On Writing: Literary Legacies and Coming Home

One of my favorite contemporary Buddhist teachers, Lama Rod Owens, has a beautiful meditation practice called The Seven Homecomings. There are seven steps in all, seven sources of wisdom to call in and be held by on the way to the home that is actually ourselves. The first step is to contemplate any being who has been a guide, a teacher, a mentor, an adviser, or an elder. You imagine inviting all of those beings into practice with you, relaxing, inhaling and exhaling. Next, you reflect on any text that has helped to deepen your wisdom. These texts are also invited into the practice. The third homecoming is community, calling in all of the places and spaces where we feel safe giving and receiving love. As your move through each step, each homecoming, the idea is to create a circle of support and guidance and to be held by it.

At the moment, I am in New York City for the 2023 Kweli Color of Children’s Literature Book Conference. It’s my first time attending, and I am amazed at what Laura Pegram has created as the founding editor and publisher of Kweli Journal and director of the nation’s largest conference for BIPOC creators of children’s and YA books. The experince is intimate, and the line up is incredible. Yesterday there were keynote talks and conversations with Jacqueline Woodson, Edwidge Danticat, Ibi Zoboi, Malinda Lo, Angeline Boulley, and Donna Barba Higuera.

On Friday, I had the exquisite opportunity to take a three hour nonfiction workshop with Marilyn Nelson, a prolific poet who has created many beautiful children’s books that bring to light important Black history. She is so smart and so wise and so funny. We exchanged books, and that this moment was a possibility is maybe the most incredible thing about being a published author.

In my head, Marilyn Nelson is what I call a Literary Auntie, one of the legendary Black women children’s writers I turn to for inspiration as I refine my personal mission, elevate my craft, and consider the possibilities for my writing career. Their influence is immeasurable because they are continuously paving the road for the rest of us. They are still producing and breaking molds and raising the bar for quality children’s literature. We are lucky they continue to write and, equally as important, that they are willing to teach those of us coming up behind them who hope to have a fraction of the impact they have had. Other Literary Aunties include Carole Boston Weatherford, Lisa Cline-Ransome, and Andrea Davis Pinkey. Slowly I find our paths crossing as the crisis of covid subsides so we can gather again at workshops and conferences and book festivals.

A good teacher continues to need mentors, both in the field of education and outside of it. I pay homage to those Black women who are guiding me as a writer. Thank you for the texts that model excellence. Thank you for building and participating in communities that teach and encourage new writers. Deep bows of gratitude for all that you do and all that you are. Thank you for showing us the way home.

News and Reviews:

Nearer My Freedom was released on March 8th. Please buy a copy from your favorite book source! Early sales matter A LOT. If you read it and like it, please consider leaving a review on Goodreads and Amazon.

A-Train Allen was released on March 15th. Please buy a copy from your favorite book source! Early sales matter A LOT. If you read it and like it, please consider leaving a review on Goodreads and Amazon.

I wrote a guest blog post for SLJ’s Teen Librarian Toolbox on Why Teens Should Read Hard History. Check it out!

Two amazing local fourth graders interviewd me for the EW Stokes podcast. Our conversation was so good. They are she-bosses and rockstars. Definitely give it a listen.

Thank you everyone who attended the readings at Politics & Prose and the Silver Spring Library. Both events were a lot of fun! The support has meant everything.

The Phillips Collection has a terrific exhibit featuring many contemporary works by artists of color. Check out Pour, Tear, Carve on view until May 14. Also if you write Ekphrastic Poetry, there is a wonderful publishing opportunity curated by my poetry instructor Abdul Ali. Submission deadline is April 7.

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