Day 10: L.L. McKinney

February 10, 2018

BladeSoBlack_CVRThere have been days where I’ve literally felt like grabbing my favorite snack and watch L.L. McKinney go after folks on Twitter who seem to have made it a part-time job to come for her and her views.  I was excited to talk about how much the Twitterverse has changed since she joined the platform in 2009.  Specifically related to books and  publishing industry talk.

BBS: How different is ElleonWords 2017 than ElleonWords 2009?

She is less naïve about what it takes to be a writer in this world and this industry that, to be frank, doesn’t want to see Black Women succeed at anything. Not really. She is more outspoken, she goes after what she wants, she lets nothing stand in her way. She’s honestly a bit angrier, but it’s more a fire that drives her than some unwieldy emotion that makes her irrational.

Contrary to popular belief—and what the stereotypes would like you to think—this rightful, valid, vindicated anger makes her more focused, on the bigger picture and her place in it, her goals, her dreams, and her willingness to do what it takes to reach them and bring along whoever else she can.

She is older, wiser, a bit more weary and battle-worn, but far more experienced and ready. But even with all that, she’s no match for ElleOnWords 2025, can’t wait to meet that woman.

BBS: Are you ever concerned that being outspoken will adversely affect your publishing path?

No. Not anymore. I mean, I was. I think a lot of people start off that way. We’re fed this lie that standing up for ourselves, for our humanity and that of others, will somehow damage us, which couldn’t be farther from the truth. Of course there are instances where speaking up and speaking out does result in pushback or being exiled from certain circles, kept from reaching certain plateaus, but in the age of social media, things are changing.

There are people who would certainly like to see my outspokenness have a negative impact on my career, who have tried to facilitate that impact themselves, but I’ve surrounded myself with people who’ve got my back the same way I have theirs. And my Granny instilled in all of her grandchildren the understanding that we don’t have to fight our own battles. Woe to those who unjustly and unfairly attack a child of the most high, and I stand on that and other aspects of my faith.

BBS: Can authors be their authentic self on social media (standing by their causes) and separate that from their work? Should they expect librarians, teachers, and parents to compartmentalize and separate the author’s views from the books?

I don’t think so, no, because who you are influences your work. It comes out on the page, whether you mean to or not, that’s just a part of the creative process. And not just for writing, but also for music, for visual art. You can hear, feel, see the differences in an artist’s energy from when they were composing whatever piece you’re interacting with. An author’s racism, phobia, sexism, etc., will be present. Whether people will be aware enough to pick up on it is a different story.

And that segues into another issue with trying to separate the art from the artist in such a way. I’m not saying that if a writer creates a bigot as a main or side character that they themselves are automatically one as well, but that we all have our biases, some more apparent than others. Say you do have an author who is racist, based on their personal statements and opinions, but they are continually rewarded just because they can write a “good” book. We as individuals and as a society need to decide our limits on what is or isn’t acceptable. By separating the racist writer’s work from their actions in order to support said work, you’re still supporting a racist. There’s no way around that, try as people might.

It’s like with everything happening in the Me Too movement, I don’t give a damn about the “positive contributions” these abusers have made, it doesn’t make them less of an abuser and they should be held accountable as such. Full stop.

BBS: What motivates you to implement initiatives like PitchSlam and WCNV? Do you believe remaining active in uplifting other authors and/or helping future writers hone their craft is simply part of the package, these days? 

I didn’t get to where I am without help from others, that is fact. For all my ability and hard work—and I’d like say I’m not light on either—there were still people in place, people who I’m blessed to know, who helped guide my path to lead to this point. There are people who’ve been with me since the beginning, people who were there but aren’t now, and people who are here now but weren’t before. I owe them, and I’m thankful to God for putting them in my life to help shape all of this. They gave to me when they didn’t have to. They didn’t get anything for helping me, but they did anyway. It’s helped open doors that, otherwise, would’ve remained closed because, again, Black Women.

If I can help someone similarly, I want to. I need to. It’s my duty. Lift as you climb, you know. Not everyone sees it that way, not everyone works for this. Some folk end up afflicted with Highlander syndrome, there can be only one, and the systems in place help facilitate this. That’s one of the reasons I push these types of initiatives because One is a lie, but it’s also boring as hell.

