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indexI’d been planning to write an essay on the bias against self-published books/authors when I unexpectedly received an invitation to write on that very topic for a popular kidlit blog. I thought about seeing The Railway Man tonight but I think instead I’ll stay put and get this essay out of my head. I’ve met with a couple of author/illustrators this week and hearing their perspectives on publishing reminded me that walking your own path can be a long, lonely journey. How many friends will I have left if I stay the course? I’ve also started to feel like a broken record, which is why I’m turning away from advocacy for a while. Reflecting tonight on “the myth of meritocracy” led me to revisit another guest post I wrote for The Rejectionist back in 2010. Here’s some of what I had to say 4 years ago:

I have a sequel that’s waiting to be written, but I’m very creative when it comes to procrastination and so I found myself thinking of other advantages white writers might experience here in the US (though I suspect this also applies to Canada).* Like McIntosh, I do not mean to suggest that these advantages are “generalizable” (experienced equally by all writers who are white).**

1. You can submit a manuscript and it will likely be judged by someone of your race—even at a multicultural press.

2. You can query a number of agents who have extensive experience selling manuscripts by authors (and to editors) who share your race.

3. You can be pretty sure that the book buyer in a large chain or indie bookstore is someone of your race.

4. You can be pretty sure that your book—if it’s lucky enough to get reviewed by the major outlets—will be assessed by someone of your race who operates with an appreciation of your culture’s particular literary tradition(s).

5. You can attend numerous children’s literature conferences with programming that reflects your interests and/or your culture, you can network with industry professionals who share your race, and otherwise feel comfortable as a member of the majority.

6. You can write about anyone who lives anywhere and be accepted by many as an extraordinarily creative person and/or an expert on topics outside of your lived experience.

7. You can participate in a literary event and trust that your invitation was based on the merits of your book, not your race.

8. You can be pretty sure that the person responsible for acquisitions and programming at most schools and public libraries shares your race.

9. You can be pretty sure that most major award committees are composed primarily of people who look like you.

10. You can trust that disappointing sales for your book will not be attributed to your race (or to members of your race being unable/unwilling to read).

11. You can expect that your book will be displayed in stores and shelved in libraries according to its genre, and not according to your race.

12. You can be pretty sure that a (white) editor will not call your (white) characters’ language “too formal,” nor will you be expected to make hardship and racial conflict the central focus of your book.

13. You can rest assured that your book will be considered “universal” and will therefore be promoted widely and not only to a “niche market.”

14. You can trust that your book will be for everyday use, and not for one particular “heritage month.”

15. You can expect to be invited to give school presentations all year round, and not only during a designated “heritage month.”

16. You can trust that your white protagonist will not be depicted as a person of color on your book’s cover.

Getting published is hard—I think all aspiring writers would agree with me on that point. And race isn’t the bottom line here, but it is a factor in one’s ability to navigate the incredibly homogeneous publishing industry. I don’t mean to suggest that whites are incapable of editing manuscripts by and about people of color; there are many wonderful books that are the product of such collaborations, including my own picture book, Bird (plus one of my closest friends is a white editor!). Really, I’m talking about cultural competence, and that can be demonstrated by anyone who has taken the time to learn about a culture not their own. But as Peggy McIntosh points out, there’s rarely any penalty for whites who choose to remain oblivious. Instead, PoC pay the price and we see that reflected in the dismal statistics compiled by the CCBC: in 2009, out of an estimated 5000 books published for children, less than 5% were authored by PoC. We could conclude that writers of color simply aren’t good enough to be published in greater numbers. Or we could reach a conclusion that’s closer to the one McIntosh reaches in her essay:

For me, white privilege has turned out to be an elusive and fugitive subject. The pressure to avoid it is great, for in facing it I must give up the myth of meritocracy. If these things are true, this is not such a free country; one’s life is not what one makes it; many doors open for certain people through no virtues of their own. These perceptions mean also that my moral condition is not what I had been led to believe. The appearance of being a good citizen rather than a troublemaker comes in large part from having all sorts of doors open automatically because of my color.

