In March 2017, I was invited to have a book signing at Progressive Emporium. It was an honor because although I have four books, I have never had a signing for any of them. How ironic.
It was an enthralling experience and I chattered away about my love for book creation and why I had created every one of my books. It was an intimate setting, the signing was hosted in a room honoring our ancestor, Mama Frances. The atmosphere was welcoming because I was among friends. People were so supportive of me and I appreciated how receptive they seemed to what I was saying.
Though the book signing has passed, I would like to share again the reasons I created my books for those who were not present.
BOOK 1: Collective Face: a Series of Quatrains on Community Building (2012)
I initially created the quatrains for this book when I was a teenager. I was in a writing group for children of Afrikan descent called Yari Yari Literary Group founded by Debra Morrowloving. Each year we would publish one or two books of our collective writings based on the assignments we were given in class. Collective Face originated from an assignment. We were to write quatrains about how we could build the Black community. What methods must we use? What should we focus on? I enjoyed the lesson so much that I wrote quatrain after quatrain. I saw many avenues toward rebuilding and preserving the community.
I decided to create a book of my quatrains but I did not have the tools to do so. The most I printed was a little booklet, but it didn't satisfy me, so I placed my book on the back burner to be published "someday." I was around 15 years old and lacked digital and publishing skills. However, I never forgot about my book. In 2012, I was a senior in college (the next year I was a super senior, hahahahaha). In order to graduate and receive my BA, I had to complete a senior project in my field. I knew exactly what I wanted to do: my community quatrains book.
When I presented it to my professor, he said that I could not do it because I had already written the manuscript as a teenager. I decided that I was going to do it anyway, along with another book that I had illustrated as a teenager about the missing child, Christian Taylor Ferguson.
Looking back on it now, I still cannot believe that I accomplished so much with this particular project. I self-published two books- doing the layout and the illustrations. I also created an online store. I did this with no clue about self-publishing, layout or digital arts and with barely any money. The reason the book even came together was because of the community I had in school. I had no idea how to use Adobe InDesign but fortunately, my class was composed of about 97% digital artists. Though I had hardly any money, my school had a program where there is a certain amount of money you receive each semester to use for educational purposes. My teachers edited my manuscript and people were encouraging when I thought I was about to give up on my projects. This book was truly a community effort.
BOOK 4: Let's Speak! Kiswahili- 3 Short Stories Teaching Basic Kiswahili Words (2015)
It had been about three years since I had published my first book and I desired to write a second one. However, I was still debating about what I should write about. The answer came easily to me: I wanted to write an instructional workbook about learning Kiswahili. The only barrier was that I was only fluent in English, I didn't know that many people who spoke Kiswahili fluently and my personal life was a bit tumultuous at that time, which was quite distracting.
I was inspired to write a book about Kiswahili after working as a tutor for children in a library. Our demographics were mostly children of Afrikan descent. I did my best to emphasize to the children the power of learning a second language. I felt that if the youth learned a language that was primarily spoken by people of Afrikan, they would have more of a connection to it. I decided that Kiswahili would be the best language to learn for starters. It had similar pronunciations like Spanish, but it was not designated to any one tribe (which is why it was selected to be used for Kwanzaa.) When I looked through our collection, I found many French and Spanish books for the youth but only five to seven Kiswahili books. Two of the books were by Mr. and Mrs. Feelings and the rest were by a Kenyan woman who happened to live in St. Louis. I enjoyed the books, but I was a bit frustrated that I had to keep rechecking them out. (Scenario: borrow a Kiswahili book about counting one through ten. Turn it in. Borrow a Kiswhahili book on Afrikan animals. Turn it in.) I desired for all of the lessons or at least a handful of the lessons to be in one book.
When I created Let's Speak! Kiswahili, I made it for both adults and youth. The book could end up anywhere, in a classroom or a prison. I wanted it to be easy enough to learn but challenging enough for serious study. It was one of my first experiences in creating worksheets and writings that could cater to various reading levels.
Out of all of the books, this book in particular was the most challenging to create. Why? To begin with, my finances and living situation were quite interesting when I began the book in 2014. Stress impacted my work. Stress from protesting in Ferguson and on Shaw. Stress from job hunting and jumping. Miraculously, I finished my book. I didn't have InDesign on my computer to layout the book how I wanted it laid out, so I would use my cousin's computer, for she was a professional digital artist. She helped me with learning InDesign and digital photo editing. But the biggest obstacle was the actual Kiswahili language. I was so terrified that I was going to have incorrect words that I searched through books and online to see if I had everything written and pronounced correctly. Thankfully, I became associated with a man named Cliff who was fluent in Kiswahili. He was a God send and saved me from literary humiliation.
I published my book at the beginning of January 2015. I considered it an end of all of my struggles. I didn't have a book signing or any big fan fair. I hardly told anyone about it. I simply took satisfaction in knowing that I had made it through the fire.
BOOK 3: The Book-Cart Dance Off: a Library Tale (2016)
This was possibly the easiest book I created out of the four books. It was easy because my life had stability, therefore, I was able to enjoy the process. I had a steady job, I had my own place now, my finances were well and I was content. As a result, the creation of this book was whimsical. What inspired it was my work in a library.
I worked as a shelver in a large library and developed an interest in possibly pursuing a Masters of Library and Information Science. I immersed myself in library culture by reading books and also watching documentaries. While watching a particular documentary, I learned about an annual competition called the Book Cart Drill Team. Library workers across the nation dress up in costumes and decorate book carts and give a choreographed performance with the carts. It inspired me to create a book about this competition.
This book was my first multicultural book because the characters in the book were my co-workers and supervisors. I experimented with the digital arts with this book in particular in order to develop confidence in working with the software. It was a quick book to make and I am considering making it into a series.
BOOK 4: Vibration: a Collection of Poetry, Essays and Art (2016)
After I had written book #3, I wanted to create another book to end the year with. I had a collection of many poems that I had made over the course of seven years, but some were unpublished and others had simply been published in literary magazines. I felt that I had been typecast by others. They would say, "Oh she is a children's book illustrator. She writes children's books. The only books I wrote for children (mostly) were my first and second book.
Vibration was my tiny act of bravery in writing. There were some poems I wanted to share with the world but was too timid to present to others. I also had not showcased all of the art I had created during that time period so that others would be able to see the range of my abilities. I took this particular book very seriously because it was an introduction to my true creative writing style. It took a different type of effort to create this book unlike the other books. With the others I was worried about language and the quality of the illustrations. With this book, I wanted to say things in a new way or show my curiosity about certain subjects using poetry as a vessel. I am in the process of writing my second poetry book which should be published in either 2017 or 2018.