I like to think I’ll remain active in enterprises like PitchSlam and WCNV. I certainly aim to, but life has a way of being life. I will continuing helping future writers no matter what, though. If these particular avenues cease to provide those opportunities I’ll look for them or create them elsewhere.

BBS: There is a lot of excitement for A Blade So Black. It’s been promoted as a re-telling of Alice in Wonderland. Tell me more about it.

Alice is the first time I dared to write myself, to write what I’d been looking for in books my whole life. I love science fiction and fantasy. Love, love, love, it’s my escape. Other worlds and realms or secret ones parallel to ours are great for escaping. But I never saw myself in those stories. I was starved of that representation, so malnourished that, even when presented with the opportunity to feed myself, I didn’t. The first books I wrote were about white boys. I loved those stories, still do, I’ll probably revisit them, but Alice . . . I awakened in her narrative in a way I never was able to before.

As far as inspiration, it literally started with a What If. What if Buffy fell down the rabbit hole instead of Alice? Well, she’d killed shit, right? So that’s where it all began. I loved slayer type characters, monster hunters, vanquishing evil in the veiled corners of our world. Alice was everything I wanted to be but never saw for myself in the books that peppered my childhood. And she was in my head, it was exciting. And I looked at my niece, she was barely one at the time, and I promised her with my whole heart that if she grew up to be a geek like her aunty—who dreamed of dragons and far away lands, who hunted for magic in the shadows, who wanted to be the fierce warrior saving the day—she wouldn’t go wanting of seeing herself in what she loved.

The Buzz on A Blade So Black

See an excerpt from Entertainment Weekly

The journey 

It’s been a long one. If I remember correctly, I first started writing A BLADE SO BLACK maybe five to six years ago. It took roughly a year to finish the story and polish it. Then it was another year of querying. I’d queried two other books prior, one having received an offer of representation then some interest from editors but that went no where. I want to say it was just under three years after starting that Alice was repped. A few months of polishing and then she was off on submission. It would be two years before she found a home.

There were a few almosts, editors who really enjoyed my writing but didn’t connect with the character, some requests for revisions and resubmissions. It was difficult, people saying they loved the story, they thought it was great, but they didn’t want her. That connecting thing really bothered me, because I’d heard the same thing while querying. In fact, I’d watered down Alice as a result. She was too . . . I was gonna say niche, but I’ll just tell it like it is, she was too Black, but not in a stereotypical way media likes to portray Blackness. It wasn’t “marketable” Blackness. Ridiculous, I know.

It wasn’t until the story landed in the hands of a woman of color, my now editor Rhoda Belleza, that things clicked. We talked about a lot of things in that first phone call, but there’s one thing I remember clearly. She said something to the affect of she didn’t know how much of Alice’s essence I had taken out of the story, but she could sort of tell there’s was more at one point. She didn’t know how political I was ready to be, because simply being Black in America and telling my story is a political act, and she was ready to go as far into that as I wanted, or didn’t want. It was up to me and she wanted to support my narrative.

A Blade So Black in the author’s words: 

A BLADE SO BLACK is about dealing with trauma of all types, about finding yourself again and how you go about that, and about literally slaying what scares you. Alice fights Nightmares, which are physical manifestations of humanity’s fears. She’s for real out here killing creatures that grow out of what scares us. The story is about a girl who’s hurt and angry about various circumstances, both in her personal life struggles and in the world around her, and her coping mechanism just happens to be saving that very world that frightens her, that doesn’t seem to give a damn about her sometimes. Most of the time. It’s about standing up for yourself and being there for others. It’s about making mistakes and being okay with that. It’s about a lot more, you can find out in September.

State of the Industry

Has there been progress? Yes. Absolutely, there are women of color and Indigenous Women, Black Women especially, who’ve been doing this work and pushing this industry forward for decades. We stand on the shoulders of giants. Titans who shaped the landscape. They’ve done so much, and the only thing that could even begin to measure how much they put into this is how much pushback they and their ideals received. The strides the industry has made as a result are present, but they’re not enough. They don’t even come close to being halfway to even beginning to start to be enough.

