Reflections: The Tiny Bigness of Ten Years

January 2, 2017

Do you know what can happen over a span of 10 years?

Let me help you…

Personally, my oldest daughter has grown from a thirteen-year-old into a young woman with a college degree and a full time job (my pockets cry amen).

My youngest has gone from a toddler to a middle-schooler with aspirations to be a professional ballerina. A goal I’ll do whatever I can to help her reach – to the dismay of my wallet.

I’ve gone from a debut author to, dare I say, a veteran with five books under my name and a sixth soon to come.

And that’s to say nothing of the world itself having traveled from a place of hope, as our first Black president came to the end of his first term onto his second, to one of abject confusion as we face the consequences of electing a President supported by bigots and hate groups.

Yes, a lot can happen in ten years. But what hasn’t changed is my passion for the world to embrace a wider variety of books that feature and include characters of color by authors of color. Sure, my absence from The Brown Bookshelf as a contributor might make you wonder about that.  No need to.  I’m as committed to that cause as I was, ten long years ago, when I approached an author I knew only from a message board.  When I think back on it now, I wonder where I got the nerve to think that he and I, me a brand new author and he a relatively new one, could start a movement designed to bring attention to our voices.

Had Varian and I had given any real thought to it, we would have both said no.  It would have made more sense.  We were both WWW – working while writing. In other words, writing was not our full time job. It was something we did on our lunch hours, after our family’s had gone to bed, or on scraps of paper while sitting at a stop light commuting to work. Neither of us had the time, to be truthful. And we were essentially strangers to one another.  All we knew about one another was what we purported to be on the message boards. And yet, he said yes when I said – Hey…maybe we should join forces.

I shouldn’t speak for him, but I believe we did so out of instinct (it was just right) and survival.  We knew we couldn’t entrench ourselves in a bubble of only authors of color. The world is bigger than any one circle you belong to. But we also knew if we didn’t advocate for voices like ours – who would?

Along the way, that instinct led us to invite Kelly and Don into our vision. And they have carried the torch the last five years, inviting new authors to sustain this very important site. I remain in awe of it. Of what it stands for, a beacon for librarians, parents and other gatekeepers of children literature. And of what it is – a strong voice that will never be silenced despite those wishing to dilute the importance of diverse books.

Over the years, I’d sometimes get frustrated. I so badly wanted The Brown Bookshelf to be validated by traditional publishers and traditional news outlets that guided folks to books. I wanted us to be THE voice to help folks find good books featuring our stories.

And early on, we faced mild criticism wanting us to be more inclusive beyond African American authors. After all “brown” encompasses a great many people.

But every good fight starts with a step.  And no war can be waged alone.

The Brown Bookshelf was started to help brown authors – those primarily of African American descent. Along the way, we have made many allies to ensure the message supports inclusion of all types. So it’s doing what we hoped it would.  And while some days I still feel like we’re at the start line of the race to diversify publishing, our Open Declaration in Support of Children is exactly why BBS exists – to galvanize our voices so that inclusion of our stories, by us, is understood to be a right not a privilege.

Happy Anniversary to a warrior in the fight for inclusion. A luta continua*!


*The struggle continues!

Making Our Own Market: DuEwa Frazier

July 23, 2014

We are honoured to welcome DuEwa Frazier to the Brown Bookshelf today. Poet, founder of Lit Noire Publishing, author of DEANNE IN THE MIDDLE, and much, much more — DuEwa is a true wonder woman. Grab your notebook and a glass of iced tea, lemonade, or just some cool, clear water…and prepare to be inspired.

If I could describe myself in one word, it would be determined. When I graduated from Hampton University as an English major, a few of my classmates asked me what I planned to do after graduation. I told them, “I’m going to be a writer and children’s author.” I didn’t know how I was going to do it but that was my goal and I was determined. Upon graduation I was chosen to be an editorial intern at a teen publication in Massachusetts, my family did not think it was a good idea for me to move to Massachusetts by myself, being so young and right out of college. So I moved back to the Midwest and became an elementary school teacher, I also started graduate school in Secondary English.

