So very excited to share a bit of news! I’ve been invited to join Twigtale’s inaugural Parent Advisory Council. The company is about creating personalized parenting tools and children’s books to help our little ones process the bigger transitions happening in their young lives.
As the announcement blog post says, Twigtale aims to connect children and parents through storytelling.
“You see, we believe that everyone has a story. There are plot twists and obstacles, but the magic will always remain in how we make meaning of the journey.”
And, if you know how I move through this life, they kind of had me at “storytelling.” Actually, it was one of my earlier blog posts here on MMM — about talking the tiny human about big things — that really sold them on me! Always makes you feel good to know that something your wrote resonated.
I’m honored to be working with Twigtale, and look forward to the journey with this fine group of writers, creatives, thinkers, and parents.
More goodness to share …
My wise litter sister Nailah and I put together a global good panel that we’ve pitched for SXSW next year. And we’re so fortunate to have the superb Chrysula Winegar and Heather Barmore join us as speakers on the panel.
The pitch looks at how to use social media to turn compassion into ACTION. This feels timely and important — urgent, even — especially in this current climate in the U.S. and other parts of the globe. Hashtags can only go so far. It’s time to move beyond words and DO something.
But we need your VOTE. If you go to our panel link here, you’ll first be asked to sign in. Don’t let that be a turn-away thing. It’s easy; you can even sign in using your Facebook account. Once you do, you can vote (thumbs-up) for our panel.
Thank you for your support, friends!
One last piece of news … but this has to remain under the cloak for now. But I’ve been invited to speak at a major conference later this year, and I. am. hyped! Can’t wait to share this fun update with you soon.
That’s it, folks. Feeling pretty good. Although I’m still shaking my head about the fact that we’re already mid-August. *insert angry cat profile emoji*
When I read the fantastic story in the Washington Post about how Franklin — the first character of color — in the Peanuts strip changed comics history nearly 50 years ago, I felt heartened, hopeful, for the first time in a long while.
(Photo Credit: Fox Animation; Blue Sky Studios)
These last 18 months in this county have been hard to swallow: the back-to-back killings of unarmed black men, women, and children; the egregious racial injustices jabbed into our ribs; the raw and relentless hate and violence bestowed on black bodies; and the excruciating pain of watching (often on video) as the very breath is choked from Black Lives. Hope is buried deep under horror and heartbreak.
And so when I read this WaPo story, one that delved into this country’s history of racism, feeling something far removed from outrage or despair was refreshing, a relief.
What made the story so outstanding is layered. First, it pulled back the curtain on an important piece of behind-the-scenes history that most folks had no idea about. Second, it added more value to a cultural icon . And lastly, perhaps most important , it showed what it means to use your voice — in whatever capacity — to speak out against injustice and speak up for truth.
Both Peanuts creator Charles Schultz and Harriet Glickman — the white, retired teacher who sent Schultz the letter that effectively birthed Franklin — decided to stand up for what they believed in, stand up for what their hearts knew was right. It took courage for Glickman, so troubled by assassination of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and the stifling climate of racist violence, to move beyond sentiment and actually do something. She wrote a letter.
And Schultz, who could have rested back on it is what is convenience, instead used his reputation and immense influence to effect change. When faced with objections from the higher-ups about his strip introducing Franklin’s character, Schultz said it with his chest: “Either you run it the way I drew it, or I quit.”
“There is an awareness that nearly a half-century after Franklin was created, thereby integrating America’s beloved comic strip, he still resonates as not just a character, but also as a symbol of cultural illumination.”
What’s funny (not ha-ha) is how I grew up reading Peanuts comics and happily watching the Charlie Brown specials on TV, and simply thinking nothing about Franklin. Of course Franklin is there, he exists, he’s in the mix. But I saw him as just another kid in the group. He just happened to look like me.
In my world, having a Franklin in Charlie Brown’s crew was small and subtle, but ultimately major and important. Through him I saw a brown kid living a regular life and having adventures with his friends. He was folded into the full picture, not pushed to margins or — worse — erased altogether.
Now, as a mother raising a brown boy in America, I’m seeing Franklin with fresh eyes. He’s come into finer focus, showing up as more than extra color on the page. Now, knowing what I know and what I’ve seen played out in real life, the fact that Franklin existed in the Peanuts universe represents the change that I hope we’re moving toward: not a colorblind world, but a rich, colorful, reflective one.
Author of THE THUNDER BENEATH US. Journalist. Runner. Mother. Creator of Ms. Mary Mack. Living this life the best way I know how.
