By Julie Bliven
The first diversity question today is how do you self identify?
I am a black American woman.
How did your background influence your early reading and writing habits, if at all?
I grew up in a family where education was of utmost importance. Reading, writing, and all things academic were as normal and mandatory as breathing. I am thankful for how much my parents valued education. They read to us each night and exposed us to different texts ranging from poetry and children’s literature to newspapers and encyclopedias. I still remember when my dad ordered a collection of Encyclopedia Britannica that filled an entire bookshelf in our living room. I do admit that I initially didn’t like reading for fun, but I thoroughly enjoyed writing my own stories, poetry, and songs. Reading grew on me, and, to this day, both reading and writing are integral parts of my life.
Growing up, did you see and/or envision yourself in the stories you read?
I didn’t see myself in many stories that I read, but two do come to mind: Vera B. Williams’s Cherries and Cherry Pits and John Steptoe’s Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters. I don’t remember loving those books, but they do stick out in my mind—possibly because they had black girls in them. As a teenager I remember reading Mildred D. Taylor’s Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, and while the protagonist was black, I didn’t feel like I connected to her that much. I think I insulated myself from not being represented in books because I wrote my own stories where I was the main character. I wrote a bunch of stories starring Detective JaNay Brown where I’d go on adventures and solve mysteries. I also remember writing stories with black girls that were similar to me, even if they didn’t have my name. So although I didn’t really feel myself connecting to published books, I definitely connected to my own work since I was the one solving all the problems!