Happy publication day to us!
I’ve thought for months about how to best commemorate this day. I’ve been posting and talking and writing and talking about I Can Write the World since last year, so it’s hard to believe that the rest of the world will have access to my labor of love starting today.
It might surprise you that I never thought I’d write a children’s book, let alone a series. Many of you know that I had a childhood that made me grown in many ways before my time, just like a lot of little Black girls who have our innocence taken or presumed to be a non-entity. But when Six Foot Press’ publisher, Chul R. Kim, asked if I had a children’s book to write, Ava Murray arrived fully formed — a curious girl with incredible storytellers and justice warriors as her namesake in the brilliant storyteller Ava DuVernay and Rev. Dr. Pauli Murray, the poet, scholar and legal pioneer who broken barriers even while Murray struggled with gender dysmorphia.
I was raised in the Bronx, an underdog borough often defined — like Black women — by lack, poverty and everything that it is not. But just like I always sought out Black women role models and lighthouses of beauty and class, I have always seen the best of the Bronx even when I struggled within it because of poverty. Some people see a place that has been neglected because of the Latinx and Black people, largely immigrants, who are stuck or striving; people for whom success would mean being able to leave for a less abandoned, more expensive, whiter place. But I missed the Bronx every single time I left, even though I was in beautiful elite spaces that were supposed to be better for me, were supposed to be indicators I was moving up.
This is what home is: It is the place where you are most yourself, where you can feel yourself becoming more of your dreams by the minute, regardless of what you or others may see right before you.
This is what I loved about my girl Ava as soon as she arrived: She came asking questions about the media she absorbed. She is far less shy than I was, with a parent that is more present, more receptive, more attentive, as so many Black mothers and maternal figures are.
Why, she wonders, is a little girl getting arrested for tagging outside when the murals and graffiti around the poor neighborhoods — which, by the way, have become a global force and industry — actually feel like they make it easier to see the beauty there? As adults, we can say and observe that this is heavy for little kids to encounter, but my answer to that is that we already see that they are witnessing this world of criminalizing Black and Brown children. Not just in the Bronx, but everywhere where teachers tell me 7-year-olds have to report to court monthly to talk to strangers to justify their living here in the U.S. Of course, too, at our borders, where toddlers cry unattended, may have to sleep on warehouse floors, may not be allowed to bathe.
I had the great privilege of being at Essence Festival this weekend and hearing Michelle Obama talk about the kind of world we want our children to inherit, to live in. I am not yet a parent, but I know that I want our babies to grow up in a world where they know that their voices are important. That they can write their stories. That they can write the world. Not only can they write their world; in order for the world to be the best it can be, for the world to be hold, they must.
I say happy publication day to us because any book’s publication day is the representation of the work of dozens of people. Thank you for being in partnership with me as I seek to tell stories for young readers. This book is for you. Thank you to Charly Palmer, the gifted illustrator who so thoughtfully crafted the beauty of Ava’s world. Thank you to Six Foot Press and Serendipity Literary Agency for all of the support. Thank you to everyone at Ingram for your encouragement. To my librarian, teacher and writer friend communities — Thank you for understanding the vision and helping me share it widely. I hope this book is as meaningful to you as it has been to me.
I shared this on social media, but during PrideFest/KidFest, a young girl around Ava’s age with barrettes in her hair held the book and lovingly gazed at it and even in the chaotic craziness around us, I could see that small flicker of recognition that you get when you see yourself. And she said, “She looks like me.” And that to me is everything. That is the inspiration for this book, and the next, and the next.