Day 15: Keturah A. Bobo

February 15, 2018

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Born in Toledo, Ohio with strong family roots in Detroit, Michigan, Keturah grew up with parents that instilled in her the importance of individuality and creativity.

Many of her illustrations depict empowering messages of black women and girls. Her paintings are renown for having large bold beautiful hair styles and representing an underserved, but growing, population of self-aware people within the African diaspora.

And one look at the abundance of her products online is all you’ll need to see exactly what we mean. Keturah is literally a one person shop that features everything from hand-painted denim jackets, to Tees, to prints and mugs all adorned with her beautifully rendered black women.

We asked her about her journey, her backstory and her inspiration.

These are her words:

THE JOURNEY

As an artist it is my duty to make art that inspires, uplifts, and advocates for my community. Nothing is more important in my art than this. I have been consistently working as an art entrepreneur since 2013. Creating my own body of work and doing freelance art projects ranging from logos to entire bodies of work. I was contacted by HarperCollins in 2016 and they were interested in working with me on Grace Byer’s children’s book “I am Enough.”

IAmEnough

THE BACKSTORY

HarperCollins was familiar with my work via social media and presented various artists to Grace and she chose my work because the intention behind my paintings so closely relates to the purpose of “I am Enough.”

THE INSPIRATION

My favorite writer by far is Toni Morrison. She has the ability to utilize words in such a visual way, I’m inspired to paint something every time I read one of her books. My favorite illustrator is probably Kadir Nelson; I love the way he alters perspectives and makes the characters he paints appear monumental. I love music and it is always apart of my creative process.


You can learn more about Keturah and see more of her work at www.arielbrands.com

 

 

 

 

 


Day 14: Tiffany D. Jackson

February 14, 2018

Tiffany D JacksonLast winter, Tiffany D. Jackson’s debut YA novel ALLEGEDLY had a lot of people talking with it’s emotionally charged story literally ripped from the courtroom. Kirkus called the novel “searing and true,” adding it “effectively joins Ava DuVernay’s documentary 13th and Michelle Alexander’s THE NEW JIM CROW (2010) to become another indictment of the penal system’s decimating power beyond its bars.” In June, we’ll be treated to a second novel, also based on a real life court case.

THE JOURNEY

TB: When did you start your writing journey?

allegedly coverTJ: My journey started when I was four! I wrote short stories for my mom, lumping random letters together to make them look like real words, and always grew frustrated when she couldn’t read them back to me. Fast forward to college, where I majored in Film and Television but still dreamed of becoming an author, working on stories during summer and winter breaks. Then in 2012, about a decade into my television career, I read of a case involving a nine-year-old being charged with murder. Fascinated, I began crafting a story that would ultimately become my debut novel, ALLEGEDLY. It took two years to polish the story, but I found an agent and landed a deal within a year and finally published in January of 2017.

TB: How do you think your background in film and television comes to play in your writing?

TJ: My background plays a crucial part in my creative process. I tend to write cinematically, meaning I treat each chapter as scenes or acts in a movie, painting pictures that can be clearly visualized. For structure, I follow Syd Field’s famous script writing “Paradigm” formula, which helps with plotting, pacing and tension building. Also, I’m used to cutting shows down to time in order to fit specific programming clocks for broadcast. This makes me a ruthless self-editor when it comes to my novels. If a scene doesn’t help to move the story forward, I trash it, no matter how pretty it is.

THE BACKSTORY

 

MondaysNotComing HCTB: Tell us about your upcoming title.

TJ: MONDAY’S NOT COMING is similar to ALLEGEDLY in that the story is loosely inspired by a real case that occurred in 2009, requiring extensive research. The story takes place in Southeast Washington D.C and deals with gentrification, mental health in the black community, and the biases of missing children. Coincidentally, I turned in my first draft a week before the story on the missing black teen girls in D.C went viral (#missingDCgirls).

But the REAL backstory I attribute to my best friend Tara. When we were in the third grade, Tara sprained her ankle and was out of school for a week. One of the worst weeks of my life! I never realized how connected we were and experienced how it felt to live without my better half. I poured those memories and feelings into every page of MNC.

THE INSPIRATION

TB: What inspired you to write?

TJ: Growing up, I was the type of girl who wanted stories that were relatable to my surroundings in Brooklyn and turned to adult novels at an early age. This inspired me to write for the type of kid that I was, in search of raw, gritty tales.

TB: Is this need for gritty tales the catalyst for choosing stories based on actual legal cases?

TJ: These two particular cases stood out and reminded me of so many unanswered questions I had as a teen. For example, I often wondered why a kid snatched and thrown in the back of a van near my elementary school was barely spoken of yet girls like Elizabeth Smart had weeks of national coverage.

