African Voices Summer 2017 AV Summer 2017 Digital Issue - Page 31

trap for Black women , but writing books for young readers is a way of healing myself and serving my community at the same time .
AV : You have a doctorate and worked in academia . What made you decide to leave the academy and pursue writing and publishing full-time ?
ZE : I never intended to become an academic . I graduated college and felt frustrated that so little of my formal education focused on Black history and culture . I never had a Black educator until the last semester of my last year in college , and he introduced me to Jamaica Kincaid . Then I spent the summer in Brooklyn with my father and decided to do my BA over again , this time focusing on Black literature . A professor in Toronto suggested I go to graduate school instead , and so I returned to the US and earned a PhD in American Studies at NYU . I had Black professors and my cohort was majority Black — it was a completely different learning experience . But I was still working with kids the whole time and I struggled to make my scholarship relevant to them . So I took a year off , wrote my first adult novel (“ One Eye Open ”), and then finished the degree and used contingent academic positions to fund my writing life . But the academy has changed since I earned my degree in 2003 ; there are very few visiting positions and plenty of adjunct positions . I took a tenure-track job at a community college but knew I couldn ’ t stay past three years when the teaching load would jump to 4 / 5 . I saved $ 30K and quit my job so I could focus on my writing full-time . It was a little scary but I have no regrets ; I still give talks on campus , I can prioritize my writing projects , and I still publish essays on the racial disparities in children ’ s publishing . My scholarly training gives me a certain credibility and that opens doors that might otherwise remain closed to an indie author .
AV : What led to your decision to self-publish ?
ZE : I naively thought it would be easy for me to get an agent and a publishing deal . When I sent my first novel out , I got such an enthusiastic response that I thought I ’ d have multiple offers and a six-figure deal in no time . Then , after six months , there was silence . So I started writing for kids and sent those stories out instead , and again got a really positive response : “ You write beautifully but there ’ s no market for this .” I did a little research into the industry and found the statistics compiled annually by the CCBC ; their data proved that institutional racism was preventing many Indigenous writers and writers of color from getting their books into kids hands . I won a few prizes for my first picture book , “ Bird ,” but still couldn ’ t get an agent or editor to sign me . So I started to self-publish some of the 30 manuscripts I had sitting on
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trap for Black women, but writing books for young readers is a way of healing myself and serving my community at the same time. AV: You have a doctorate and worked in academia. What made you decide to leave the academy and pursue writing and publishing full-time? ZE: I never intended to become an academic. I graduated college and felt frustrated that so little of my formal education focused on Black history and culture. I never had a Black educator until the last semester of my last year in college, and he introduced me to Jamaica Kincaid. Then I spent the summer in Brooklyn with my father and decided to do my BA over again, this time focusing on Black literature. A professor in Toronto suggested I go to graduate school instead, and so I returned to the US and earned a PhD in American Studies at NYU. I had Black professors and my cohort was majority Black—it was a completely different learning experience. But I was still working with kids the whole time and I struggled to make my scholarship relevant to them. So I took a year off, wrote my first adult novel (“One Eye Open”), and then finished the degree and used contingent academic positions to fund my writing life. B WBFR6FVג26vVB66RV&VBגFVw&VR#3FW&R&RfW'fWrf6Fr6F2@VGbFV7B6F2FFVW&RG&6"B6VG6VvR'WBWr6VF( B7F7BF&VRV'0vVFRFV6rBvVBVFBR6fVBC3BVBג"66VBf7W2גw&FrgVFRBv2ƗGFR66''WBfR&Vw&WG37FvfRFƷ26W26&&FRגw&Fr&V7G2B7FV&Ɨ6W760FR&6F7&FW26G&V( 2V&Ɨ6rג66&ǒG&rvfW2R6W'F7&VF&ƗGBFBV2F'0FB֖vBFW'v6R&V66VBFFRWF"cvBVBFW"FV66F6VbV&Ɨ6SfVǒFVvBBvVB&RV7f"RFvWBvVBBV&Ɨ6rFVvV6VBגf'7BfVWBvB7V6VFW67F2&W76RFBFVvB( BfRVFRffW'2B6fwW&RFVFRFVgFW"6F2FW&Rv26V6R67F'FVBw&Frf"G2B6VBF6R7F&W2WB7FVBBvvB&Vǒ6FfP&W76S( ŖRw&FR&VWFgVǒ'WBFW&^( 2&WBf"F2( FBƗGFR&W6V&6FFRGW7G'BfVBFP7FF7F726VBVǒ'FR44$3FV"FF&fVBFB7FGWF&66v2&WfVFrFvVW0w&FW'2Bw&FW'2b6"g&vWGFrFV"&2FG2G2vfWr&W2f"גf'7B7GW&R&( &&B( Ц'WB7F6VF( BvWBvVB"VFF"F6vR67F'FVBF6VbV&Ɨ66RbFR3W67&G2B6GFrg&6f6W03