Through the 90’s and into the early 2000’s I wrote poetry and children’s stories. In 1999, I moved to my birthplace of Brooklyn. The internet wasn’t quite as booming as it is now, so when I submitted my work for publishing, I made phone calls to agents and publishers and sent my submissions via mail. I even submitted my children’s stories to Nickelodeon hoping to write for the hit show “Little Bill.” I started hand making children’s picture books, putting pencil sketched illustrations to words, in order to create visuals for the stories I wanted to share with young readers. During this time, I received rejection after rejection. Agents and publishers communicated to me that they couldn’t accept my work because I didn’t have a solid track record in publishing. I met an editor at an event who was seeking to publish poets. My first poem “Son of My Sun” was published in Essence Magazine’s December 1999 issue featuring Samuel Jackson and his wife on the cover. It was my first publishing experience and I was actually paid for it!

Years ago I heard the phrase, “What you put your attention on – grows.” This became true for me in my creative life. My poems were published in Essence several more times, as well as in literary journals, online and anthologies. I also published editorials and interviews online. Still, receiving a “publishing deal” through a book publisher was not something that was offered to me, and after a while I didn’t seek it. I kept writing, networking at author signings, attending conferences, reading, doing research, performing my poetry and saving money. Eventually, I taught myself how to self-publish. There was no one there to hold my hand through the entire process but I did receive support. I took writing workshops with the late, great poet, Louis Reyes Rivera and was mentored by Abiodun Oyewole of the Last Poets. I attended many of the Center for Black Literature’s National Black Writers Conference’s early panels and workshops. I later took children’s writing and non-fiction workshops at other centers in the city. I became a part of a community of writers who had academics and cultural consciousness in their backgrounds.

When I published my first book, Shedding Light From My Journeys in 2002, publishing became an act of community service for me and an added connection to my being an educator. My company, Lit Noire Publishing was founded in 2002. I became an author, publisher, cultural organizer and consultant all under one umbrella. I hired graphic designers and printers. I shared my book and the books of other authors with my middle school students in Brooklyn. Louis Reyes Rivera helped me edit my first collection. He gave me advice about selecting poems that relate to each other in theme. I had been performing on the poetry circuit in various cafes, arts venues and colleges. I was no different from many other writers and poets who wanted their work heard and read, but I made a conscious decision to publish my books because long after we are all gone, the books will still stand.

I am the author or editor of six books to date: Shedding Light From My Journeys (2002), Stardust Tracks on a Road (2005), Check the Rhyme: Anthology of Female Poets & Emcees (2006), Ten Marbles and Bag to Put Them in: Poems for Children (2010), Goddess Under the Bridge: Poems (2013) and Deanne in the Middle (2014). The anthology I edited, Check the Rhyme features 50 women poets from across the globe and was nominated for three awards: NAACP Image Award in Outstanding Literary Work – Poetry, African American Literary Awards Show – Poetry and Writer’s Digest Publishing Awards – Poetry. If your intent is to produce quality literature and share with a community of readers, your work will land where it is supposed to.

I have many writing projects that are “waiting” to be further worked on or picked up, including a few I am currently editing. Creation never stops when you have a passion for writing, but I am not interested in releasing a book every few months. I think each project should have its own space and time. A possible challenge in self-publishing is that you have to motivate yourself to use both traditional and alternative or creative methods of marketing and promoting your work. I have an entrepreneurial, pull myself “up by the bootstraps” spirit, so self-publishing and managing my work doesn’t frazzle me. But every writer may not be suited for it, because you do not have a publicist, manager and editor at your disposal 24/7 creating plans, representing your ideas and doing your bookings.

When you’re self-published, you become DIY all around and you have to be okay with that, including being okay with spending your money to fuel your ideas. However, I do support writers who have good experiences with traditional houses and I find value in it. It’s all about communities of readers and however you are able to share you work is what is most important.