I am hoping using cases will drive home the point to kids that these situations are really happening to their fellow peers. It’s not always about spoon-feeding kids lessons, it’s about putting them in another person’s shoes and letting them walk on their own, ultimately helping them to develop compassion and empathy by seeing injustice through a wider lens.

TB: What other “under the radar” African-American book creators do you want to shout out?

TJ: Liara Tamani’s CALLING MY NAME is SO stunning, poetic and beautiful. I gave five copies of it away for Christmas to friends.

TB: Liara is another one of our honorees this year, you’ll see her post on Day 20!

THE STATE OF KIDLIT

TB: What is your take on the state of the industry especially as regards African-American Kidlit?

TJ: I still consider myself quite the newbie, learning something new everyday about this industry. The good and the bad. But one thing I love about the African-American Kidlit community is the quality of the books we’re publishing, the risks and beautiful ingenuity. So although we still have a lot of work to do in order for publishing giants to respect our stories and journey, it gives me great hope that we have so much beauty to share and readers eager to receive it.

You can find Tiffany at her website, on twitter,  and Instagram.

 


Day 12: Ebony Glenn

February 12, 2018

EbonyGlennEdit Ebony Glenn is an illustrator and artist living on the quiet outskirts of Atlanta, Georgia. With an arts degree in Drawing and Painting from UNG , she aspires to bring stories to life with fanciful illustrations that are filled with whimsy and charm.

While looking through her website,  I was captivated by her  bright colorful illustrations. And somehow everything she draws seems to have a warm childlike innocence. Even the adults!  It’s no wonder that her new book, Mommy’s Khimar, has received starred reviews from Publisher’s Weekly, Kirkus, and Booklist!

While we anxiously await its release date of April 3, 2018, I was lucky enough to pick her brain on a few things. Here are her comments.

THE JOURNEY

JC: When did you start your writing journey?

EG: Ever since I was a girl, I’ve always known that I wanted to make art for a living.  Illustration has always been my solace, my way of escaping reality to an imaginary world.  Yet it wasn’t until after college that I began to explore the idea of turning this passion into a career. 

While working a part-time job in the day, I worked on my portfolio at night.   I believed in my ability to create compelling imagery for children’s books, so I sought out ways to improve my skills and gain knowledge of the publishing industry.  I studied the artwork of many successful illustrators, experimented with different artistic mediums, read plenty of books on the subject, and joined the organization SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) to help me meet other like-minded folk. 

In 2016, I was fortunate enough to be approached by the Bright Agency for artistic representation, and it’s been a blessing ever since.

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THE BACKSTORY

 

JC: Tell us a little about Mommy’s Khimar.

EG: Simply put, my wonderful agents at Bright were instrumental in helping me obtain the opportunity to illustrate Mommy’s Khimar, a picture book written by the talented Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow.  It’s a story of a sweet, little Muslim girl who loves to wear her mother’s headscarves.

THE INSPIRATION

JC: What are some of the things that inspire you?

EG: I believe a story that can captivate the mind and transport the reader to another world, time, or place is a very inspirational feat. Be it a movie, a play, or a great book, a story that is told masterfully fuels my imagination.  I’m also inspired by the artwork of many illustrators from the past as well as our modern age.  For example, the illustrations of Bernie Fuchs, Kadir Nelson and Annette Marnat are just a few whose artwork currently inspire me; my favorites always differ.

 I also believe that Life is great source of inspiration.  Sometimes it’s the simplest events in my day that can inspire me to draw something new.

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THE PROCESS

JC: And finally, what’s your artistic process like?

EG: Like many artists, I work best alone in the comforts of my home.  I always begin my illustration process by brainstorming ideas and and getting them on paper.  Depending on the project, I may visit the library or scour the internet for research material, and if feasible, I may even travel to ensure that my illustrations are as authentic as possible.  I also find it helpful to post my artwork on a large corkboard.  This way I can track my progress and make sure that my illustrations are working well together.

Thank you, Ebony. To learn more about her, and see more of her wonderful illustrations, please visit her Website atwww.ebonyglenn.com

Follow her on Facebook and Twitter: @artsyebby

 

 

 


Day 25: Rosa Guy

February 25, 2017

Most people have never heard of Rosa Guy (rhymes with “key”), but she has been influential in developing the careers of many writers despite her relative obscurity. Guy was born in Trinidad & Tobago and raised in Harlem from age 7. After the death of her father, and because her older sister was ill, Guy left school at age 14 to take on factory work. She studied acting at the American Negro Theater in the 1940s before she turned to writing.