My father used to call me a troublemaker, and initially I rejected that label because it felt like a cruel mischaracterization—sure, I asked a lot of questions, but why should I accept the status quo if it served others’ needs and not my own? I now realize that as a black feminist writer, making trouble is what I do! I likely won’t be thanked for my complaints about the lack of diversity in children’s publishing, but that’s ok. Being unpopular just might mean that I’m doing something right…["Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds." -Ed.]

*Many thanks to Doret and Neesha for their suggestions as I compiled this list.

**McIntosh concludes that “since race and sex are not the only advantaging systems at work, we need to similarly examine the daily experience of having age advantage, or ethnic advantage, or physical ability, or advantage related to nationality, religion, or sexual orientation.”

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art every day

6a00d8341c630a53ef01156fa83a02970c-800wi1I’m trying to write my second screenplay. I wrote my first, Brother’s Keeper, in 2007 after finding out about a contest for emerging writers; the deadline was just a month away and so I ordered a book (How to Write a Movie in 21 Days) and got to work. This time I’m adapting my novel, Ship of Souls, and submitting it to the Sundance Lab. Another long shot, but deadlines force me to get work done. I’m hoping to have these 5 new chapter books ready by the end of the month because I’ve got book fairs on May 10 and June 1. The Sundance deadline is May 1 but I only have to submit the first five pages of my screenplay. In my mind’s eye I’ve seen all my novels unfold on screen, so I don’t think this should be too hard. My other goal for spring break is to nourish my imagination by consuming art every day. On Sunday I went to see “Witness: Art and Civil Rights in the Sixties” at the Brooklyn Museum. I was struck by Barkley Hendricks‘ gilded portraits and the way artists in the ’60s formed collectives and used their art to raise money for the cause. On Monday I visited Katie Yamasaki‘s studio, which made xzavierme feel like a kid in a candy store. I’ve bought some of Katie’s prints for my nieces and nephew but the truth is, I wanted those prints for myself! I got to see her new collages and hear about her books-in-progress. We talked about the possibilities of publishing and the limitations. It’s time for a new model and my friend Rosamond gave me some advice about starting a not-for-profit. We went to St. John the Divine to see the phoenixes—they’re stunning. And today we’re going to see the Carrie Mae Weems retrospective at the Guggenheim. Tomorrow? Maybe the Studio Museum of Harlem or the new Muppets movie. I want to see a play this week and may go to St. Ann’s to see Red Velvet. This is New York—there’s no reason anyone should be starved for art, least of all our children. I’ve got an essay brewing on the role of art in education. Break won’t last forever but somehow I’ll find time for it all….

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art binge

page3_copyI went to the botanic garden yesterday. The tulips and daffodils are in bloom, the crocuses are fading, and the lilac bushes are starting to bud. I haven’t been to the garden in quite a while; the entrance closest to my home is closed and so I contented myself with glimpses of green seen through the fence along Flatbush Avenue. Certain places feed my imagination and yet during the winter months, I haven’t really nourished my dreams. I’ve been running the perimeter of Prospect Park instead of doing the inner circuit; I haven’t seen many good movies and the books I’ve read lately have been disappointing. I go to such lengths to protect my “sensitive soul” but what it really needs is ART. Juggling five different books-in-progress at once isn’t ideal, but I can’t tell you how good it feels to take a break from grading and find a glorious new illustration in my inbox. Spring break starts on Monday and I’m going to visit Katie Yamasaki‘s studio before meeting a friend up at St. John the Divine to see Xu Bing’s phoenixes suspended from the Nave. My diet is a mess and I’ve got more than a few winter pounds to shed, but what I really need is a steady diet of art—because that’s what nourishes the imagination. And with a big life change looming in the distance, I’m going to need all the creative energy I can muster…

