Hey everyone! I’m super excited to introduce you to some amazing women and share what I hope to be the start of an interview series bringing together Black writers, book bloggers, and book loving creatives! When I think of what Blackness means to me, I think of the strength and the creativity that is embodied by our community. I want to celebrate and bring focus to the ways that Black voices create and inspire and tell stories. Luckily, I had the opportunity to talk with Louisa Onome, Liselle Sambury, Ayana Gray, and Danielle Wilkinson about the people who have inspired them, the projects they are working on, and the Black voices they want to promote. I hope you’ll enjoy this interview as much as we did!
1. Do you remember the first time you read a book by a Black author? What book was it?
Danielle: It was really important to my parents that I was exposed to stories of black people doing amazing things from a young age, so my parents read me a series of picture books on black historical figures such as Madam CJ Walker and Elijah McCoy (I can’t remember the name, I think it was by Scholastic though). Also Dancing in the Wings by Debbie Allen was one of the first black picture books I read that I just loved. The story is heartwarming and the illustrations are stunning
Louisa: It was Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe in high school. It’s funny because I remember it having an affect on me (as a Nigerian), but I can’t remember the more complex parts of the story. I think overall I enjoyed it because it touched on a part of my heritage and culture that, at the time, I rarely saw outside of my home.
Ayana: Sadly, I don’t. I was a voracious reader especially as a child and probably read 25+ books a year at one point. That said, I do remember the first time a book by a Black author really touched me in a lasting way, and that was Fresh Girl by Jaira Placide. It was an #ownvoices story inspired by the author’s experience as a young Haitian immigrant in America, and though I’m not Haitian, the narrative really spoke to me
Liselle: I feel like it was Push by Sapphire which I read in high school. At the time, I liked it, but I’ve read some criticisms of it since then, and I’m not sure what to think of it anymore. In elementary and middle school, they put out books by Black authors or at least about Black people for Black History Month, but I don’t remember ever being assigned any as reading. I feel like we didn’t read a book by a Black author in school until I was in university in a Post-Colonial lit class. I think I would have noticed if we had. And when I read on my own, I picked books that were popular, like Robert Munsch picture books and A Series of Unfortunate Events. My peers weren’t reading Black lit and so I wasn’t either. It took me a long time to even conceptualize Black people writing books because I just never saw in the majority white schools I attended.
2. In which genres would you like to see more Black authors being published? Any favorites that do exist in that genre?
Liselle: I would love to see more sci-fi of all kinds within the young adult age category. We’re frequently hearing that sci-fi is a hard sell, but I find that there’s so much opportunity in that genre and age for amazing afrofuturism books. I have heard great things about The Sound of Stars by Alechia Dow which I still need to read! But I would also love to also see an epic sci-fi by a Black author break out in the YA space. Like huge world and a lovable ensemble cast that seems to currently be found more often in adult novels.
Louisa: All of them, every genre! I read contemporary first and foremost, so I’d love to see more contemporary Black stories about joy. More stories about Black nerds, too. I’d also love to read more Black horror stories and stories about Black people that are contemporaries and not set in America.
Ayana: I’m biased here, but I have loved and would love to continue seeing more Black voices in speculative fiction (Science Fantasy / Fantasy) since that’s what I myself like to read and write. There have been, in recent years, some really great new titles added to the Black young adult SFF canon, like Kingdom of Souls by Rena Barron and The Sound of Stars by Alechia Dow. There are several upcoming titles I’m very excited for too
Danielle: There’s definitely a lack of visibility in SFF. I tried my hand at writing science fiction but I kind of suck at it, so I’d like to see more black authors tackle it, and more publishers accepting these stories.
3. What books or projects are you currently working on that others can show support for?
Ayana: I have some projects I can’t say much about at the moment, but as soon as I can I will let you know! You can follow me on Twitter and Instagram to stay updated. I will say, in every project I work on, I’m always seeking to uplift girls who look like me with stories full of magic
Louisa: My debut YA contemporary LIKE HOME will be out in Spring 2021, so I’m excited for people to read and experience the world of Ginger East. You can add it on Goodreads here!
Danielle: I’m currently working on a YA contemporary novel. It’s in the very early stages of drafting, so that’s all I’m saying about it for now, but it has a very diverse cast and will be one of those fun, feel-good books
Liselle: My debut novel BLOOD LIKE MAGIC is coming out in summer, 2021. I don’t have a release date or pre-order links currently, but it would be a huge help to me if people added it to their Goodreads lists. My debut follows a young Black witch living in Toronto in the year 2099 who after failing to come into her powers is forced to choose between losing her family’s magic forever, a heritage steeped in centuries of blood and survival, or murdering her first love, a boy who is supposedly her genetic match who she hasn’t actually fallen in love with yet.
4. Who are the Black inspirations that have made an impact in your life?
Danielle: I have to say, my mom. She had a “rags-to-riches” story and inspires me to be kinder, stronger, and more hardworking each day. My dad had a similar “American Dream” type story growing up very poor but working hard to getting to where he is now. He’s also a big cheerleader of my books and is often my first reader, so his bravery is astounding.
Louisa: Issa Rae will always be a huge inspiration for me. In terms of representation, it wasn’t until I saw The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl way back when that I actually felt seen and important in modern media. She’s so creative and smart and I love her work. Additionally, John Boyega. I love that he wears his culture on his sleeve and I love how bold and authentic he is when using his voice. Plus, he’s wicked talented. Also, me, who knows nothing about Star Wars, sat through a whole movie for him. Imagine!