In 1950, she was one of the founders (the only woman) of the Harlem Writer’s Guild. Their mission to develop works by writers of the African diaspora helped literary greats including Ossie Davis, Audre Lorde, Maya Angelou, Sidney Poitier, and Walter Dean Myers. In 1977, the group was honored by the United Nations Society of Writers, and by 1986, founder John Oliver Killens estimated that their members “had produced over 300 published works of fiction, non-fiction, poetry, plays, and screen plays.”

Guy’s writing career began with a novel for adults, BIRD AT MY WINDOW (1966). It is “set in Harlem and examines the relationship between black mothers and their children, as well as the social forces that foster the demoralization of black men.” It was one of the first novels to be published by a Harlem Writers Guild member. Guy next turned to a work of nonfiction, editing CHILDREN OF LONGING (1970), a compilation of essays by black teens and young adults which “graphically depict the experiences of growing up in a hostile world.”

the-friendsThen came her best-known work, THE FRIENDS (1973), the first of a trilogy followed by RUBY (1976), and EDITH JACKSON (1978), all dealing with the lives of adolescent Black girls in New York, the first two from the perspective of Black Caribbean girls adjusting to American culture. Alice Walker called THE FRIENDS a “heart-slammer.” Both the series, and Guy herself garnered praise from critics and her peers. “She’s never afraid of the truth,” Maya Angelou once said. “Some writers dress the truth in a kind of elegant language, so it doesn’t seem quite so blatant, so harsh, so raw. But Rosa was not afraid of that.”

Another trilogy, THE DISAPPEARANCE (1979), NEW GUYS AROUND THE BLOCK (1983), and AND I HEARD A BIRD SING (1987) also called THE IMAMU JONES MYSTERIES, are about a Harlem teen who finds himself in and out of trouble—and jail—in an emotional and social landscape that still resonates today.

new-guysStandalone young adult novels include MIRROR OF HER OWN (1981), a coming of age story about eighteen-year-old Mary Abbot and THE MUSIC OF SUMMER (1992) which dealt with colorism viewed from the perspective of the darkest-skinned girl in a group of teens during a summer on Cape Cod. For younger readers, Guy wrote PARIS, PEE WEE AND BIG DOG (1984) about ten-year-old Paris and his friends on one adventurous and unsupervised day in New York City, and THE UPS AND DOWNS OF CARL DAVIS III (1992) about a Harlem boy who moves to live with his grandmother in South Carolina.

Guy also wrote picture books. In MOTHER CROCODILE: “MAMAN-CAIMAN” (1988), Guy retold a series of African folktales. The book won a Coretta Scott King Award for the illustrations by John Steptoe. BILLY THE GREAT (1992) explored what happens when parents have different plans for a kid’s future than the kid himself.

my-loveIn between, Guy continued to write for adults. A MEASURE OF TIME (1983) once again delved into her personal experiences living in Harlem, and MY LOVE, MY LOVE, OR THE PEASANT GIRL (1985), which has been described as The Little Mermaid meets Romeo and Juliet, was adapted for stage. It was nominated for eight Tony Awards, a Drama Desk Award, and won the Theatre World Award, as well as the Olivier Award for Best New Musical for the UK production. A Broadway revival was in the works as of 2016.

Guy’s influence on me goes back to my arrival in New York City at age 15, feeling awkward and terrified, and then happening on a copy of THE FRIENDS in the Brooklyn Public Library. The main character Phylissia was literally me in print. The book changed several things for me: first, I didn’t feel like I was alone in my attempts to fit in as a Caribbean immigrant. Second, though I had always wanted to be a writer, I had not considered writing for children. THE FRIENDS changed the trajectory of my writing career.

Guy died in 2012 of cancer. While her work never became as popular as Walter Dean Myers in the kidlit industry, it was certainly as important, and she herself may have been more influential in the number of writers she helped to develop.

Sources:

Fox Margalit. “Rosa Guy, 89, Author of Forthight Novels for Young People, Dies,” The New York Times, June 7, 2012, http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/07/books/rosa-guy-89-author-of-forthright-novels-for-young-people.html

“Rosa Guy American Author.” Encyclopedia Britannica. Accessed February 17, 2017, https://www.britannica.com/biography/Rosa-Guy#ref1047496

Review of Children of Longing by Rosa Guy, Kirkus, October 28, 1971, https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/rosa-ed-guy/children-of-longing/

Viagas, Robert. “Once on this Island Revival Aiming for Broadway, Directed by Michael Arden.” Playbill, August 30, 2016, http://www.playbill.com/article/once-on-this-island-revival-aiming-for-broadway


Day 13: Ibi Zoboi

February 13, 2017

I first met Ibi Zoboi at a writing conference in New York City. We were passing each other through a crowd, and she said that an editor had mistaken her for me because we both submitted stories set in Haiti. My novel is more of a mashup between Trinidadian and Haitian cultures, but Ibi’s debut, AMERICAN STREET is an immigrant story that is solidly Haitian and questions how the American dream may be different in our minds than it is in reality. What I found most striking in her work is the juxtaposition of gritty reality with magical realism. Her book debuts tomorrow to rave reviews. Please welcome Ibi to the Brown Bookshelf.