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indexPart 2 of “When You’re Strange” is up on the Media Diversified site now. Stuart Hall’s death in February sent me reeling and I found myself writing about him in my essay:

The recent death of Stuart Hall led me to revisit his work and reconsider its impact on my thinking about migration; I now see even more parallels between Hall’s journey and my own. I didn’t know it at the time, but in my senior year of high school I went through a serious depressive episode and have lived with depression ever since. In a 1992 interview with Kuan-Hsing Chen, Hall reflects on his years in Jamaica and admits:

“When I look at the snapshots of myself in childhood and early adolescence, I see a picture of a depressed person. I don’t want to be who they [his parents] want me to be, but I don’t know how to be somebody else. And I am depressed by that. All of that is the background to explain why I eventually migrated.”

When I was a teen, I hid from the camera; I believed messages I got from my family that said I was hideous, and so embraced the invisibility imposed upon me by Canadian society. I spent hours alone at home, curled up with a book (usually Dickens); I slept up to twelve hours a day, hoping to make time pass more quickly. My father had already moved to the US by then and my mother was mired in her own depression. My older sister—the only Black female role model I had at the time—dropped out of university to follow her boyfriend across the country. The disintegration of my family seemed complete and I clung to the hope that a scholarship to university would transform my sad reality.

Stuart Hall also sought escape from a dysfunctional (if intact) family. He, too, found “a huge gap” between the life he wanted for himself and his parents’ expectations of him. The “strange aspirations and identifications” of his upwardly mobile, color-conscious, and pro-colonial parents ultimately destroyed Hall’s sister Patricia. Her nervous breakdown and subsequent electroconvulsive therapy rendered her unable to leave home while propelling Hall out into the world. This traumatic experience, Hall explains,

“crystallized my feelings about the space I was called into by my family. I was not going to stay there. I was not going to be destroyed by it. I had to get out. I felt that I must never put myself back into it, because I would be destroyed. My decision to emigrate was to save myself.”

I left Canada with the same sense of desperation, and I now draw upon my migrant experience as I attempt to develop a mythology of displacement for Black teen readers.

All are welcome to join our Twitter chat later today at 4pm ET (8pm GMT).

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hogan-s-alley-black-history-month-stampAt the start of this year my friend and fellow blogger Edith Campbell told me about a CFP she saw on Twitter from Media Diversified, a site dedicated to writers of color. I’d been wanting to write something about Orville Douglas, the Black Canadian man who wrote an op-ed in The Guardian last fall to tell the world how much he hates being a Black man. I wrote a short essay and submitted it to the editor; she asked me to extend it but I had to switch gears and work on my Canada Seminar essay. In the end, the shorter piece became the foundation for my talk at Harvard and the editor allowed me to write a two-part essay for Media Diversified. Part 1 of “When You’re Strange” is up now. Here’s a taste:

Of course, I never truly left Toronto behind. Most of my family members still reside there and so I return once or twice a year. Last semester I was displeased but not surprised when a student raised her hand at the end of class and asked how I felt about my hometown’s crack-smoking mayor. Rob Ford is ridiculous enough to be quickly dismissed, but another controversy emerged from Toronto last fall that was deeply disturbing and much harder to ignore. When I first read Orville Douglas’ controversialonline op-ed, “Why I hate being a Black man” in The Guardian last November, I was immediately embarrassed and enraged. “Of course, he’s from Toronto,” I fumed. “Only Toronto could produce a freak like that.”

I immediately shared the article on Facebook; two Black Canadian women responded and agreed that Douglas was an anomaly who in no way represented Black male Torontonians. A few days later I shared the article with my community college students; we had spent the semester dissecting the stereotypes that surround Black men, and my working-class students of color were amazed that any Black man in 2013 would see his race as “a prison” and publicly ask, “Who would want to have this dark skin, broad nose, large thick lips, and wake up in the morning being despised by the rest of the world?” I asked my Black male students to describe the ways they practice self-love. They struggled with that question but had no problem listing the ways they showed love for other Black men. We concluded that Douglas’ “condition” likely stemmed not only from a lack of self-love, but a lack of community.

