world of classes, boys, friendships and family. “DRAMA HIGH,” she shared on one site, “is about coming into one’s power through yourself and through your identity.”
Her vision sparked a sensation. Hailed for being a fresh voice with the power to keep teens coming back for more, L. Divine now has 14 novels in print and is planning her second series, Drama U, which will spotlight Jayd’s college years. She is a mother, mentor, teacher, sought-after speaker and volunteer who remains committed to writing books that young people love to read.
We’re proud to celebrate the work of L. Divine on Day 16 of our campaign:
As a tutor and student teacher I noticed a lack of available literature that interested my students in junior high and high school. I self-published my first novel Drama High, The Fight as an answer to what I saw was a serious gap in the literary world. The literature my students—in particular my girls—were interested in was inappropriate for their young adult minds, and I felt stuck as an educator in more ways than one. I started working on the first volume in graduate school and completed it while teaching junior high school in Carson, California, which is a small city adjacent to my hometown, Compton. The Fight was inspired by an actual fight between two girls in my classroom—best friends—over a boy. The altercation upset me so much that I went home and wrote about it, incorporating it into my first novel.
After the completion of the self-published edition, I studied the writing industry’s textbooks—such as Writer’s Market—and sent out dozens of query letters and proposals, all the while polishing my still in-process manuscript. After about a year of trying, I was finally in the right place at the right time, met my first agent, and the rest is herstory.
I have always loved reading and am still an avid reader. Octavia Butler, Alice Walker, Maryse Conde, Gloria Naylor and Derrick Bell are just a few of the writers who have inspired me for most of my life. I love science fiction and these writers weave stories of race, fiction, fantasy and social commentary into captivating tales with unforgettable characters. I wanted to write just like them when I grew up and I continuously strive to master the craft. When I was a child I also read all of Francine Pascal’s Sweet Valley books, which inspired me to write a series with a similar premise but characters based off of people in my environment. I also read what my mother read, which were novels mostly by Mary Higgins Clark and Danielle Steele.
The Back Story
Volume fourteen of the Drama High Series, So, So Hood, was published in June, 2011. The series was initially acquired by HarperCollins/Amistad. I followed my then editor to Dafina/Kensington and have been there ever since. Being a published novelist has been an invaluable learning experience and I am enjoying the journey.
The series has had excellent reviews in Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, Essence and Ebony magazines as well as several national newspapers. The public has shown special interest in the series and it’s growing in popularity. There are currently 14 volumes in publication, which debuted October 2006. Most recently I served as a sub-committee member for the NAACP Image Awards for Outstanding Children’s Literature and had the honor of being a selected author for the American Library Association’s Quick Pick List for Reluctant Young Adult Readers for the past four years. I was nominated for Georgia Author of the Year in 2010, had the pleasure of being a selected author at the NAACP Author’s Pavilion in both 2009 & 2011, and was a featured author at the Book Expo America in 2008 & 2009.
The State of the Industry
The “teen years” are a unique time for all young adults, and I think the genre of African American YA literature should reflect that. The first thing we need to do is recognize that African American YA/Teen lit is in a category all of its own. Solely race, supernatural occurrences or hood issues do not define it. Like other YA literature, African American YA is a mixture of these themes and more. Most importantly it is not children’s literature, which it’s often miscategorized as, nor is it completely adult. Junior high and high school are such unique times in our lives, where we have lost some of the innocence of childhood yet maintain a belief in all things being possible. This is why I love writing for teens: because there are no limitations to the merging of reality with imagination. That’s why I believe we’ve yet to see the full potential of this relatively new literary niche.
Find out more about L. Divine here.