The Journey

Iibiz can clearly remember the actual day I made the decision to be a writer. There was no particular journey or goal. I called myself a writer and that was that. I was in college and got myself one of those pens you can wear around your neck and carried around a steno notepad and proclaimed to the world that I was a writer. And writers write. This was all after first calling myself a spoken word poet and storyteller. I embraced the oral tradition before the written mode, although, I was writing the whole time. I studied black poets and I read African and Caribbean folktales and myths. I tried to commit to memory Anansi stories and Brer Rabbit stories. So in that sense, I was always a storyteller. But as a writer, I was a journalist first. One of my first passions besides myths and folktales, was investigative journalism. So my journey to publishing began there, needing to dig for the truth and tell it to the world. From that point on, I realized that I could make a little bit of money with this writing thing. I published articles, essays, and short stories. But unfortunately, I ended up spending more money than I was making. (No one had warned me, or if they did, I didn’t listen). I took writing workshops in college. I applied for and got accepted into the Clarion West Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Workshop to study with the late Octavia Butler. I spent one week at the VONA (Voices of Our Nation) Workshop. Finally, I went for an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts. I loved the process of studying craft and talking about writing and books. So I consider myself both a writer and a scholar. I need to understand both the craft and the canon. So for me, writing is studying, and studying is writing. It’s an endless journey.

The Back Story

americanstreet_revised8Now that is long, winding road of a back story. I’ve always written about the immigrant experience. As a Haitian immigrant, it’s the only kind of story I know. Whether it’s in the form of science fiction, fantasy, or even a long poem, I write about what it’s like to move from one place to another trying to fit into strange surroundings while preserving cultural traditions. The very first ideas for American Street began to take root after I read a New York Times article titled “Last Stop on the L Train: Detroit.” The L Train runs through my old Brooklyn neighborhood of Bushwick which is now being gentrified. These new residents are priced out by wealthier newcomers and some are considering less expensive cities like Detroit. I remembered how incredibly broken and underserved Bushwick was back when I was a little girl, much like many parts of Detroit now. So I wondered what it would be like for a Haitian teen to move to somewhere like old Bushwick with its boarded up windows and empty lots. I needed to dig deep into this idea of going from one broken place to another, and what we keep and what we leave behind in the process. And through my teen girl’s story, I wanted to uphold the beauty and strength of black girlhood in the the midst of uncertainty and trauma. Most of all, I wanted to explore what happens to families in both marginalized communities and countries. How do they preserve their love for each other? How do they build dreams atop so much adversity?

The Inspiration 

Edwidge Danticat, for sure! Even before I watched her on Oprah, through her first book Breath, Eyes, Memory, she let me know that the world still cared about little black girls from poor countries like Haiti. And she also let me know that Haiti may be financial poor, but it is incredibly rich in culture and has a long tradition of storytelling. Octavia Butler taught me to think big, to reach for not only stars, but other planets. I’ve had the honor of meeting and speaking with both writers.

The Buzz

American Street has received five starred reviews. My proudest moments were signing books for teachers who either had Haitian students in their classrooms or were Haitian themselves; and anyone who’ve told me that they connected with Fabiola’s story, even if they didn’t share her background. My next YA book is set in Bushwick and is a love story. My first middle grade novel, My Life As An Ice Cream Sandwich, is set in 1980s Harlem. I’m excited about these next books and they’re both due out in 2018.

The State of the Industry

I’ve read plenty of beautiful YA novels that I absolutely loved which are not written by black authors, nor do they feature black children or any characters of color. There was something truly remarkable in these stories that I connected with, and it didn’t have anything to do with race, identity, oppression, or trauma. This is what I would like to see as a reader—books featureing black main characters that don’t focus on any of these things. Why not a blockbuster book featureing a black girl that not only saves herself or her community, but saves the world? How about a love story featuring two black characters where no one dies? There’s a spoken word video that sums this up poetically—“I wanna see a movie about dinosaurs in the ‘hood!” And this would be a testament to our magic—nothing more, nothing less. I don’t think the industry understands what blackness is in order to accurately portray it in books, or to have blackness in all its diversity honestly reflected back to young black readers. We need more range, more diversity within diversity, more magic and adventure to balance out the pain and trauma. We still have a very long way to go.

You can find Ibi online at her website and on Twitter.