Originally posted on BlogHer.com
My buddy and fellow writer mama, Colleen Oakley, asked me to write a guest post on a blog for which she’s been writing for the last year, celebrating her fantastic debut novel, Before I Go. The blog is called The Debutante Ball, and my guest post topic was Diversity in Publishing. Here’s that post! I want to again thank Colleen and the folks at DB for giving me the space to talk about an important topic.
And be sure to head over to The Debutante Ball blog for a chance to win a signed copy of my debut novel from a few years ago, EARTH’S WATERS.
Editor’s Note: Here at The Debutante Ball, we strive to give an insider look at our experiences with the publishing industry. But we also like to contribute to the dialogue on important topics in publishing, which is why this week we’ve decided to focus on diversity— and have each asked a guest author to discuss their experiences in the industry. We know we can’t solve the issues with a few blog posts, but we’re hoping we can add to the conversation and perhaps even spark some new ideas.
My guest this week is not only a dear friend and colleague from my magazine editing and writing days, but she’s also a published author, award-winning blogger and has most recently scored a two-book deal for her 2nd and 3rd novels with Kensington Books. (At the end of this post, we’ll be giving away a signed copy of her debut Earth’s Waters to one lucky commenter). Without further ado, please welcome to The Ball: Nicole Blades.
Keep it positive. That was my plan when I set out to write this guest post.
I was going to start by talking about my all-time favorite teacher, Mr. Harry Polka, with his bushy beard, plaid shirts and genuine, warm comportment. He was my third grade teacher, and though he didn’t believe in homework — “Your parents don’t take home their work, do they? — he very much did believe in storytelling. That, and the Beatles, whose music he played on an antique record player during class every day.
Mr. Polka was an important figure in my life, because it’s through him and my father that I caught the storytelling bug as this curious kid growing up in Montreal. And I’ve been putting my wild words and imagined worlds on paper ever since.
Then I was going to move into my reading life in this post, resting on nostalgia for beat, talking about my first encounter with Toni Morrison (The Bluest Eye), Octavia Butler (Kindred), Maya Angelou (I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings), Langston Hughes (The Ways of White Folks), Edwidge Danticat (Breath, Eyes, Memory), James Baldwin, August Wilson, Alice Walker, and right on up to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Zadie Smith and Teju Cole; delving into how it felt to see me, or at least some likeness of the Black experience, show up on the page and command my full attention.
I was going to relish in those moments of true representation in the countless books I happily and regularly got lost in, with different versions of Black Life baked into the story, and how seeing all of those vast and rich worldviews, cultures, environments and backgrounds pushed to center stage — on purpose — to entertain, enlighten, edify, and engage made me feel counted, considered, seen.
Yes, for this guest post, I was going to focus on all of this goodness and more, keeping my Silver Linings Playbook tucked in my back pocket (you know, just in case), as I unpacked what it means to be a black writer in a very white publishing world.
But I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t truly hold to this “positive spin” approach I had planned, because when it comes to talking about the dire state of diversity in publishing, there is no positive spin. The lack of equity, the continued marginalization of black and brown writers in the overwhelming white publishing industry is stark and exasperating. Crushing, even.
Just look at the numbers: According to annual data collected collected by the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Cooperative Children’s Book Center, the number of children’s books published featuring “African-American content” went from 93 to 179 last year — almost double. But that’s 179 out of the 3,500 books that were published in 2014. That works out to 0.05 percent. Not even one whole percent.
And for writers of color working on the adult lit side, the atmosphere is just as bleak. From the paltry percentage of books by writers of color reviewed by the New York Times(a trifling 12 percent in 2012) and the annual, highly respected summer reading lists that almost consistently feature zero books by authors of color to the alabaster panels at major publishing industry events, conferences and literary award shortlists, and the monochromatic industry itself — editors, agents, book buyers, publishing Big Cheeses — forget the playing field being uneven, the game is rigged.
Originally, I wanted to go with a “positive” angle for this post because I’ve been very fortunate to land an agent and, recently, a two-book deal with Kensington Books, working with a talented Black woman editor there. I didn’t want to come across like I’m standing on a soapbox from inside the room (albeit, barely in the foyer,) into which so many of my fellow writing warriors of color continue battling to gain access.
But that worry fell away, because I know that speaking the truth is at the core of storytelling, and self-editing and mincing words about the galling lack of diversity in publishing does nothing to amplify the message that change must come.
And while it’s thoroughly encouraging to see authors of color like Jacqueline Woodson and Junot Diaz win prestigious awards, and writers like Roxane Gay and Ta-Nehisi Coates move deeper into the Special Rooms, invited to sit at the table and go and come at their leisure, it’s simply not enough. Of course I don’t mean to diminish the significance of these writers’ accomplishments. No, I see each as a victory to be celebrated and counted as wins for the overall community of black and brown artists. But we need more. We need bigger shifts. We need tides turning in order to steer closer — and with some urgency — toward a publishing world that is reflective of the one in which we’re living.