To date, what I enjoy about publishing my work is that I have a certain amount of creative control and as long as I am here, my books will not go out of print. I have talked with writers who have had experiences with publishers who allow their works to go out of print. I do not know why that happened, but I thought it was unfortunate because we’re living in an age where our children need access to books in print to become literate. And one of our legacies is printed books. As an author, I love participating in programs with my books and interacting with readers – both youth and adults. There is nothing like discussing books and hearing about the interests of readers. I have been fortunate to participate in numerous literacy programs for youth, literary conferences and author signings where it has not mattered that I represent myself as an indie author. I have been a writer for fifteen years and I think I have shown my commitment to the work. But I have humility in knowing I still have much to learn and work to do. As a new children’s author, I believe there is great value in continuing to produce books in print, not just in digital format. When I teach workshops for youth, I bring my books with me as references and students enjoy paging through the books and reading from them. There is relationship that a reader has with a book, which digital reading cannot replace. You can curl up with a book and dog ear your favorite pages. You can make notes and symbols in books on the pages. And there’s nothing like the smell of a book – whether new or worn. I am also a big library geek, and I promote our young people to always have a library card and access books through the local library.
My new book Deanne in the Middle chronicles the experiences of 14-year old Deanne Summers who is starting her first year of high school.

Not unlike many youth, Deanne faces bullying, peer pressure and issues in conflict resolution during her first semester. I wrote the story to have a dialogue with young readers about conflict and having friendships with those who are different from you. So many students are bullied and harassed for being different.

I felt Deanne in the Middle was a worthwhile story to tell. This is a story I began writing in 2007 and I submitted it to agents in the past. I was told there was “no market” for my story. ditm-FRONT-vEBOOK-1 And when I workshopped the story I was told that my characters didn’t “sound black enough.” Well as an educated person who has worked with youth of diverse backgrounds, and whose family is also diverse, I really didn’t know what “black enough” was. How many “yo shortys” and “what ups” can you put in a young adult novel to make it believable? For me, not many. If I were a teen, I would become bored with a book written with lingo just to target me and I would feel that the author is patronizing and stereotyping me. And these are among my reasons for publishing my novel Deanne in the Middle, and not waiting another five years or so for someone else to find the “market” in my work. There is value in my story because I know the youth who I serve and young readers deserve to have a myriad of stories to choose from when selecting books to read.

I suggest to aspiring authors and writers for children to: (1) write often (2) have your work workshopped and critiqued and (3) attend literary events and conferences to network. There are times when I could not devote 100% of my time to publishing due to working and attending graduate school (I earned three Master’s degrees from 2006 to 2013 and have an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from The New School) but I realize that it’s all about the journey. The journey is filled with learning experiences – how I learn from other authors and what I have to teach. I made a market for my work and have felt privileged to share my writing with young readers and connect with like minded authors.

Thank you for this opportunity to tell my publishing story!

For more from DuEwa Frazier, visit her online at

What are you waiting on? Go!

MAKING OUR OWN MARKET: Cake Literary on Writing Diversity and Spicing Up High Concept Fiction

May 15, 2014

CAKE logo+2.7.12

Honoured to welcome Cake Literary to The Brown Bookshelf today! Writers, activists and entrepreneurs who “believe that crafting a good read is like baking a great cake — rich, fresh, delectable flavor with a healthy dose of heart”, the founders of Cake have already transformed the publishing landscape with a mission to engage readers and writers from all walks of life. From their Web site: “Co-founded by New School MFA grads Sona Charaipotra and Dhonielle Clayton, Cake Literary is a creative kitchen whipping up decadent literary confections for middle grade, young adult, and women’s fiction readers.”

These women are awesome. Let me just get out of the way:

Guest Post: Making Our Own Recipe – CAKE Literary on Writing Diversity and Spicing Up High Concept Fiction

Black people don’t often view writing as a viable career path.

A professor in my first MA program told me this during an advisory meeting. He said it so casually, as if he was talking about the sky being blue or water being wet. He waited for me to affirm his conclusion: to shake my head up and down, acknowledging that he’d made an astute social observation, or to start crying while launching into my story of overcoming adversity to get into college, and now, against all odds, into a specialized graduate program in children’s and young adult literature.
I gnawed at my bottom lip, kneading my hands in my lap, and waited anxiously for him to hand me back my paper on religious programming in children’s fantasy fiction, so I could leave. There was no story to be told to validate his belief. I grew up a spoiled nerd in the suburbs of Washington, DC, with my nuclear family (minus the dog), and an endless pile of books.