I mentioned Highlander syndrome earlier, and it stretches beyond writers to stories. The industry is still very clearly invested in Black stories that satisfy the white gaze and it’s demand to be entertained by our collective anguish. It’s like you said, we don’t get to have the Gossip Girl, the Harry Potter, the romance, the happily ever after. Black narratives are equated with the struggle, as if our pain is the only vessel through which we can be empathized with. We’re denied pretty much every other type of narrative. We can’t be Buffy, but we can be Buffy’s magical negro for a few episodes before getting killed off. We can’t do the saving, but boy can we be saved. They can save us so good.

There is progress, but it is slow. Too slow. And I’m not interested in hearing the tired excuses about discussions happening behind the scenes and back channel talks. I’m done listening to “publishing is slow.” That slowness is out of tradition and by choice, not any sort of necessity. Have patience, we’re told. Change takes time. Time was given by those who came before is. The cost was presented and has been met. Now it’s time for publishing to pay what you owe.


Day 7: Sandra Uwiringiyimana

February 7, 2018

how dare the sun riseSandra Uwiringiyimana’s stunning YA debut HOW DARE THE SUN RISE begins with a massacre in a Burundi refugee camp where she lost her sister. It goes on to detail not only the horrors of her experience as a refugee, but more importantly, the beauty and joy that she has grown up with. This #ownvoices story is powerful not only because it’s direct, but also because it is raw and beautifully depicted.

From the book: “As a kid, I was never afraid of monsters at night: All the monsters I knew walked in daylight and carried big guns.”

Kirkus called it a “touching memoir” and a “hard-hitting autobiography [that] will have readers reeling.”

You can see Sandra in a 2017 CBS interview here.

From the interview: “I wrote this so that hopefully we can all contribute to building a better world, especially a better America, for all of us. You just don’t know what your neighbor is going through and to clear up some of the misconceptions about refugees, you know about people who aren’t from this country. We come here and we become part of this society and we love being here, but we are also unique and we have our stories and…we have the right to tell them…. It’s telling our stories–all of us–that helps us live together better. So I want everybody to go out and listen to each other’s stories and also tell your own stories so that we can all understand each other better.”

Sandra has given several other interviews and appearances which you can find at the links below.

Women in the World Conference 2016

ALA Annual Conference 2017

ALA Annual Conference 2017 “Raising Awareness”

You can follow Sandra on Twitter.

Day 6: Baptiste Paul

February 6, 2018

baptiste_headshotToday we honor new author Baptiste Paul and his forthcoming picture book, The Field, illustrated by Jacqueline Alcántara, to be released by NorthSouth Books/S&S on March 6, 2018. In his debut title, Paul pays homage to his childhood home (the beautiful island of St. Lucia), his native language (Creole), and the internationally-beloved game of soccer. Themes of teamwork, leadership, diversity, and acceptance make it a relevant read for all children, and a valuable addition to classrooms and libraries everywhere.

In addition to The Field, Paul and his wife, author Miranda Paul, have co-written the forthcoming picture books: Adventures to School: Real-Life Journeys of Students from Around the World and I Am Farmer.

On day 6, learn about Baptiste Paul and his journey to publication in his own words:


The Journey

As a child, I enjoyed reading. I walked 12 miles round trip to the library. I cherished moments where I was an active listener of storytelling. The elders of my village told us elaborate stories about witches, magic, mythical creatures and distant lands. I was captivated. Their ability to keep everyone’s attention for a long time stuck with me to this day. Though I’d been journaling or writing poems on and off for decades, my degrees in college were in environmental and political sciences. My official path to publishing started about six years ago, after sharing a few stories from my childhood with my wife, children’s author Miranda Paul. She encouraged me to write them down. We even sat down and wrote a couple of other stories together. After a rejection in 2013 for a co-written story, I felt deflated. Her message to me was keep writing…and so I did. I’m still working on growing that “thick skin” though.

The field_cover_3MB

The Back Story

Usually, I don’t believe in a perfect storm, but this was basically one of them. I was informed that NorthSouth was looking for unique stories. I emailed my agent the manuscript for The Field and her reaction was, “Wow the words are jumping off the page!” It just so happened that the editor who acquired The Field loves soccer, played soccer, and her parent company is European—which I suppose means soccer runs through their blood. If that weren’t enough, the timeline just seemed a natural fit—The Field releases just before the 2018 FIFA World Cup. Right after submitting the manuscript, I got an “official unofficial” email. Editor Beth Terrill stated that she liked the story but her superiors in Europe would have to agree as well. I kept writing while I waited. As fortune would have it, on the day I received the official yes, I was back home on the island. I sat on the rooftop of my parents house overlooking the very field where the story took place nearly 30 years ago.


