In Conversation with Author JaNay Brown-Wood

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!

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Talking the Talk: Publishing Professionals Connect with Boston Teens

Contributed by Julie Bliven, Editor at Charlesbridge

On October 4 the CBC Diversity Initiative, in conjunction with Boston publishing professionals, held its first Teen Outreach Panel. It was a wonderful success! But first let’s back up a minute.

This past January the Lee & Low Baseline Survey came out, confirming the lack of diversity in children’s publishing. In response, the members of the CBC Diversity Initiative gathered around the little back table at the CBC’s NYC office and established a specific goal for the next two years: recruitment. That is, we want to recruit more readers and creators of diverse books, and a more diverse workforce in the publishing field.


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Bookish Reminders Here and Abroad

Last month I joined seven other children’s book editors on a week-long trip across Germany, sponsored by the German Book Office of New York. The program nurtures Germany’s relationships with publishers around the globe, as Deutschland imports roughly 50% of its children’s books from other countries.

Everyone involved learned a ridiculous amount about what we all do similarly and differently, and I was constantly inspired to think more globally and critically about my own lists.


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