GIVEAWAY: Comment on this post by Noon (EST) on Sunday, August 2 to win a copy of EARTH’S WATERS. Follow The Debutante Ball on Facebook and Twitter for extra entries — just mention that you did so in your comments. We’ll choose and contact the winner on Friday. Good luck!
Nicole Blades is an author and freelance journalist who writes about motherhood and race, identity, culture, and technology. Her debut novel, EARTH’S WATERS, was published in 2007 and her second novel, THE THUNDER BENEATH US (Kensington), will be published Fall 2016. Follow her on Twitter and her award-winning parenting blog Ms. Mary Mack.
Originally posted on The Debutante Blog.
This is my latest essay on Washington Post’s “On Parenting” column. As I mentioned on Facebook, I wrote it in March. Who knew we the vile word would be back in the headlines three months later? It makes me prepare for it — and for my young son hearing it — even more. But I remain determined to defeat it.
A mom braces herself for when her child hears the N-word
By Nicole Blades
We were on the playground at recess, and I had just become King of the Mountain by pushing René off the snowy hill. He didn’t see me coming and ended up taking the most inelegant tumble-slide down the mound. Frustrated, he threw it at me. Nigger. Without thinking I quickly hurled something back: a snowball packed with ice. I must have been about 9 years old, and it was the first time anyone ever called me that to my face. I remember feeling angry, humiliated, but ultimately wounded.
For so many people, that word — despite tired attempts to reclaim the power rooted beneath it –will always be loaded with loathing and a brutal history, making it hard to truly shrug off. I may be able to let go of the incident in which it shows up, but the word doesn’t quite leave right away. It has a way of lingering behind like a noxious belch.
The thought of my young son having to face that stench on his own has me already gripped by a preset angst. He’s only 6, and his grasp of layered concepts such as race and ethnicity is limited. But my husband and I don’t subscribe to the simplistic idea of colorblindness, so the conversation about racism, discrimination, and ignorance will definitely happen at a more appropriate age.
Still, I can almost see the hurt and humiliation in his sweet eyes as he recounts what some awful kid said to him on the playground or in the classroom or cafeteria, trying to break him, shoving him into his perceived place, stripping away his right to just be. And I can feel it, as I listen to this imagined retelling, the heat in the pit of my gut surging, scorching up my throat and positioning itself hot and stinging on the edge of my lips, ready to roar and advocate for ice-ball solutions.
Of course I know that violence will never be the salve for ignorance, and intolerance can’t be wrestled into a sealed box by brute force. I also know that parenting through nasty racist encounters, when angst and anger roiling in your belly leave you thinking eye-for-an-eye instead of edification, takes real work. Work that, to be honest, I’m not convinced I can actually pull off with a cool, collected head.
But then I think about my role here: I’m a mother of color committed to raising a compassionate, confident child of color with a sturdy sense of self, who will be unruffled by his “designated” status as a perceived interloper. I think about the real work of other mothers just like me, determined to buck against the warped social construct that grants privilege and sympathy, as birthright, to one specific group of people, and persecution and skepticism to all the others. I think about my vow to protect this child and prepare him to protect himself, to teach him how to brace for the impact of hateful, hurtful words without retaliating with sticks or stones. And it’s immediately confirmed: it’s not a matter of whether I can pull it off. I just have to. It’s a must.
One way to begin is by infusing his still-forming identity with countervailing messages about his self-worth — by assuring him, daily, that he matters. Telling him, in plain English, until it starts to sink into his malleable core.
Like many critics of the 2011 movie “The Help,” I took issue with several parts of the film, including the tired, patronizing arc of the white savior. But one thing that I appreciated—despite its hamfistedness—was the scene in which maid Abilene (played by the fantastic Viola Davis) tells the little white girl that she is basically raising: “You is kind, you is smart, you is important.” Mocked as it was, the line still resonated with me—maybe even more today as black boys and young men seem to be marked and virtually endangered in this country. These babies and young men and women need to be told that they are seen, needed and valued.
To carry out this important work, I’ll start where I am, here with this young boy, creating a similar mantra so he understands, accepts and holds as truth that he is important and smart and worthy. And that he can be the king of mountain, with his head high, letting the N-word and the other heinous taunts crash into the slush below him, where they belong.
Nicole Blades is an author and freelance journalist who writes about motherhood and race, identity, culture, and technology. Her second novel, THE THUNDER BENEATH US (Kensington), will be published next year. Follow her on Twitter @NicoleBlades.
This essay was originally posted on WashingtonPost.com.