What luck! In my mailbox today I found a copy of Arnold Adoff’s latest book, Roots and Blues—then in my inbox, I found his son (with author Virginia Hamilton), Jaime Adoff, had sent me these answers for today’s author interview! If you don’t know Jaime’s work already, here’s an excerpt from his bio:
Jaime’s latest young adult novel The Death of Jayson Porter received the 2010 BuckeyeTeen Book Award. It received *starred reviews from *Booklist*, *Library Media Connection*, and *VOYA* magazine,(5Q). It was also selected for the ’09 “Choose to read Ohio program,” a project of the State Library of Ohio to promote reading across Ohio. As well as an Ohioana Book Award finalist in the Juvenile category.
1. How would you describe your contribution to the field of children’s literature?
Well that’s a story that’s still being told. I gauge my contribution by how children and teens have been affected by my work. Having talked to literally thousands of kids over the course of the last almost ten years, I feel that I am helping. Helping to at least get a dialogue going on some of the life-changing and life-threatening issues facing young people today, issues such as bullying, suicide, abuse. The emails I receive from young people tell me that I have made a positive contribution thus far. Reviews and awards? Those are a chasing after the wind. It’s the kids that count, and that’s something I can never forget.
2. You come from a prominent literary family; how does your parents’ legacy impact your own writing for young readers?
It has impacted me, generally speaking, in a very positive way. I think I hold myself to extremely high standards—some might say impossibly high—due to the bar that was set by my parents. I never feel as though I am in competition, but I do feel a sense of responsibility to carry on the family tradition of creating great books that can stand the test of time. It is a legacy, a legacy that I have embraced. It is a living legacy from which I am constantly drawing from. Sometimes I might write something and it instantly reminds me of my mother or my father. A turn of a phrase, a line here or there. It always makes me smile when that happens. I am blessed to come from such a family and thankful that they were both such loving and supportive parents. I only wish my mother would have lived to see me write professionally. She would have gotten such a kick out of it all!
3. Can you tell us about your current project(s)? How do you develop such original ideas for your books?
Currently I have multiple projects going. Multiple projects out there in the publishing world looking for homes; multiple projects on my desk waiting to be completed. I have ideas that I’ve gotten years ago that are still cooking, still trying to make their way to the printed page. Some ideas come over time; some can come in an instant. All take months and years to truly come to fruition, and yes, as you know, many never see the light of day. I have two novels that I am working on that are a bit of a departure for me, incorporating some spiritual and magic realism elements that I haven’t used in my prior works. I still maintain the “realism,” which I feel is of utmost importance in the work that I do. Real kids—present day teens from diverse backgrounds—going through universal challenges, their voices ringing true to who they are and the lives they lead. I am quite excited about these projects.
4. As a second-generation children’s book author, how optimistic are you about the future of publishing? Do you have any advice for the next generation of writers?
That’s a loaded question. Like all fields, publishing is going through some changes now, some growing pains, trying to find its footing in an ever-changing landscape (how was that for politically correct). From my experience, generally speaking, big corporations are slow to act, to react, and to change. They’re slow to want to change, but in this instance I think the choices have already been made. The brave new world of publishing is coming at us like a fast approaching train; they’ve either got to climb aboard or get out of the way. And as we know, since the bottom line is making money, publishers are already figuring out how to get onboard.
As for the second part of the question: I think a good story is a good story, a good poem is a good poem, a good novel, poetic or otherwise, is a good novel. Regardless of the format, digital, app, paper, carrier pigeon, those are constants that will always be. Now, there are times when those characteristics are not paramount in the decision-making processes of these companies, and some may say we’re in those times right now. Be that as it may, the focus for the next generation of writers should be substance, not delivery method.
5. There is a lot of concern for black boys–their literacy skills, the availability of books featuring black male protagonists. As a biracial/black male writer (and the father of a daughter), how do you feel about the issue of “boys and books”?
I’ve done quite of few literacy talks and events, many focusing on the issue of boys and books, and specifically African American males and literacy. I think matching the right book with the right kid is one of the keys. Exposing these kids to a wide variety of literature, exposing them to worlds sometimes similar and sometimes different from their own. Having them be able to see themselves in the books that they read is crucial in hooking them, and keeping them hooked on reading. With budget cuts hitting everyone hard, especially those populations that can least afford them, we as educators, writers, and publishers have to work that much harder to make sure we write, publish, and promote these books so that they are getting into the hands of these young people.
There are never enough books featuring black male protagonists. And that is not for a lack of trying. There are even fewer with biracial protagonists, or Chinese American protagonists or Latinos, etc . . . There are many fine writers of color, many more than most people would think or know about. This lack of knowing goes side by side with the minuscule amount of books being published with diverse protagonists as compared to their white counterparts. It is still a largely white run business, from bottom to top, floor to ceiling. Children’s and YA publishing, in my opinion, is still decades behind the rest of the country, and sadly, it’s the children and teens of this country who must suffer. Inroads have been made but not nearly enough. It’s a struggle, and as my father’s tag line states at the end of each of his emails: “The struggle continues . . .”