Kirstie and Aya are founding members of KidLit In Color— a group that nurtures, amplifies, and advocates for diverse voices and equitable representation in the industry. Members who participated in this interview include Valerie Bolling, Tameka Fryer Brown, Lisa Stringfellow, and Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow.
Tell us about the inspiration behind Kidlit In Color. How did it come about?
Aya: I really wanted to connect with authors who had similar experiences in the publishing world and understand how it’s extra difficult to break into the publishing world as a BIPOC. Kirstie and I had similar feelings about issues we faced and agreed that having like-minded individuals share their experiences and support each other would be helpful.
Kirstie: Aya and I were members in another group and instantly clicked. There were only three of us that were women of color, and that in itself presented some challenges, which in turn encouraged us to create our own safe space.
Tell us about the authors featured on Kidlit In Color.
Kirstie: We have an amazing group of talented authors in KidLit In Color. Many of us were newly published authors, but we also have seasoned authors with multiple books under their belt as well. Our authors have received much deserved awards and recognition for their work. I have personally read every single book that was published by KidLit In Color authors in 2020 and am honored to be in a group with writers of this caliber.
Aya: All of the authors in our group are incredible. Some are debuts and some have several books published. I love that the newer ones learn and ask questions (including me). But also the more experiences authors are always there to answer questions and “mentor” when needed.
What goals do you have for the group this year?
Aya: My goal is that we continue supporting each other. I love that we can ask for advice and people are genuine and truly we want each other to succeed. I hope we can do more Instagram lives together and Instagram takeovers because that’s always fun!
Kirstie: Yes, that is fun. My biggest goal for the group is that we do a writers retreat or conference once it’s safe to gather again.
What BIPOC books are members of the group currently reading?
What else would you like readers to know about books by and about diverse creators?
Lisa: Books by BIPOC creators are not a monolith. One book about the Black experience, is just that. One book. It’s also important to highlight the moments of joy in the lives of Indigenous people and people of color and not only hardship and trauma.
Tameka: Less than half of the children’s books about Black people are actually written by Black people. This means Black people still aren’t controlling their own narrative in the traditional publishing industry. Readers can encourage change in this area by intentionally buying the books of own voices authors.
Valerie: Books by and about diverse creators are absolutely necessary. They are life-giving and affirming for children, especially for those who may share the background of the creator. They send a message that we all have stories to tell and share.
Jamilah: I would like them to know that we need your support to keep telling these stories. The choice to buy diverse books that are #ownvoices before ones that aren’t helps often marginalized diverse creators to keep telling authentic stories.
Let’s Dance! by Valerie Bolling, illustrated by Maine Diaz (Boyd, Mills & Kane, 2020). In addition to being an author, Valerie has been an educator for 27 years. A graduate of Tufts University and Columbia University, Teachers College, Valerie currently works as an Instructional Coach.
The Arabic Quilt: An Immigrant Story by Aya Khalil (Tilbury House Publishers, 2020), illustrated by Anait Semirdzhyan. Aya is a freelance journalist and holds a master’s in Education with a focus in teaching English as a second language.
Praline Lady by Kirstie Myvett, illustrated by Kameko Madere (Pelican Publishing, 2020). Kirstie’s work has appeared in Country Roads Magazine and she is a regular contributor to Black New Orleans Mom Blog.
A Comb of Wishes (HarperCollins/Quill Tree Books, 2022) is written by Lisa Stringfellow. Lisa writes middle grade fiction and has a not-so-secret fondness for fantasy with a dark twist. Her work often reflects her West Indian and Black southern heritage. Her happy place is her classroom of fifth and sixth graders, where she champions the rights of all children to see themselves in books.
Your Name is a Song by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow M.S.Ed, illustrated by Luisa Uribe (Innovation Press, 2020) features young Black Muslim protagonists, have been recognized and critically-praised by many trusted voices in literature, including American Library Association, School Library Journal, and NPR. She writes picture books and middle grade fiction.
Suma Subramaniam is the contributing author of The Hero Next Door (Penguin Random House, 2019). She is also the author of Centaurs (Capstone, 2021), Fairies (Capstone, 2021), She Sang For India: How M.S. Subbulakshmi Used Her Voice For Change (Macmillan FSG, 2022), and Namaste Is A Greeting (Candlewick, 2022). She is the chair of the Children’s Internship Grant Committee at We Need Diverse Books and Mentorship Program Coordinator for SCBWI Western Washington. She hires tech professionals for a leading software company during the day and is a writer by night. Suma has an MFA in Creative Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts and degrees in computer science and management. Visit her website at https://sumasubramaniam.com