Orville Douglas’ public admission of self-loathing earned him a great deal of international attention—a mixture of condemnation and pity. When a friend directed me to his earlier articles inNOW Magazine, I wasn’t surprised to learn that Douglas had once hoped to migrate to the U.S. declaring, “America is a land of opportunity, while Canada is a nobody’s land.” It seemed logical to me that a Black man who felt unwanted, invisible, and unloved in Canada would believe he could build a better life in the U.S. since that’s exactly how I felt back in 1994. Despite (or perhaps because of) my initial reaction to Douglas’ op-ed, I’ve since had to consider the possibility that this troubled Black Canadian man isn’t “a freak like that” but rather “a freak like me.”

Part 2 will be published on Friday and the site always has thought-provoking pieces, so check them out!

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going global

Scene2-rough-BIt’s almost April and I am counting down the days until spring break. I had a student collapse in class yesterday and the week before I had an altercation with another student who I suspect has mental health issues. For the most part, my students have been wonderful this semester but I am weary, and what keeps me going at this point is the artwork submitted by my freelance illustrators. I come home, open my inbox (yes, I could do it on my smartphone but I prefer having something to look forward to) and marvel at the way these artists are making my characters come to life. I’m working with FIVE illustrators right now–one is in the US and the others are in Honduras, Vietnam, Argentina, and India. This is an experiment for me and I do have some anxiety and some ethical concerns, but overall this is incredibly empowering and exciting. The hard part will be finding a way to get readers and educators to invest in these books. I want to find a foundation that would be willing to sponsor/subsidize author visits in schools and community institutions. Not give free visits away but perhaps set up a grant program so that schools, or churches, or community centers could apply to have half the cost of an author visit covered by the foundation. I feel strongly that all parties have to make an investment. I had brunch with two authors yesterday and we shared our experiences with schools that try to cram as many students as possible into an author visit, which (in my opinion) diminishes the experience. If we know that students benefit from a smaller class size, then it makes sense that students would also benefit from having a more intimate experience with an author. This week I’ll be visiting a high school that has asked me to spend 2 hours with ONE CLASS. I can’t wait to share my books, published and forthcoming, with these young readers…

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making room

IMG_2241I started writing stories for children in 2000. I finished my first adult novel in 1999 but after months of promising responses from agents and editors, I accepted the fact that a six-figure advance wasn’t in my future. I started writing for kids and my earliest stories reflect where I was emotionally and professionally at that point in my life. I was trying to build healthier relationships with my family members and so I wrote “Room in My Heart,” a story about two sisters trying to adjust to the new woman in their father’s life. I showed it to my father and he threw it down, enraged. I made an illustrated version and showed it to the kids in the after-school program where I taught—they loved it! So I kept on writing and soon I had half a dozen stories. “The Phoenix on Barkley Street” about a group of kids who find a magical bird in the overgrown yard of an abandoned brownstone. “The Magic Mirror” about a girl who finds a mirror that shows her scenes of Black women’s heroism throughout history. I submitted them to numerous publishers and an editor at Lee & Low wrote me back, asking to meet for lunch. That’s how my friendship with Laura Atkins began, and she taught me a lot in those early days about how to format a story for the standard 32-page picture book. My stories were 6-8 thousand words long and so I learned how to tell a story in just 1500 words. Now I’m revisiting those long stories—they’re chapter books, really, and with some illustrations I think they’d really appeal to 7-10 year olds. I never thought I could self-publish an illustrated book because professional artists are very expensive. But my cousin suggested I look at Elance.com and now I’ve got FOUR books “in production.” Three will have black and white illustrations and one will be printed in full color. My goal is to keep prices low—$5 per book—but printing in color is pricey. That book will likely cost $10. I’ve been invited to participate in the Reginald F. Lewis Museum’s African American Children’s Book Fair in May and hope to have these books ready by then. Stay tuned…

