Who’ll speaking at Wisconsin’s SCBWI? Me!

I’m sharing this little doo-hickey with you. An interview by SCBWI, promoting their upcoming Spring conference.

Spring is just around the corner, and with it—the Spring Luncheon: Creating Richer Narratives. We’ve put together an interview series to introduce the speakers. Today we welcome Alicia Williams.

 

Alicia Williams

Alicia Williams is a graduate of Hamline University’s MFAC program. She is excited to announce her middle grade novel, GENESIS RISING, with Atheneum/S&S will debut fall 2017. She started her storytelling as a folk storyteller and captivates audiences young and old with the Breh Rabbit and Breh Fox tales. She also writes and performs one-woman historical plays, featuring the likes of Sojourner Truth, Margaret Garner (slave that Toni Morrison based BELOVED on), Mamie Till (Emmit Till’s mother), to name a few. Alicia is also a Master Teaching Artist, combining her love of storytelling and acting, to teach writing based on an arts-integration pedagogy.

 

You’re a playwright, storyteller, teaching artist and actress. In what ways have these roles influenced your work as a writer?

“Just yesterday I came across this quote in Creating Fiction: ‘…authors are not unlike actors, needing to dig into the depths of their own experiences to understand the emotions their characters might feel.’

 

“This is so true. As an actress and storyteller, I conjured old memories and even created false ones to tap into certain emotions. Using voice, facial expressions and body movements, actors are taught to remain true to the character. As I worked on my story, writing what I knew, I would delve into my own past experiences in order to connect with my protagonist. I’d read the scenes out loud to find the voice of my characters and the flow. That technique seemed to help a bit; although, I’m still learning how to bridge the different art forms. But still, all of it works together, everything artistic and creative. Like, some writers are musicians and the rhythm of words just come naturally, right? So, we artists tap into all of our gifts, they overlap.”

 

As an advocate for diversity in children’s literature, what do you see as holes or needs in the market?

“The holes? The obvious hole is the lack of diversity in publishing. The excuse of not being able to discover ‘talented, diverse writers’ is just that, an excuse. Too many testimonies exist of editors and publishers stating that they ‘can’t connect to the story.’ If the difficulty is not in the writing, but in the setting or characters, then there is a problem. That means the gatekeepers of literature are willfully holding back narratives that would allow readers into worlds beyond their own. And it is of the utmost urgency that those doors be open, that we become a more inclusive society. Often, the door is closed to marginalized writers, but the stories are then published by white writers. I’m sure you can name a few titles yourself. Anyway, when other authors are allowed to tell these stories, not only does it take away from a writer with the authentic experience–BUT also, the stories tend to rely on stereotypes and be offensive. The Twitter world is quick to call out these novels, but the damage is already done. The book is published, and marginalized readers (children) will be hurt by the characterizations, and white readers will believe the falseness to be true. Not understanding that we all are responsible for the images we put (and not) into the world is a major disservice to our readers.”

 

In a recent blog post, you posed the question: What are some qualities that makes a strong female protagonist admirable for girls? What makes them enduring and heroic? How would you answer that question?

“I love a flawed character, and believe that it is important for girls to be okay with being flawed, too. We ladies are told to be perfect in so many ways–looks, studies, disposition, etc. ‘Act like a girl!’ What the heck does that mean? We have to give girls permission to mess up and find ways to express their individuality. Female protagonists should offer discovery and growth. Boys are allowed to discover all they want, they’re encouraged to be adventurous, brave, STEM wise.

 

“In grad school at Hamline, I wrote about the lack of female role models in kid lit. For research, I interviewed my daughter’s Girl Scout troop. Guess what? All of the girls admired Harry Potter’s Hermione, but none of them wanted to be like her. Why? The other characters shunned her, describing her as an ‘annoying know-it-all.’ Initially, none of the other characters (Ron and Harry) liked her, they only tolerated her. They preferred Ginny, she was likeable. Well, thank heavens for the following books in the series because Hermione blossomed into a brave, knowledgeable, resourceful girl, and plenty of young readers want to purchase her wand!”

 

“Oh, and another thing …. YA novels featuring girl protagonists almost always include a love interest. This predictable narrative is overdone. The girls in the troop were tired of that thread, especially when boy books didn’t include it. Boys get to focus on saving the world. Gender roles and stereotypes are most often reinforced in literature with girl protagonists. I’d love to see more girls who are witty or plucky, and who can cleverly figure out how to overcome challenges.

