Dinah Johnson has a generous spirit and a wealth of knowledge about children’s literature. Her passion for stories and history are evident in everything she does, as is her desire to create a better world for children, especially Black children, through books. We are delighted to honor Dinah Johnson and her work on Day 10 of 28 Days Later.
DINAH JOHNSON: Children’s literature is at the center of Dinah Johnson’s life. She is the author of picture book titles including Ida B. Wells Marches for the Vote (Christy Ottaviano/Little, Brown 2024), H is for Harlem (Christy Ottaviano/Little, Brown 2022), Indigo Dreaming (HarperCollins 2022), and Black Magic (Henry Holt, paperback 2021). As Dr. Dianne Johnson-Feelings, she is a professor of English at the University of South Carolina and is a pioneering scholar of African American children’s literature. All of Dinah Johnson’s work is in the service of children. She hopes that her efforts make her readers feel like the little girl who wrote to her, “Dear Dinah, You had made my heart sing.” Learn more about Dinah and her books on her website at: https://www.instagram.com/dinahjohnsonbooks/
I’ve considered myself a writer at least since sixth grade when my teacher, Carol Johnson, required us to write poetry or prose every week. And my parents always respected me as a writer, allowing me the time and space to create, as long as I did my chores afterwards! Other significant mentor-friends in the journey are writers Joyce Hansen, the late Tommy Scott Young, and the late Jonathan C. Smith. I majored in English and Creative Writing in college, writing a poetry collection as my senior thesis, inspired by my first trip to West Africa.
Fast forward to the incredible editor Christy Ottaviano finding a submission from me—in the slush pile she inherited when she was a new editor at Henry Holt Books for Young Readers. I’m fortunate to still be working with her at her eponymous imprint with Little, Brown. I’m fortunate, too, to be working with the amazing editor, Luana Horry at HarperCollins and with my treasured agent, Allison Hellegers of Stimola Literary Studio.
The first draft of Indigo Dreaming, with a different title, was written decades ago. It was inspired by a real story documented in the film Family Across the Sea, about the historical and actual bond between the people of Sierra Leone on the coast of West Africa and the people of the South Carolina and Georgia Sea Islands. At first, my story was a creative telling of the journeys of people from each place to meet each other. But then I made it more child friendly, centering on one little girl from South Carolina dreaming about another little girl on the other side of the world. Brilliant editor Luana Horry knew that the second little girl had to come into the story almost immediately. And she had the stroke of genius to invite the wonderful Brazilian artist Anna Cunha, to add her vision from another part of the African Diaspora. The theme of indigo came to me in one of those unexplainable strokes of inspiration and works beautifully.
Positive Impact of Being an Amplify Black Stories Cohort Member:
There is nothing like being part of a community. And as an older member, it’s wonderful to see that the future of Black Children’s Literature is in the hands and hearts of talented, committed, inspired creators.
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