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imagesOne good thing about having anxiety issues is that I almost never lose things. I check and double check my bag before I leave the house. I’ve never lost my keys or my wallet, but yesterday I lost my phone. It was a cheap Blackberry knock-off with a scratched screen; I’d had it for years but I was still surprised when I realized it was gone. Last fall my friend and I vowed we would catch up with technology and finally purchase a Smartphone. I decided to wait until winter break when I would have time to compare plans and models. Then suddenly it was March and I questioned whether I really needed a new phone—the old one still worked, I liked the easy-to-text keypad, and my monthly bill was under $30. But when I realized last night that my phone really was gone, I finally stopped making excuses and bought a Smartphone online. It’s the most basic kind—very few bells and whistles—but that’s all I need.

Living with anxiety is helpful sometimes—it keeps me vigilant but I realize it also prevents me from embracing change. I hate to shop and so I wear the same three items of clothing until they don’t fit any more. I hate the stress of searching for a new apartment and so I’ve put up with a less than stellar landlord and neighbors with yappy dogs. Sometimes it takes a crisis to knock me out of my comfort zone and guess what? The publishing industry is in crisis. I’m avoiding Facebook for a while because friends keep sending me links to two op-eds written for The New York Times by Walter Dean Myers and his son Christopher. Both pieces are well written but getting them over and over makes me feel the same irritation I experience when colleagues ask me to plan an event for Black History Month. I teach Black Studies all year round—I don’t need extra work for 28 days. Ask someone in the Math department! When it comes to diversity in publishing, I’ve spent the past 5 years blogging, and publishing articles, and presenting at conferences, and developing initiatives like The Birthday Party Pledge. Women generally have been doing this work for decades, but it takes a certain kind of privilege to find a platform like The Times. I’m glad the Myers are speaking out and I agree with everything they said. And maybe male voices will be heard in a way women’s voices have not.

This weekend I’ve been communicating with an artist in Honduras. I’m going through the 20+ manuscripts on my hard drive and selecting those I can publish on my own. Many of them are picture books, and unfortunately self-pubbing in color is prohibitively expensive. But some are chapter books that a 3rd grader would love, especially if I add a dozen black and white sketches. My goal is to have at least three $5 books ready by next fall. Why let these stories sit on my hard drive when kids are clamoring for books like mine? Imagine what First Book could do if instead of giving a million dollars to a corporate publisher like HarperCollins, they started their OWN press and bought manuscripts directly from authors of color. We need to stop waiting for the publishing industry to change. It’s racist to the core and not interested in serving our kids. Time to let go and find another way forward…

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I’m thrilled that comics scholar Qiana Whitted took the time to write this amazing guest post—enjoy and please share!

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aya001It is unlikely that anyone who reads comics regularly will be surprised by Zetta Elliott’s answer to the question posed in her January 6, 2014 post, “Do Comics Empower Black Girls?” She’s doubtful, and understandably so, given the hypersexualized objectification of women that dominates superhero comics. Nevertheless, comics can tell deeply rewarding, complex stories about black women that affirm their intelligence, compassion, strength, and beauty on multiple visual and verbal registers. So I come away from the question with a different response, not only as someone who studies race and comics, but also as a black girl who has found much to love in a comic book!

Let’s be clear, though, about the term “comics.” Critics often take issue with the depiction of women in superhero titles produced by Marvel (Disney) or DC Comics (Time Warner), but it’s a mistake to equate the superhero genre and its transmedia properties with the entire comics form. This isn’t to say that mainstream superhero comics completely ignore the lives of women of color or refuse to engage contentious social issues. Storm is one of the most well known heroines of any race to wear a cape and a Wakandan princess has held the title of Black Panther. The new Ms. Marvel is Kamala Khan, a Muslim Pakistani-American teenager from New Jersey. 

