It all began with a conversation.
When I met my husband, we were just talking and getting to know each other. When you begin to fall for someone you ask questions, like, “Are you voting in the upcoming election?” He asked if I was voting and I said, “I have to vote because my ancestors fought and died for me to have the right to vote. Even if I don’t like any of the candidates and think that they are all horrible, someone died so I’d have the right to choose.” Then, I started to think, how many other rights would I not have if not for the people who came before me. I wouldn’t be able to attend my university, all the schools would be segregated. I wouldn’t have been able to date the man who became my husband because he is white. I began to wonder how difficult it might have been for an interracial couple 200 years ago when slavery was still running rampant and women of all colors were pretty much owned. I sat down and wrote a 10-page short story and it stretched into my first book. Since publishing my first novel in 2009 I have written six more and won five book awards.
Growing up, I noticed a double standard in regard to history. If you were white and you wanted to trace your lineage back to the Mayflower this was perfectly acceptable. People were intrigued to hear your family’s history and they encouraged and praised your vast knowledge of a bygone era… but if you were black you were often discouraged from learning anything about your ancestry. I was told things like, “Black people need to leave the plantation,” and “Black people live in the past and need to just forget things.” Yearning to educate myself about the past is not the same as living in it. I didn’t desire someone to blame or scapegoat, all I wanted was the same answers that other races of children were encouraged to seek out. When I received correspondence from readers in England, France, Ireland and several countries in Africa they applauded my stories and said, “Wow! This was a fascinating look at American history.” Not Black history, nor African American history. Other countries acknowledge this topic as American history because that’s exactly what it is. When I am criticized for this subject matter my response remains the same,
I don’t write racist literature. Nor do I write black history. I write American history.
One of the biggest things that influenced me to write was a story I heard many years ago. I was a child of seven when I sat on the ground, legs folded while being enthralled by an African storyteller. She was tapping a drum with her hands while verbally painting a picture. I don’t recall her name or even what she looked like. Half the time I can’t remember where I put my keys or what I had for breakfast, yet I remember every detail of the story she told thirty years ago. We live on through the people we touch and the stories we tell. For me, success is not the amount of money in your bank account. It’s the amount of good you spread throughout the world. If I can influence one child to create something beautiful that is all the success I will ever need.