Tami Charles describes herself as a “former teacher. Wannabe chef. Debut author.” We here at the Brown Bookshelf just know her as awesome. She was also in a R&B group (and I really, really want to know which one), and has serious love for empanadas.
We’ve got love for empanadas too, but we’re really excited about her debut novel, LIKE VANESSA, that will be published next month (pre-order now!), and her picture book, FREEDOM SOUP, out in 2019. Tami is dynamic, talented, and so much fun — we’re so glad to welcome her to The Brown Bookshelf.
I’ve been writing since I was a child. I was also an avid reader and devoured books by Judy Blume, Beverly Cleary, and Lois Lowry. (Anastasia Krupnik was my friend in my head!) And while I loved these authors and their books, the truth was that none of the signature characters looked like me, nor did I find myself in their stories. It wasn’t until I became a teacher that I discovered the wonderful, diverse books of today. I would have begged for the books of Meg Medina, Rita Williams-Garcia, and Kwame Alexander as a child! As a teacher, I enjoyed sharing diverse books with my students, but as a woman whose childhood dreams never took flight, I was itching to reignite my passion.
My debut novel, LIKE VANESSA, is set in Newark, New Jersey, 1983. Though I was very young at the time, I clearly remember a moment in history that impacted my understanding of beauty and its representation in mainstream society. On September 17, 1983, Vanessa Williams was crowned Miss America. As in the most beautiful and talented girl in these great United States. And get this. . .her skin was brown. . .like mine and every other girl who watched Miss America faithfully, hoping and praying to see someone like them win.
Vanessa Williams’s victory wasn’t about some sparkly crown or a bad-to-the-bone dress. This was a win for all of us. A seat at the table. A moment that manifested into the reality that beauty is not, nor will it ever be, one-size-fits-all.
For me, everything begins and ends with music. My tastes vary widely. I can go from Vivaldi to the Notorious B.I.G. and not bat an eyelash. The music drives my writing. My writing day begins early at 4:30 a.m. when the house is sleeping and no one is begging me for a snack. It’s my best time to spill out my thoughts.
First drafts are typically horrible. Seriously, every sentence begins with “I.” But I’m okay with that. I just need to keep going until I can type those two magical words: The end.
Then, I celebrate round one and gear up for round two. More music, better craft, and a little dancing in between.
I write from home while my son is at school. Once school dismisses, the writer hat comes off and I return to my favorite job of all: mom.
“Charles evades the clichés and imbues Vanessa with an inner life that’s so real and personal, it’s hard to deny the charm, heartbreak, and triumph of her story.” — (Booklist, starred review)
“Like Vanessa is an emotionally potent, engaging young adult story with a heroine whom it is impossible not to root for.” — (Foreword, starred review)
“This debut is a treasure: a gift to every middle school girl who ever felt unpretty, unloved, and trapped by her circumstances.” –(Kirkus, starred review)