Brittany J. Thurman is a picture book and middle grade author from Louisville, with an upcoming picture book release titled “Fly,” debuting on Jan. 11. “Fly” follows 5 year old Africa who dreams of competing in double Dutch. I spoke with Thurman about the creation of “Fly” and being a Black writer. Here’s the short version of our conversation.
LEO Weekly: I read when writing ‘Fly’ you had to embrace parts of yourself — being a Black woman, recognizing and embracing where you came from. And I read that you’ve been accepted into a cohort of artists that are trying to help, trying to push publication of stories with better representation. Do you feel like that’s a way you’re building community or another way that drew you into writing is being able to tell those stories?
Brittany J. Thurman: When I was younger I loved reading chapter books. I would read those little Mary‑Kate and Ashley chapter books, um, back in the day. And I remember visually trying to insert myself in the story. So when there was like a description, or if there was a side character, even with the main characters, I was trying to change that description to fit who I was in my background. I did this a lot for stories that I read. I loved the American Girl series, but I also wanted to read stories that represented myself as a Black girl living in present day who had dreams and aspirations and goals, not always tied to the past.
And so, that’s my main reason for starting to write — really writing for the child that I used to be who wanted these stories, but that the kids today Black, or, you know, no matter their background, who need to read these stories as well to see this world in which we live. And I think that I came into publishing at an opportune time.
I kind of started looking into writing for children at the height of, or at the beginning of the We Need Diverse Books nonprofit when that started. And so they were amplifying the need for diverse literature within the children’s literature community. It was hard at first, it was difficult, going to conferences, being the only Black person there, the only person of color there, having my stories rejected because an editor who isn’t of my background and [didn’t] understand why my character was named Africa or didn’t understand the reasons for why I was writing. So I really started out writing for this person that I used to be, this person I am today, and recognizing the need that continues. I think that we will always need books that show the vastness of our world, so that people like me can see myself in literature, but that others can see, you know, who exists within this beautiful world that we live in.
As you write more books and publish more books, how do you envision yourself being the kind of person that — for a little kid that dreams of being a writer —can set an example for them?
While I was working at the [Carnegie] library, there was a patron, a little girl who used to come in, and I told her that I was a writer and every time that she would come in, she would say, ‘Is your book ready?’ and I would say, ‘Not yet, because it’s a long process, these things take time.’ And then she would say, ‘It’s OK because I will wait.’ And I have her in the back of my mind each time that I write.
I think that, you know, our kids are waiting for us, whether it deals with the writing or our own dreams, no matter what it is, they are waiting. I think that for me, I have to remember to wake up every day and recognize these goals that I have, put pen to paper, and not give up. I think that sometimes half the battle is showing up, with the way of the world today, things are very difficult, but I think that when our kids see us showing up daily, getting up, going through the motions, you know, whether it is succeeding or failing, I think is a prompt for kids to see that, you know, things don’t always go our way.
But I hope that by me showing up, being there, continuing to write, I hope that I can be a reflection that, you know, that this is possible. I don’t remember an author visiting me when I was in school, and so I’m trying my best to schedule visits so that kids can see, you know, this can be your path; you can write, this can be a career that you have. You can go into writing or you can go into publicity, you can go into working for publishers. There are different avenues. Um, yeah, so I think that for me, it’s showing up, it’s being there. It’s being consistent and being transparent. It’s not always, it’s not easy.
Thurman will be at Carmichael’s (2720 Frankfort Ave.) on Saturday, Jan. 29 at 2 p.m. for an author’s visit and story time.
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