Judy Allen Dodson has a highly-developed skill for research that serves as the historically rooted foundation for the stories she creates. As a griot of children’s literature in the Black diaspora, this joyful librarian, archivist, and writer holds a wealth of knowledge that she uses to weave stories for young readers. Join us to read Judy’s journey in her own words.
JUDY ALLEN DODSON is all about books—reading them as a librarian, preserving them as an archivist, and writing them as an author. Her latest book is, The Ashe Brothers: How Arthur and Johnnie Changed Tennis Forever (Capstone) and she’s also the author of Escape from . . . Hurricane Katrina, a Junior Library Guild selection (Little Bee Books). Through her lens, with an authentic and experienced voice, Judy’s purpose is to teach young children about Black History through the stories of unsung heroes. Her passion is to give Black children books where they see characters that look like them and know that they too can aspire to be great. Judy is also the winner of two Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) awards; On-the-Verge Emerging Voices Award and the Out From the Margins (OMA). She’s the recipient of multiple North Carolina Arts Council grants, a Highlights Foundation Diversity Fellow in Children’s Literature, and the regional co-ambassador for The Authors Guild. She lives in North Carolina, with her family. Visit her online at judyallendodson.com and follow her on social media.
My motto has always been bit-by-bit, step-by-step. I’ve always loved to read books but didn’t think about writing them until I read stories to my own children. My journey from the spark of an idea to the glossy pages of a published book has been a rollercoaster of creativity, joy, and persistence. The beginnings of a story first come from the spark of an idea and then move to the very rough draft. From the excitement of that initial spark, I delve into the process of shaping my concept, considering the age group, themes, and the timeless message I wanted to convey. With that being said, I wrote my way into my children’s hearts and I’ve been writing ever since.
Along the way, I joined the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) and met lots of other writers, like me, in the beginning stages of a budding writing career. In 2016, I won the SCBWI Emerging Voices Award for my manuscript, FAST FRIENDS, a story about the 1936 Olympians, Jesse Owens and Marty Glickman. I was thrilled that someone noticed my writing and creative abilities so there was no stopping me now. Ironically, that wasn’t my first story that got published, it was my middle-grade, ESCAPE FROM HURRICANE KATRINA (Little Bee Books), a Junior Library Guild selection, 2021. There were five years between when I won my first writing award to the time of my first publication. I received many rejections from agents and publishers with the stories I submitted, but I kept writing even though each rejection stung a little harder. Even today, my writing spirit is preserved by my writing community of supporters in Amplify. In 2023, my first picture book, THE ASHE BROTHERS: HOW ARTHUR AND JOHNNIE CHANGED TENNIS FOREVER (Capstone) was published.
So please be gentle with yourself during any stage of publication because you’ll need to protect your energy for the publication journey is long. I’m enjoying my rollercoaster ride because I know my voice is needed in the world.
I’m currently working on several books about historical events and people and I always have a sports book on submission. There are definitely more books on the way.
While writing my picture book, THE ASHE BROTHERS: HOW ARTHUR AND JOHNNIE CHANGED TENNIS FOREVER, I realized early on that the research process was going to be a lot different than any other story I’ve delved into before. It was a rollercoaster ride, so I strapped in and took off. I knew my angle and plot so how difficult could it be, right? I’m a professional who thrives on research so I put on all the hats I wear on a daily basis; librarian, archivist, genealogist, and a mama bear (you know I can sniff out anything when I put my mama bear hat on). I located the Arthur Ashe’s collection of papers at The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, in Harlem, NY (who doesn’t want to take a trip to New York for research?). I didn’t find what I needed so then I visited Arthur and Johnnie’s hometown in Richmond, Virginia only to find a little information, but not enough to fill in the gaps of my story. I contacted Mr. Johnnie Ashe himself, no luck there either, UGH. Who knew all the information I needed was in a book in my own backyard in the Mollie Huston Lee library collection in Raleigh, NC. So, leave no stone unturned when researching your book. If nothing else, you’ll enjoy all the new places you’ll discover along the way.
Positive impact or benefit of being an Amplify Cohort member:
Becoming a Brown Bookshelf Amplify cohort member helped me to relax and quiet my doubts. This was the first time I was in a structured group with Black writers and illustrators from all over the country. Our relationships are still being formed and nurtured as we continue to grow, learn, and share our experiences in the kidlit industry. My involvement with Amplify has connected me with the Highlights Foundation where I serve on the DEI committee. While our formal instruction lasted six months we received children’s book industry information from agents, editors, and marketing professionals on the art of school visits, networking with booksellers, and some of us even received book deals, YAY!!!
Amplify is my writing community of supporters. They hold me up when the industry knocks me downs, as it will do from time to time. I reach out my hand and they are right there to hold it when I need it. My Amplify sisters and brothers get me, they understand my highs and lows as a Black creator that someone outside of my community may not fully grasp. Amplify is the gift that keeps on giving, no matter where I am in my writing process, professional career, or personal life. I know that The Brown Bookshelf and Amplify is my magical place to land to comfort my soul and nourish my spirit.
Learn more about Judy Allen Dodson on her website: www.judyallendodson.com