The Inspiration

There’s a reggae artist from Dominica named Nasio Fontaine who inspires me. The messages in his music keep me thinking all the time. His lyrics and musical arrangements are genius. Each time I think I understand the meaning in his songs, another possibility pops in my mind. His songs have the power to take me on amazing journeys.


The Process

I mostly start with a memory, feeling, or idea. And I’m a big fan of outlines before drafting. During the day I walk around with a pencil tucked above my ear and a memo book in my pocket. I like jotting down thoughts as soon as they come to mind. After I have the idea documented, I ask questions: who, what, why, where, when, how—and then I repeat the whole process. A lot. I’m not a fast writer. And I talk out loud. I have conversations with myself. There’s no shame in that.

Although I grew up speaking both Creole and English, I still struggle from time to time with grammar as I switch between the two languages. For me, having a critique group is an important part of the writing process. Their job is to make me a better writer and my job is to accept the critique, whether I like it or not. Having a wife who’s a writer and a former English teacher helps, too.

As for my writing space, I go to my basement. I enjoy it there because I can be a true introvert where me and my thoughts coexist. I have kids, so that quiet time sometimes gets interrupted by distractions. (Most recently, my son built a sprawling fort over my writing space.) But I’ve trained myself to be a “to be continued” writer. When I get interrupted, I can leave a sentence incomplete and pick it back up another time. Writing is the kind of work that’s never really done anyway. A story could go on forever if there was no one to stop you….


The Buzz

“Gather around for a boisterous game of futbol in Paul and Alcántara’s excellent picture-book debut…Readers see a diverse cast of mostly dark-skinned characters often gendered in implicit ways…Paul weaves in italicized Creole phrases and words alongside their English counterparts in such a way that the text bursts with infectious joy…Irresistible fun.” (Starred Review, Kirkus)

“The excitement of the game overflows from the pages and the children, from the beautiful greenery that surrounds them and the brightness of their clothing, to the dynamic movement in Alcántara’s artwork…Staccato phrases match high energy of the impromptu game.” (Starred Review, Booklist)

To learn more about Baptiste Paul, visit his website: .

Day 5: Ray Anthony Shepard

February 5, 2018


Ray Anthony Shepard’s Now or Never-Fifty-Fourth Massachsetts Infantry’s War to End Slavery has earned two starred reviews from Kirkus Reviews and School Library Journal. His meticulously researched book is riveting and lands you squarely on the battlefield.

The Journey
I was born in Missouri, a state that benchmarked the path to Civil War, in a family whose grandparents and great-grandparents were enslaved. I grew up on the flat Nebraska prairie, the state from which Stephen Douglas notched another benchmark toward bloody disunion. I attended a junior high school named after the abolitionist poet John Greenleaf Whittier and graduated from high school in a town reluctantly named after the slain president. It’s not surprising that after years of teaching American history and developing history textbooks at Houghton Mifflin I have launched an encore career writing stories about the lives of littleknown but extraordinary African Americans who tipped the scales toward justice and equality.

The Inspiration

My list of writers that inspired me reads like a Who’s Who of authors for young readers. It started by being encouraged many years ago by Dorothy Sterling, Sharon Bell Mathis, Walter Dean Myers and Mildred Taylor. And it continues today as I eagerly read new works by Kwame Alexander, Jacqueline Woodson, Steve Sheinkin, Kathryn Erskine, Candace Fleming, Padma Venkatraman, and M.T. Anderson. Like I said it’s a Who’s Who list.

The Back Story

There is an old saying attributed to the golfer Ben Hogan, that best characterizes what led to my book contract: “The more I practice the luckier I get.” I believe there are plenty of editors and agents looking for stories that appeal to young readers. The only way to become a published author is to keep your butt in a chair and strive every day to write a well-told story. * The Buzz (lists reviews/honors, trailers, etc. for that book)
My book, Now or Never! 54th Massachusetts Infantry’s War to End Slavery, received starred reviews from Kirkus and School Library Connection and a place on Kirkus and the New York Public Library’s “Best Books for Teens 2017” lists.