Yet one need only look back at Don McGregor’s account of his exchange with Stan Lee over Marvel’s first interracial kiss – or more recently, “Batwomangate” – to get a sense of the effort required to take even small, measured risks in a mainstream superhero comic. But what about fantasy, romance, horror, slice-of-life, and adventure stories? What about small and independent presses or self-published titles? What about comics produced outside the United States? 

The twenty titles discussed below are just a start, especially now that the comic book publishers are paying more attention to girls and young adult women as marketing demographics. And while not all the comics I cite are created by black women, events like the recent panel on “Black Women in Comics” at the Schomburg Center’s 2nd Annual Black Comic Book Day make clear that black women have long been a part of the industry as avid consumers and creators. The dynamic work of Afua Richardson and C. Spike Trotman, along with this list of over 50 black women comics artists and writers from the Jackie Ormes Society models the kind of creative freedom that can empower any girl who picks up a comic. 

Black Women of the Golden and Silver Age

UntitledSpeaking of Jackie Ormes, much credit is due the first African American woman cartoonist whose comic strips were published in black-owned newspapers such as the Pittsburgh Courier during the 1940 and 1950s. Her comic “Torchy in Heartbeats” follows a single African American woman named Torchy Brown (right) in romance serials that highlight both her sense of adventure and style. On the blog, Sequential Crush, comics scholar Jacque Nodell frequently posts scans of hard-to-find romance comics with black women like the one-shot Dell comic about a fashion photographer named Friday Foster, based on the syndicated comic strip and later turned into a film. Black women featured in their own series title are much harder to come by in the 1970s, but it’s not uncommon to find guest appearances by novelty characters like Wonder Woman’s black twin sister, Nubia or a black Spider Woman.

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Questing Heroines and All-Ages Comics

For younger readers today, Princeless by Jeremy Whitley and M. Godwin is fantastic. At the center of the comic is a princess (above) with brown skin, thick tangled hair, and a great sense of humor who gets sick of waiting in the locked tower for a prince. She befriends the dragon, grabs a sword and armor, and decides to rescue herself and her sisters. (Side note: this is my 7-year-old daughter’s favorite comic!) Other titles with strong female protagonists that may appeal to black girls include Molly Danger by Jamal Ingle, Juan Castro, Romulo Farjardo, The Many Adventures of Miranda Mercuryby Brandon Thomas and Lee Ferguson, and Bayou by Jeremy Love (which I’ve written about here and here). And of course, even a list as short as this one should make room for ponies that empower, not to mention the characters and stories that girls create on their own.

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Race, Sexuality, and Coming of Age

Jennifer Cruté is a self-published African American cartoonist whose reflects upon her own childhood and adolescence during the 1970s and 1980s in Jennifer’s Journal: The Life of a SubUrban Girl. Cruté takes an approach familiar to readers of The Boondocks in the way she uses cartoon images of herself and her family to explore mature issues. But as I’ve discussed here, her observations about race, sex, religion, and class push against limiting assumptions about the comics form in representing black women’s experiences.

Another incredible series is Wet Moon by Ross Campbell (above). The comic, as the intro to this review by Sarah Horrocks describes it, is about “variously gothic and geeky and gay girls (and some boys) attending art college in the American south.” While the story features at least two prominent African American characters, its frank considerations of body image and exploration of queer, racialized, and disabled bodies is a startling and rare pleasure. Challenging traditional gender roles is also critical to the French comic series, Aya, by Marguerite Abouet and Clement Oubrerie, which takes place during the 1970s in Cote d’Ivoire. The story unfolds like a soap opera among the young West African women and their families during their country’s unprecedented period of modern wealth and promise. Don’t miss the appendix in the two thick English-translated volumes with additional background on the clothing, food, and language among the Ivorians. An animated film version of Aya was even released in France in 2013.