Ayana: The man that comes to mind first is one of my grandfathers, who passed away in 2012. While my grandpa was not perfect (no one is), what I will always treasure is the confidence he instilled in me at a young age. He encouraged me to see beauty in my dark skin when the world did not, and he reminded me at every turn that my greatest weapon and defense is always my mind. Likewise, my father has always pushed me to never settle for anything less than the best, and to stand firmly for what I believe in.
On a non-personal note, as a writer, Frederick Douglass and Carter G. Woodson’s works have been so, so impacting to my development. I’m also a huge fan of former First Lady Michelle Obama. For me, it isn’t even about politics, there are many former first ladies I admire. But, as a teenager, I remember being so inspired by Mrs. Obama’s poise, class, and intelligence even as so many people directed hate her way. She is an achiever, like me, and resilient. I recently read her autobiography Becoming and gained even more respect for her. In my personal life, my mom and grandmothers of course, will always be my heroines. They’ve taught me how to be selfless, gracious, and brave.
Liselle: Firstly, I’m so inspired by Dhionelle Clayton who wrote The Belles series because reading that book, just pulled me completely into that world, and it was just so the sort of book that I would have loved as a teen. I was so pleased to think of a Black teen seeing that in the store with the beautiful Black girl on the cover and getting to dive into that world. Not to mention that Dhionelle does so much to help boost other Black authors and help support them.
Another Black person who really inspires me in Kacen Callender. Recently, I read their book Felix Ever After which I adored. It just felt so authentically like a teen experience. Like it was really written with teenagers in mind, which is not as common as you would think in young adult. Kacen is another person who has used their platform to be really honest about their experiences and call about issues in publishing when they see them, which isn’t an easy thing to do, but it’s so appreciated.
One more, real quick haha. I would like to mention Jason Reynolds, author of many books, Long Way Down is the only one I’ve read so far. But every time I see him doing any sort of talk he always has something to say that just hits at the core of you. I feel like anytime I watch a panel or what have you with him on it, I leave it thinking about something he said for a while.
5. What message would you like to give to those in the Black community who are hurting right now?
Ayana: It’s difficult for me to pick out just one thing to say to an entire community; we’re all so diverse and our lived experiences are so different depending on where we grew up, what kind of household we grew up in, and what levels of privilege we’ve enjoyed. I suppose, though, one unifying message I’d say to everyone with skin like mine is that we have to keep moving forward. and continue trying to better ourselves, and our community even when it’s hard. We also should remember to “lift as we climb.”
Liselle: I would like to say to try and keep hope, and don’t be afraid to express that you’re hurting. At least for me, even in the darkest situations, I have to hope that things will improve because otherwise things would be too hard. And sometimes that’s what’s uplifting about participating by signing petitions, or protesting, feeling that you’re working with everyone towards realizing that hope. And if it’s too much and you’re hurting, say so. I feel like the default is this idea that Black people can just bear anything because we’ve been through so much pain, and it’s so damaging. You should be able to express your pain and get help if you need it.
Danielle: Do what you can by donating, signing petitions, and of course supporting black-owned businesses and black authors. Also, don’t forget self-care. Have a cup of tea, put on a face mask, listen to soft music, or watch a funny YouTube video. You need to be okay before you can help anyone, don’t forget that.
Louisa: Don’t forget to rest.
7. Now let’s promote one another! Who are a few Black creators who you would like to promote?
Ryan Douglass – an exceptional writer and unapologetic as he speaks up about the places he wants to see the publishing industry (and society) improve. His words are always thoughtful, poignant, and powerful.
Lane Clark – an author and book blogger, Lane is so full of heart and so genuinely takes on the mantra of lifting as she climbs by constantly helping others. She’s also really funny and an incredible writer.
BVO Sessions are a series of intimate music performances that highlight the best Louisa’s city, Brampton (near Toronto in Canada), has to offer. Their official Instagram has performance clips from some really talented Black artists
Black Sun Comics produce an amazing Afrofuturist series!
Jane Igharo is an awesome black author whose debut, Ties That Tether, comes out this fall!
Melanin Eclectic is a booktuber who also does art!
Jesse @BowtiesandBooks is a great booktuber!
Zoe @Zoe’sAllBooked is another booktuber!
Kayla is a bookstagrammer and a k-pop fan, with an awesome blog where she talks about every book ever
Geneva is an amazing artist who posts her stunning work on Instragram
Betty Maxine is super cute with a gorgeous Instagram feed! She’s also writing a book!
Kam Knight is an awesome music producer from Atlanta. Check out K-OS Productions!
8. Finally, what are some books by Black authors that you recommend for people to read?
Click here for direct links to each book’s Goodreads page
I hope you enjoyed this interview! Be sure to check out each of the interviewees and the wonderfully talented people they mentioned. Their websites are linked to their bios below, so make sure to take a look and stay up to date with their upcoming projects. You can show your support for all of the books mentioned by picking up your own copy, pre-ordering upcoming books, adding these books on Goodreads, and/or recommending them to your local library!
Thank you to Danielle, Liselle, Louisa and Ayana for participating in this interview. It was so great to chat with you all, and I cannot wait until all of your books come out!
Like this interview? Leave a comment below and share it on social media! Stay tuned for more interviews like this one, and reviews on all my favorite YA books!