The Robert Gould Shaw and Massachusetts 54th Regiment Memorial.







The State of the Industry
At the risk of repeating myself —Write! You can create opportunities for yourself and other writers of color by writing stories that appeal to a wide range of children and young adult readers.

Corporal James Gooding’s letter to President Lincoln requesting equal pay for Black soldiers like him.



For more information, follow Ray on Twitter @rayanthonyshep5 and  visit his website.

Now or Never is a School Library Journal 33  Titles to Jump-Start Black History Month.


Read the rest of this entry »

Day 3: Nic Stone

February 3, 2018

Nic StoneAs I rejoin my Brown Bookshelf colleagues in the trenches of 28 Days Later, I’m elated with today’s YA authors. They’re vocal in a new way and their books reflect a time period where young people are witness to divisive political rhetoric that has remained at its height since President Obama took office a life time ago.

Many of the stories are also borne out of an increase in police shootings of Black people and the writer’s innate need to process, through their characters. Nic Stone has hit the scene with a powerful debut, Dear Martin, a heart wrenching story that follows the journey of a high school senior who attempts to understand the present through letters to a heroic advocate of the past.

The Backstory

So YA didn’t really become a *thing* until I wasn’t one anymore, but it grew in popularity just as I was beginning to understand my own adolescence. I’ve always been an avid reader and consumed a lot of lit fic… but then my boss came into work one day red-eyed and shook. He was reading The Hunger Games. I blew through that, Veronica Roth’s Divergent/Insurgent, and Lauren Oliver’s Delirium/Pandemonium. Then I picked up a John Green book, and it was all over. I’d recently had a baby and had some time on my hands since I wasn’t working a day job anymore, so I decided to try and write a book with a teen protagonist dealing with teen mess. And it was flaming garbage. But the fire was lit.

Dear Martin, was a response to three things: the myriad shooting deaths of unarmed African American teenagers since 2012, the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement in response to these deaths, and the invocation of Dr. King in opposition to this movement—which didn’t sit right with me knowing what I knew about Dr. King and his M.O. So I decided to explore current events through the lens of his teachings to see what would happen. I have two little boys, so it’s really my ode to them and my way of figuring out how to approach the stuff I’ll eventually have to teach them about being black and male in America.

DEAR MARTIN_05.03.17Dear Martin Nuggets of Wisdom

BBS: My oldest daughter (who is 23 now) used to actively avoid reading books or watching movies about slavery or the civil rights because of the anger it evoked. And I’d always tell her – that anger has a purpose. Don’t run from it. Dear Martin very much feels exactly like what comes of using that anger or confusion. What nugget(s) of wisdom do you believe Dear Martin offers readers about how to dialogue about race relations (or any tough topic) in such a divisive environment?

Wait though—you have a 23 year old?! #BlackDontCrackFaReal  (*insert me cheesing*)

Moving on: I feel your daughter though. I didn’t want to write Dear Martin. It took me over a year to watch Twelve Years a Slave, and I still haven’t seen Get Out or Roots. I like… can’t. And it’s not just the anger for me. It’s the helplessness. The eight weeks I spent working on the initial draft of Dear Martin were probably the most fraught of my life. And while you’re right, the anger can be directed toward something constructive, James Baldwin’s words will never cease to echo in my head: “To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious, is to be in a rage almost all the time.”

I should probably answer the question now, huh?

What I hope Dear Martin does is show the importance of considering multiple viewpoints. It’s VITAL to stay open to being wrong. ALL of us. There are no easy answers or cookie cutter solutions. The goal of dialogue should be greater understanding of one another I think.

“Defending” YA

BBS: You and I had an interesting exchange on Twitter with Liara Tamani (Feb 26 BBS spotlight) about teen sex, not so long ago. What’s your general message to the pearl clutchers and their efforts to censor fiction for young readers?