Women of Action

UntitledAnd finally, what about those superheroes? Looking back to the 1990s, the mini-series, Martha Washington, by Frank Miller and David Gibbons is a favorite of my friend Grace Gipson who is researching black comics and popular culture at UC Berkley. In her interview with Huffington Post, “Black, Female, and Superpowered,” she explains:

Visually, Washington challenges the typical comic book hero image. Martha Washington is not your classic privileged superhero — she actually humanizes the superhero experience by being a “regular” African-American woman who ultimately becomes a hero.

Writer Dwayne McDuffie had similar motives when he created a 15-year-old black female sidekick named Rocket for his signature superhero in the Milestone Comic, Icon. Despite Rocket’s secondary role, the voice of this teenage mother who wants to be a writer like Toni Morrison establishes the guiding vision for the comic as she learns how to negotiate her newly acquired powers with the social realities around her. (McDuffie also devoted more attention to the black superhero Vixen in his run on Justice League of America.)

Other women of action can be found in the multi-racial cast of Marvel’s Runaways; Dark Horse’s Concrete Park created by Erika Alexander, Tony Puryear, and Robert Alexander; independent comics like Ajala: A Series of Adventures by N. Steven Harris and Robert Garrett; and popular series where black women emerge as strong secondary characters like Michonne from The Walking Dead and Agent 355 in Y The Last Man.

Have you read any of these comics? Know of others that I’ve overlooked? Please share titles and links in the comments. And a very special thanks to John Jennings, Grace Gipson, Julian Chambliss, Ebony Elizabeth Thomas, and Breshaun Joyner for their assistance with this piece.

Qiana Whitted is Associate Professor of English and African American Studies at the University of South Carolina. 

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magnetic

imagesThis morning I gave a talk in a middle school auditorium full of two hundred 6th graders! They were a very diverse, very well-behaved group and I was struck by the range of students that came up to me after the talk. My presentation is usually interactive but that’s hard to do with such a large group. I told the students, in French, that I was from Canada and one white boy came up to me afterward and said, “Je parle français aussi!” “Really? D’ viens-tu?” I asked him, and he told me about his French mother and his German father. Another white boy bought a copy of Ship of Souls, had me sign it, and then came back to tell me that he was so excited when he learned I was coming to school today because it’s his birthday. But what struck me most were the Black girls—the way they circled me and stayed close, asking questions, then drifting away, and then coming back to tell me something else. Two Asian girls wanted to take a picture with me and had to elbow their way into the pack. A young woman wearing hijab came in before my presentation and told me how excited she was to meet an author. I complimented her on her sparkly glasses and she said, “They need to see us wearing glasses! They need to know that we read!” Later she returned and pulled out her phone so we could take a picture. Almost all the kids had smart phones! Hand-me-downs from their parents, I guess. I brought 6 books to sell but the principal decided to buy the books from me and hold a raffle on the spot instead. It’s wonderful to see two hundred kids wriggling in their seats, anxiously waiting to hear their name called. When I got home I turned on NPR and Neil deGrasse Tyson was talking about the Andromeda galaxy and how it’s being drawn toward our own. That’s how I felt with those girls circling me—it was like there was some kind of force drawing us together. I say over and over that my books are for all kids, and it means a lot to me when kids of other races express enthusiasm about my work. But I know that my presence means something special to Black girls. One 6th grader stuck to me like glue and one of the first things she said was, “Thank you for making a book with girls who look like us.”

I need to come up with a business model that will enable me to sell more books at more schools. For the past few years I’ve earned more from honoraria than I have from royalties. I wonder if I could flip that by doing free author talks at schools that can guarantee the sale of at least 50 books. Giving out order forms before my visit doesn’t work because the kids don’t get excited about the books until I’m there giving my presentation. And then they don’t have money to buy books. At this particular school the librarian is handing out more order forms; we’ll see how many kids can sustain their excitement long enough to complete a purchase…

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