I said nothing.

My professor wasn’t a racist who had a closet full of white KKK robes. Instead, he was a deeply intellectual widower with a quiet, almost granola, hippy-ish energy, and this made the whole thing even worse. He was kind and supportive. He was smart and well-read. Yet his observation of me (and my people) was so limited and reductive.

I should’ve corrected him. I should’ve told him that I stand on the words and pages and books of others who paved a road for me: Alice Walker, Nella Larsen, Langston Hughes, Virginia Hamilton, James Baldwin, Toni Morrison, Zora Neale Hurston, Andrea Pinkney, and many more. That I wouldn’t be knee-deep in unsubsidized federal school loans if I didn’t see being a writer as a viable career path.

To make sure I didn’t come off as the aggressive/overly-spirited/feisty/sassy/angry black woman, and to make sure he didn’t feel uncomfortable around me (or with my blackness), I stayed silent. I smiled, sipped a cup of tea, and I let his statement stand. I stayed in the safe-zone.

I should’ve said something.

The phrase still replays in my head. Dhonielle Clayton photo
I failed those who had taken the risk to put pen to page, who had fought to get published. Over the last six years, this moment became a little suitcase of shame that I carried around, where his words and the way I felt were neatly packed inside like layers of folded shirts and matching socks and starched dresses.
I should’ve said something.

When I met Sona Charaipotra, a super smart and savvy woman who I connected with on the first day of class at The New School, I knew she was going to become a major part of my life. Over endless chats and shared stories of invisibility (and not the kind that comes with a cloak) and being TV/film junkies and a collective well-spring of great ideas that we wish were on the shelves, we knew we’d stumbled upon something that was missing from the books we read as kids and teens, and the books and media circulating now.

sonaheadshotWe discussed the books we wanted to write, those that we thought would be awesome, and tinkered around with starting a venture that used diversity as a spring-board to great story-telling in a fun, sexy, page-turning, un-put-downable way. And CAKE Literary was born.

CAKE Literary is a literary development company that focuses on high concept fiction with a strong commitment to diversity.
What exactly does that mean? We’re not a literary agency, or a publisher. We’re a packager cooking up decidedly diverse book ideas, manuscripts, and proposals, and providing work-for-hire opportunities to authors in order to bring those books into reality.

What’s high concept? That book or movie or TV show you can describe in one-line. An orphaned boy discovers he’s a wizard and must destroy the evil warlock who murdered his parents. A feisty girl takes her sister’s place in a televised death game in a dystopian America. Two sick teens fall in love and confront the fault in their respective stars. Sound familiar? These are the kind of books we’re aiming to create. Big stories with heart, delicious concepts, a compulsive energy, and a healthy dose of diversity. We have a secret recipe that you’ll have to stay tuned to learn more about.

Our first project, formerly called DARK POINTE, now TINY PRETTY THINGS, follows the journey of three ballerinas at a cutthroat ballet academy. Each girl has a different background, mirroring the natural (and sadly, often hidden) diversity in the ballet world. But it’s not the primary focus of the book. It’s about ambition and dance and what one is willing to do to be the best. But these diverse characters are not tokens either – with just their skin color or hairstyle described one or twice to remind the reader of their “otherness.” Their otherness is innate, integral. Readers won’t forget how their backgrounds inform parts of their everyday experiences – the very way it shapes both Sona and I as we navigate our realities.
What’s cooking in CAKE’s kitchen? We’re working on several projects, and busy trying to find talented writers to join us on this mission. We hope to have more news to share soon.

We’re hopeful that, with the recent articles being written about the dearth of diversity in YA and children’s book publishing, and Ellen Oh’s fabulous #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign, our colorful world will start to be reflected in the books written for children and teens, and that more authors of color realize that their voices are needed.

I am lucky because CAKE Literary is helping me finally say something.

Interested in learning more? We’ll be looking to hire writers beginning this summer, so connect with us on or via You can also follow us on Twitter @CAKELiterary.