You know what, I’m going to let Dumbledore answer this one: “You cannot know how age thinks and feels but old men are guilty if they forget what it was to be young.” **gently sets the mic down**

Real talk though: I think if adults would get off their high horses and pick up a YA book from time to time, they’d be reminded of EXACTLY what it’s like to be young—of their own youth and all the angst and emotion and passion and wildness it almost certainly contained—and they’d stop being so damn judgey all the time. Adult hubris is something else, man.

YA Death Row

BBS: I LOVE the concept of YA Death Row. It reinforces how far things have come since my and BBS’s debut in 2007. Each of you, in your own way, are changing the YA game. There’s this level of activism and speaking out that makes it clear that today’s Black kidlit authors are not going to let the old rules of publishing dictate their future. Who knighted you guys that? And how are you all using your connection to one another to mold the landscape and/or nurture other up and coming writers?

What’s funny is the whole thing was birthed out of Dhonielle Clayton and me picking at Scholastic editor Matt Ringler—who edits GOOSEBUMPS, yo! He totally introduced us to R.L. Stine, too. #childhooddreamrealized—while he was in the middle of a live Twitter chat. One thing led to another, and next thing you know, we’re talking about 90’s rap and Death Row records, then graphic designer Jess Andree jumped in there and made the image for us. The image includes Dhonielle Clayton, Angie Thomas, Suge Knight (LOL), myself and L.L. McKinney on the top row, then Lamar Giles, Matt Ringler, Justina Ireland, Tochi Onyebuchi, and Jason Reynolds.

And honestly we just support each other. We all write very different things, so we boost each other in our respective genres. It’s lit!

The Buzz about Dear Martin

“This hard-hitting book delivers a visceral portrait of a young man reckoning with the ugly, persistent violence of social injustice.” – Publishers Weekly

“Stands apart in a literature that too often finds it hard to look hard truths in the face.” Kirkus Reviews 

Day 2: Kheryn Callender

February 2, 2018

As a Trinidadian-American writer, it’s particularly thrilling to see children’s books set in the Caribbean. The moment I saw the cover for HURRICANE CHILD, I was excited. Then the starred reviews started coming in. Kirkus wrote, “Callender draws readers in and makes them identify with Caroline’s angst and sorrow and joy and pain,” and School Library Journal called the story “an excellent and nuanced coming-of-age tale.”

Kheryn’s post about their process and their particular take on the industry from the inside–they are an associate editor at Hachette–gives you the full scoop on where African-American kidlit is now and where Kheryn thinks it needs to go in the future.

Below, Kheryn talks about their journey to publication, gives us a taste of what we can expect from HURRICANE CHILD, touts one of their own authors, and has helpful information about the industry.


KC author photoMy mother has had poetry published and was an English teacher for over fifteen years, before she became an assistant principal, so I’ve always been surrounded by books. Reading together at night (RAMONA, HARRY POTTER, ANIMORPHS) was our favorite pastime. But I, like many marginalized authors, had difficulty finding myself in stories. Cassie from the Animorphs series was the first I’d seen a black main character.

I started my personal mission to create more diversity in children’s books in college, and my mom was supportive of my many years of attempting to write manuscripts and attempting to find an agent. I queried two full novels before I attended The New School’s MFA Writing for Children program, which helped me find an internship at Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, which became a full-time job. Somehow, the added stress of a 9-5 sparked even more motivation in me, and I began a rigorous schedule of waking up in the early hours to write. My busiest and most productive months were when I woke up at 4am to write. (I’m trying to return to that schedule!)

I queried Beth Phelan (now of Gallt & Zacker) with an MG sci-fi, and she offered me representation. The novel didn’t sell, but I’d already begun working on the beginnings of what would be HURRICANE CHILD, looking to pieces of many of the old manuscripts that will never see the light of day, pulling the strongest writing to build Caroline’s story.


HCHurricane Child is about twelve-year-old Caroline Murphy’s search for her missing mother in the US Virgin Islands. Caroline thinks that her mother has been taken away to the spirit world by a spirit called “the woman in black.” In Caroline’s search to find her mother, she meets a new classmate named Kalinda, and begins to develop feelings for her. Together they set out to search for Caroline’s mother while a hurricane bears down on the islands.

