Literary and noteworthy, this is a beauty of a novel that deftly captures the multifaceted struggle of finding where you belong and why you matter.
What was your initial inspiration for writing this book?
I started writing Calling My Name to explore and heal the wounds of my teenage self.
While Calling My Name is not my story, it was definitely born out of my experience. And I wanted to share my truth, to give voice to the struggle of sexual shame and guilt (which a lot of teenagers deal with, especially girls), and to speak to the terrifying experience of departing from one’s family and community teachings to find one’s own way.
What model books were most useful to you and how?
Because Calling My Name is written in vignettes, I mostly studied novels that were composed of interrelated vignettes and short stories.
As an MFA in Writing student/graduate, how did that experience impact your literary journey?
I wrote Calling My Name during my MFA in Writing program at Vermont College of Fine Arts. I started the first piece at the very end of my first semester, fell in love with the voice, and spent the next year and a half adding to the novel piece by piece. Upon graduation, I had a finished, polished book. I didn’t plan it that way, but I was very fortunate to have it happen that way.
It was great to have each new chapter of my novel critiqued every month by an adviser. It was also nice to be able to dedicate the critical analysis part of the program to studying books and techniques that would help me write Calling My Name. And the structure and discipline of the MFA program was invaluable. I don’t think I would have written Calling My Name so fast without the deadlines.
Obviously, an MFA isn’t essential to becoming a fiction writer. There are so many paths, but this one was the right one for me. And one of the best things about the program is the lifelong community of writers it creates.
|Dream Keepers YA Authors Panel with Renée Watson, Nic Stone,
Liara Tamani, Jacqueline Woodson, Ibi Zoboi, and Vashti Harrison
As a member of a community underrepresented in youth literature, what did your diverse perspective bring to your story?
Taja is a young African-American girl, and her culture is on full display in this book; it’s embedded in the story. Some issues with race come up because race is always a factor for black people, and I wanted to be honest about the ways it’s a factor in Taja’s life.
These issues are present, but they aren’t the focus. While books that explicitly deal with America’s race problem are very important (especially in these times), books that remind readers that black people and people of color have more than race problems, that we are whole human beings, with the whole spectrum of human problems and human joys are equally as important.
Booklist gave Calling My Name a starred review, “An excellent portrayal of African American culture, gorgeous lyrical prose, strong characters, and societal critique make Tamani’s debut a must-read.”
Liara Tamani lives in Houston, Texas with her daughter.