 

“Okay, okay, one more thing! Last year I was on a panel about feisty female protagonists. Anne Ursu shared how her character, Hazel, from Breadcrumbs, was criticized as not being feminist because she wasn’t decisive. Really? What elementary aged girl is decisive? Obviously, Hazel made the decision to rescue her friend, which in itself was a heroic act. The bravery of facing your fears, going out of your comfort zone, wavering in the act, and determining that ‘yes, yes I can do it, even though I’m scared to death’–those are heroic and memorable qualities for girls.”

 

How has SCBWI helped your career?

“SCWBI keeps me connected. I’m at the beginning of my career, so my journey with the organization is still sort of new. I remember going to my first conference here in Charlotte. I was still a graduate student, and it felt like home. I was amongst like-minded individuals, and we all wanted to write great literature for children. And now, SCBWI is offering me this amazing opportunity to share my experience and knowledge! So, I can’t say that the organization has ‘helped’ my career, but rather that it is ‘helping’ it.”

 

What are some of the books you loved as a child and teen?

“Believe it or not, I was a huge Judy Blume fan. I devoured her book. My brother called me fat, my granddaddy called me squatty, and my mom comforted me by letting me know that I was just ‘pudgy.’ So naturally I was drawn to Blubber, and of course Fudge and Super Fudge. They were hilarious. And, I’ll never forget Margaret’s talks with God and the secrets to increasing my bust size. When I was a teen, I found a stack of my uncle’s books in my grandmother’s basement. They were raw and full of grit, nothing that I should’ve been reading. One was Manchild in the Promised Land by Claude Brown. As a girl growing up in Detroit, it really opened my eyes to what life was really like for Black men, and truthfully, there weren’t any books that reflected me or my environment.”

 

Alicia Williams’ talk at the spring luncheon will be Mocha, Caramel Latte: The Risks and Rewards Of Writing POC. Learn more about Alicia at her website The Uncut Opinions of Alicia Williams and follow her on Twitter: @storiestolife.

 


Rochelle Melander

 

What happens when you’re silenced?

What happens when you’re silenced?

Let me ask a question that I honestly don’t know the answer to.

What happens when you get the courage to #resist and then you’re silenced?

Good question, right?

This actually happened to someone I know. The story is much too personal to her to go into  details, but I want you to understand the frustration and anger to such an event. Long story short, an artist and art teacher made a piece for a showcase at her school. All types of people–administrators, peers, students, public and donors–would have been able to view not only her artistic expression and hard work, but her voice, too. Her voice, views, and–personal protest.

Unbeknownst to her, the art piece was pulled from the gallery. A dialogue was not offered by a committee that made this decision. Later, she was able to speak her piece and fight for her rights to one individual, but still, the answer was something like, “Sorry, I understand how you feel.” The end result was still no. Continue reading “What happens when you’re silenced?”

Artists as activists?

Artists as activists?

Without a doubt, we are all still in shock. Every single day we’re traumatized by the news. Well, at least for me and many of the people I surround myself with.

Most of us read books and have watched countless movies about the terrors and shame of our history. For me, I never imagined having to engage in a movement of this magnitude. I emphasize the word magnitude because there have been pockets of activism and protests all over the country.

bree newsome.pngI mean, when Bree Newsome climbed that pole and took down the confederate flag–that was so bravely badazz. When protestors took to the streets in Ferguson, I was amazed (not surprised) at the fierce passion of my people. Yet, with our political leadership today–whew–these pockets are no longer contained in certain areas or are major reactions to specific acts of injustice.

As our presidential election was gearing up, I began to question my role in this new movement. And on election night, I was dumbfounded and found myself struggling with hope.

What do I do? What can I do? Continue reading “Artists as activists?”

Life can be simple, are we complicating it?

Life can be so simple, really. But we humans complicate everything.

As of late, it’s as if the world is folding in on itself. Everyone’s angry. There are sects all around circling and circling, calling names and waiting for someone to throw the first punch. In many cases, the first punch as already been thrown.