Hurricane Child was written out of my experiences growing up in St. Thomas of the US Virgin Islands. Like Caroline, I’m also a hurricane child—someone who was born within a week or so of a hurricane—and I grew up hearing the same teasing idea that Caroline does: being a hurricane child is unlucky. It felt that way as a child. The islands are paradise, but I’d been lonely and isolated for many years. I decided to write Hurricane Child for anyone else who might be in the islands, lonely and different, so that they would know they’re not alone. Hurricane Child is available for pre-order now and comes out on March 27th.

THIS IS KIND OF AN EPIC LOVE STORY, my debut YA, is about sixteen-year-old Nathan Bird, an aspiring screenwriter who has seen the demise of too many real-life relationships to believe in happy endings (including his own with his best friend and ex-girlfriend), but must confront feelings for his childhood friend, Oliver James Hernández, when Ollie moves back to their neighborhood.

EPIC LOVE STORY is the rom-com I would’ve wanted (and still want to see more of) as a queer teen of color. There will always be a need for coming out stories and difficult stories of adversity because of identity, like HURRICANE CHILD—but especially now, with so much real adversity queer people of color already struggle with, I think there’s now an equal need for reminders that happiness and epic love stories are possible and do exist for people like us as well. THIS IS KIND OF AN EPIC LOVE STORY is available in fall of this year. (Check out the cover reveal on February 14th on Pop! Goes the Reader!)


Tyler Johnson Was HereJay Coles isn’t exactly under the radar these days, but I’m so proud to have acquired and edited his important and necessary novel, TYLER JOHNSON WAS HERE, and want to make sure everyone knows his name, and to look out for his book, which comes out March 20th. Here’s a description:

When Marvin Johnson’s twin, Tyler, goes to a party, Marvin decides to tag along to keep an eye on his brother. But what starts as harmless fun turns into a shooting, followed by a police raid.

The next day, Tyler has gone missing, and it’s up to Marvin to find him. But when Tyler is found dead, a video leaked online tells an even more chilling story: Tyler has been shot and killed by a police officer. Terrified as his mother unravels and mourning a brother who is now a hashtag, Marvin must learn what justice and freedom really mean.

The novel is heartbreaking and wholly captures what it feels like as a Black American—the anger, the sadness, and the hope for a better tomorrow.


The state of the industry in regards to African-American kidlit is the best it’s ever been, thanks to incredible writers and activists like Angie Thomas, Dhonielle Clayton, and more—but there’s still work to be done. There need to be more people of color working in publishing, applying for internships and assistant positions, to help acquire stories that might not otherwise be acquired. Just this past weekend, I and another editor realized that, in all of the kidlit publishing industry in the United States, there are only eight black acquiring editors, myself included. This is horrible, and needs to change—but it can only change with your help!

I really encourage people of color hoping to break into the industry to apply for as many publishing internships as possible, to continue adding onto your resume as you apply for assistant positions. If living in a place that is not NYC, I know that this can be difficult, but there are also a lot of remote internships, especially for literary agencies. We Need Diverse Books also features a wonderful Internship Grant—you can learn more about that here:

I would also encourage you to reach out to editors for informational interviews, even if it’s only over the phone. I am always happy to give advice to anyone hoping to break into the industry—feel free to contact me at, and we can set up a phone call, or meet for coffee. I know that most editors are happy to help as well, so please reach out to us—it never hurts to ask!

There also needs to be more intersectionality—more queer and disabled people of color of different economic statuses and different religions, gender identities, and more. There isn’t just one way to be black, and as long as we’re working for more diversity, these intersectional identities and stories need to be found and told.

TB: Thank you so much for all of this information, Kheryn! It’s very generous of you to share your story, and offer your help to up and coming authors. You can find Kheryn online on Twitter @kheryncasey, on Instagram as kheryncasey, or on their website:

Day 1: Useni Eugene Perkins

February 1, 2018

Poet, playwright, and youth development professional Useni Eugene Perkins has a long history of distinguished work; it was some time before one of his most well-known poems was publicly known to be his, even though “if you were a black child in a Black classroom anywhere in the United States since 1975, there is a chance you recited Perkins.”

HEY BLACK CHILD, illustrated by Bryan Collier, was reintroduced to the world in 2017. School Library Journal calls it “a rousing celebration and call to action, this book is a great choice for every library.” The Brown Bookshelf is honoured to welcome Useni Eugene Perkins.

