The Picture Book Buzz - Interview with Alicia D. Williams
Alicia D resides in Charlotte, NC. She is the proud mother of a brilliant college student. Her love for education stems from conducting school residencies as a Master Teaching Artist of arts-integration. Alicia D infuses her love for drama, movement, and storytelling to inspire students to write.
Alicia graduated from the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in New York. She's performed in commercials, off-off Broadway, and even Charlotte's very own children's theater.
And like other great storytellers, she made the leap into writing--and well, her story continues. Alicia D loves laughing, traveling, and Wonder Woman.
Her award-winning debut novel, Genesis Begins Again, is the 2020 Newbery Honor Book, 2020 Coretta Scott King-John Steptoe Award for New Talent, 2020 William C. Morris Prize Finalist, and 2019 Kirkus Prize Finalist. She’s also the author of Jump At The Sun: The True Life Tale of Unstoppable Storycatcher Zora Neale Hurston illustrated by Jacqueline Alcántara (2021) and Shirley Chisholm Dared: The Story of the First Black Woman in Congress illustrated by April Harrison (2021).
For some basic information on Alicia, see our earlier interview (here).
Alicia's newest picture book, The Talk, releases tomorrow.
Welcome back Alicia!
Where did the inspiration for The Talk come from?
The talk is a conversation that has occurred for decades in Black and brown families. It is a talk parents give to teach their children to navigate a world that may see them through a different lens.
In 2020, I, along with so many others, suffered greatly as we watched the world literally burn with protests after George Floyd’s murder, Ahmaud Aubrey’s video release, and the last words of Elijah McCain. One sleepless night a little chatty voice woke me and wouldn’t let me rest until I grabbed a pen and paper. The boy, the character Jay, introduced me to his friends, family, and everything he was proud of. Then, those same moments of pride came with a warning or a talk. The story literally unfolded that night.
It's amazing when that happens. When something is so powerful it refuses to be postponned. What is your favorite thing to do outside?
My most favorite thing to do outside is to take walks. I do it for exercise, but it’s nothing like breathing in fresh air. I consider it a privilege. I know you asked my favorite, but I don’t have just one. I also enjoy sitting in my backyard watching the hummingbirds, reading, and chatting with friends.
I can't think of a better way to spend an afternoon! What's something you want your readers to know about The Talk?
Thanks for asking as I’ve already had internet trolls attacking the book from an advertisement for presales. They attacked without reading it. Which tells me that either the title, cover, or synopsis triggered pockets of individuals. Funny, the story does not promote anything anti, yet that’s what they accused. It doesn’t even have a scripted “talk” in it.
The Talk is not a book to make anyone feel guilty. In fact, it is written in the gentlest way by introducing readers to a fun, cute, sweet boy named Jay.
I want my Black and brown readers to see a reflection of their experiences and know they’re not alone. For my non-Black and brown readers to look through the “window” and learn something new about families that are not like their own. And I want all my readers to know and feel that this book is pro-love, pro-life, and pro-family.
Having read it - I believe that you succeeded wonderfully in capturing these experiences and helping those who may never walk in these shoes a moment of reflection and hopefully understanding. I am sorry for the trolls. What was the toughest aspect of writing The Talk? How long did it take from the idea to publication? Was it always written as a direct address to the reader?
The toughest part was not the writing, but in believing that this was a story I could tell. Years ago, I wanted to write about the subject. I played with drafts. I wanted the picture book to be rhythmic, a poetic back-and-forth between a child and his parent. There were several other entry points I attempted, and they all came out horribly wrong.
Truth, I didn’t think I should write the story as a woman because of potential blind spots. I held no experience living as a Black male nor had I raised one. But I raised a girl and knew my worries were almost the same. Still, I tried to give the story away to male peers. Even tried to enlist a male poet to co-write it. Eventually, I let it go figuring the story will ride the wind and land at the hands of the right writer.
The morning after the night in 2020 when the character’s chatty voice woke me, I typed up the story and sent it to my agent. That was a Friday, and on Monday it was sent to my publisher. The publisher immediately wanted it. So, I suppose the story marinated for years, but once written, it was not a struggle. It was a gift.
It spun on the wind, waited until YOU were ready, and then tackled you. I like that you didn't put all the responsibility on the father, but addressed this moment as a whole family. When you first saw Briana Mukodiri Uchendu’s illustrations did anything surprise or amaze you? Any thoughts on the cover and the shadows of the wolves? What is your favorite spread?
I was in love with Briana’s illustrations. First, I saw sketches, and they became more and more alive with the addition of colors.
Text © Alicia D. Williams, 2022. Image © Briana Mukodiri Uchendu, 2022.
Authors never get to meet the illustrator and all communication goes through the editor. Besides the few illustrator notes given in the manuscript, every other detail came from Briana’s imagination of the text. As for surprises, I love Jay’s snaggletooth! I love Jay and his friends charging ahead as they run with the ancestral spirits of Olympian heroes. I love his Nana pinching his cheeks, him posing with the superhero behind him.
I am surprised with Briana zeroing in on the wolf metaphor. Jay wears a hoodie with a wolf on the back, and Briana really went for it visually. That is an aspect that I did not especially make to be deep or meaningful, but more of a cute description. Children like animals. It could’ve been a dinosaur or shark. In fact, it was a wolf, just as the chatty voice described to me. And she, as an intuitive illustrator, pulled out that one tidbit and teased it throughout the entire story and made it deeper. I’m always amazed at the illustrator’s visual interpretation of the text.
I love seeing the second half of a story that the illustrator brings. And you left her so much room with your subtle, succinct text. The combination created a stunning book! Did you provide any notes for the wordless spread of the talk?
Yes, that was my vision because I did not want to write a specific text. Every family handles the discussion differently. It may come in spurts. It may come in the moment as an event occurs. It may happen all at one time. Every family’s conversation is different as well.
The two-page spread was inspired by Matt de la Pena’s picture book LOVE and the wordless spread in his book. The power of visualization in that illustration spoke as much as the written word, and even more.
It is very powerful and thought-provoking. Are there any projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?
I am totally excited about my next novel. It’s written in verse. And it, too, was a gift! If you asked me to write another novel in verse I’d be clueless, haha.
I needed healing. I was dealing with grief from the social unrest of 2020. And this friendship story came to me. It is about two boys who are growing apart, so they decide to embark on an epic summer of breaking as many world records as possible. Do they break the records and save their friendship? Or ruin it even more?
Ooh, that's a great premise. I'm looking forward to reading it! And lastly, what is your favorite National Park or Forest, regional park, or city park? Or the one you’re longing to visit. Why?
I don’t have a favorite! You have me there. I haven’t visited enough to declare one. But I dream of going to one place—and that is the Grand Canyon. It is so expansive! I believe it’ll remind me how small I and my worries are in the scope of its grandness. © Maria Marshall
I hope you get the change to visit; it is life changing. Thank you so much for coming by again, Alicia. It’s always such a pleasure to talk with you.
Be sure to come back Friday for the Perfect Picture Book #PPBF post on The Talk.
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