Don’t folks get tired of having so much hate and anger in their hearts? It’s seems that it’s an awful burden to always carry and maintain. After all, many doctors believe that this negative energy makes the body open to diseases.

Yeah, maybe we’re all bloated with disease and don’t know it.

For real…

Christians are angry with Muslims. Whites against blacks. Racists against the world. Pro-lifers versus Pro-Choice. Citizens against immigrants. Republicans versus Democrats. Religious conservatives against atheists. Carnivores versus Vegans. All/White/Blue against Black Lives Matter. Bikinis not burkinis. Hetero religious against Gay/Trans. Dog lovers versus cat lovers. And sometimes the hate gets so ridiculous that anything can be a target…i.e. Starbucks cups.

I mean, there are so many other pro/anti themes that we can name. I’ll probably think of more as I go on. Truth is, it’s overwhelming. Shoot, I just realized that I can be fired from my job for my natural hair, according to court ruling. Anti-Natural hair? Really? We have so much to work hard and fight for than to keep destroying and tearing down.

Where does the hate come from? Why is there such intense hate for those who are not like ourselves?

anne-frank

Continue reading “Life can be simple, are we complicating it?”

But why do they have to riot, though?

I’m tired. I just want to crawl into bed and have blissful, peaceful dreams. But I can’t. I was this close (thumb and pointer finger an inch apart), but I was on FB and read comments about the Charlotte protests. #KeithLamontScott,  was gunned down by police officers in the Queen City. Just a day before, #TerenceCrutcher was killed in Tulsa, Oklahoma. And the day before that…well, you get the picture.

I’m tired of the same stuff, different day. I’m tired of the story Black man/woman killed by police because (insert any of the claims here). I’m tired that folks still argue that “He had a gun” in a right to carry state. Or, she/he should’ve complied, even though hands were up. Or, he/she pointed the gun, when white males can shoot at cops or kill a mall full of folks and still be apprehended alive. Or, when we cry black lives matter, there’s an echo cry of “white/blue/all lives matter”–when, duh, that’s already been established.detroit-1943

Continue reading “But why do they have to riot, though?”

Hurruh! Superbowl and the Demonstrative Cam Newton!

In a few hours America will go insane when the beloved Superbowl starts. Half-time shows, entertaining commercials, wild fans, themed foods, and of course, an intense game.

Amidst all of the excitement, I’m troubled by the villainization of Cam Newton. Not just because I think he’s hot and has an ah-mazing rock hard body that I’d love to touch. *ahem* That’s beside the point, ladies and gentlemen. Okay, so the guy does a touch down dance and that makes him “arrogant” and needs to “calm the eff down.” Wait, was Cam Newton on the field gyrating and twerking? Oh, he has to the first and only person who’s celebrated a touchdown with such an outrageous display, right?camdab

No? Are you trying to tell me there’s been a history of players showboating, er, celebrating touchdowns?

Then why are people so angry at Cam? Will someone please help me understand? Continue reading “Hurruh! Superbowl and the Demonstrative Cam Newton!”

The problem with Stacey Dash. Wait…Who?

Come on, you know who I’m talking about. Stacey Dash. You might’ve seen her in movies like Mo’ Money, House Arrest, Dysfunctional Friends, or Nora’s Hair Salon II. Or, in shows like The Game or The Cosby Show. Or for her body and butt shots in black magazines like King, Smooth and Heart& Soul. Still don’t know her? Wait, the black girl from Clueless, does that ring a bell?Stacey-Dash-Heart-Soul-Magazine-Cover

My point is, her resume has been built on shows and networks that feature predominantly African-Americans. Perhaps she was just looking for a job? Or a career jump off? Either way, these opportunities were good enough for her to earn a paycheck and be able to be referenced as “the Black girl from Clueless.” Now, she’s the “Black one on Fox News.”stacey-dash king

Just this week she offered her two cents on the #OscarsSoWhite issue: “We have to make up our minds. Either we want to have segregation or integration. And if we don’t want segregation, then we need to get rid of channels like B.E.T. and the B.E.T. Awards and the Image Awards where you’re only awarded if you’re black. If it were the other way around, we would be up in arms. It’s a double standard. ”

Stacey went so far as to say that there shouldn’t be a BET channel or Black History Month because “We are Americans. Period.” Continue reading “The problem with Stacey Dash. Wait…Who?”