    The Journey

My journey as a writer began when I was in grade school. Having been reared in an artistic environment, I was exposed to many of the writers who were participants in Chicago’s Black Arts Renaissance in the early forties. My father Marion Perkins, a self-taught sculptor, was a central figure in this movement which included Black writers like Margaret G. Burroughs, Theodore Ward, Margaret Walker, Willard Motley and Gwendolyn Brooks. He also knew Richard Wright , Paul Robeson and Langston Hughes. I read the works of all these writers but was primarily influenced by Langston Hughes and Richard Wright.

When the Black Arts Movement began to emerge in the early sixties, my first book of poems AN APOLOGY TO MY AFRICAN BROTHER was published by Free Black Press in 1965. This volume was followed by BLACK IS BEAUTIFUL, SILHOUETTE, and MEMORIES AND IMAGES. However, my writings were not confined to poetry and in 1975 Third World Press published HOME IS A DIRTY STREET: THE SOCIAL OPPRESSION OF BLACK CHILDREN, a sociological analysis of Black children growing up in Chicago. The imminent historian Lerone Bennett Jr., cited the book as “… one of the important on the sociology of streets since the publication of BLACK METROPOLIS” by Dr. Sinclair Drake and Horace Cayton. In keeping with my interest in the social development of Black children, Third World Press published HARVESTING NEW GENERATIONS: THE POSTIVE DEVELOPMENT OF BLACK YOUTH in 1986.

    Back Story

Although I had never seriously thought about writing books for children, I was familiar with and admired the works of Julius Lester, Tom Feelings, Toni Cade Bambara and Virginia Hamilton. However, I also was interested in playwriting and in 1975 wrote a musical for children entitled BLACK FAIRY, which was a play about a young boy who lacked self-esteem. My motivation for writing Black Fairy was because I felt there were few plays that emphasized Black history and culture to inspire Black children. The musical included twelve songs and Hey Black Child was one of the lyrics. It was performed in many venues throughout the Midwest and awarded a citation of merit after it was performed at St Mary College in Detroit by the late mayor Coleman Young. Hey Black Child became an instant favorite of the thousands of children who saw the production. Because of its popularity, Third World Press published Black Fairy in 1986 , in a volume bearing the same name. The book also included two other children’s musicals, Young John Henry and the Legend of Deadwood Dick.

Despite being written as a lyric, Hey Black Child was being recited as a poem by many children and some teachers had their students recite it each day before classes.

    The Process

Mistakenly, over the years, Hey Black Child was being attributed to Countee Cullen or Maya Angelou.

What may have given greater creditability to this belief was when three year old Pe’Tehn Raighn-Kem recited the poem on Val Warner’s television show in Chicago. Later, on Steve Harvey’s nationally televised Little Big Shots, she recited it again but identified me as the author.

However, even though it had been verified that I was the author of Hey Black Child, it continued to be attributed to other poets.

When Little Brown and Company contacted me in 2015 about doing an illustrated book on Hey Black Child, I was pleasantly surprised. To learn that Hey Black Child had received national attention and continued to be an uplifting poem for Black children was extremely inspiring. Also, the fact that the multiple award-winning artist Bryan Collier was to be the illustrator was also gratifying. Unquestionably, his creative images of children have done much to embellish my poem.

    Where Do We Go From Here?

Although some progress has been made in changing the misinformation and stereotypes that have maligned Black history and culture, racism still resonates in every facet of American life. I believe literature, of every genre, can play an important role in correcting this problem. This is particularly true of illustrated books because it is during the formative years that children begin to form their perceptions about race and life in general. The images children are exposed to during this period will have a great influence on them when they become adults.

If given the opportunity, I would like to write illustrated books for middle grade students. Among these books, I would include Paul Robeson, Ida B. Wells, Toussaint L’Ouverture and Kwame Nkrumah. The latter two books have particular relevancy because Black children need to learn that the Black struggle for freedom in America is also linked to Africa and the Black Diaspora. Racial consciousness is critical to Black children who have historically been indoctrinated to perceive their African heritage as a jaded legacy.

Finally, I’m deeply grateful to Little Brown and Company for publishing Hey Black Child and making it possible for thousands of Black children to visualize their God-given talents.

Peace, Harmony and Love.