Hey y’all, so my bookish dreams seem to be coming true because today I’ll be bringing you my first ever author interview! This is one of my pieces for the book tour of The Black Kids by Christina Hammonds Reed. Make sure to check out my full review and theme analysis too!
Without further ado, let’s get into it:
There has been a major shift toward Own Voice narratives in the past few years when it comes to publishing. As a lifelong reader myself, it has been so empowering to see black girls on covers. Do you remember the first time you felt “seen” in a novel?
So I’m actually incredibly jealous of younger people today, because when I was younger there wasn’t really this push towards inclusion and so many of the books we were taught in school not only didn’t reflect reality as I knew it, but were in many ways actually somewhat damaging to read.
That said, I was fortunate to have parents who were very proactive in making sure we had books that reflected us in some way, Eat Up Gemma, Mufaro’s Beautfiul Daughters as picture books, Let The Circle Be Unbroken, Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry and The Road to Memphis were standouts as Middle Grade Books.
But in terms of books that reflected a slightly more privileged Black American girlhood in non-Black spaces, I don’t think I felt seen in that specific way until ZZ Packer’s short story collection Drinking Coffee Elsewhere.
What got you into writing? How long have you known that you wanted to be a writer?
I was that kid who would write stories in my notebooks until all hours. My parents were also very proactive about our education and always made sure we had any books we wanted, and would drop me off at the library whenever I wanted. They also enrolled us in this incredible program at Cal State Long Beach called Young Writers Camp which was a summer camp centered around writing and editing poems and short stories for kids.
At one point I thought I would go into medicine because I genuinely liked the idea of helping people, but also because it was one of the careers that “smart” kids aspire to, especially when POC parents encourage and crave financial stability for the next generation. It took a Chemistry Honors class in college totally annihilating me for me to realize it wasn’t where my heart was and the next semester, I switched my majors to Creative Writing and Political Science. I think my passions for both fields were stoked at the same time and the political as well as personal finds its way into my writing.
There seems to be a common understanding that to be a great writer, one must also be a reader. Are there any authors you admire or look up to? What are your all-time favorite books?
I think it’s imperative to not only read, but also to listen to and watch and take in as many different forms of storytelling as you can. I really love Jesmyn Ward. I will read anything she writes ever. Viet Thanh Ngyuen’s The Sympathizer just blew my mind, as did Mohsin Hami’s Exit West. Colson Whitehead is such an absolute incredible talent and 1000% deserving of his two Pulitzers.
I’m really excited to see how Brit Bennett’s career evolves. Same with Tommy Orange. There, There was so good and so necessary in terms of the fact that we often see Native Americans represented within the context of history instead of as people moving through the world at present with many of the exact same struggles and challenges and joys in the face of intergenerational trauma as Black folks.
I had Aimee Bender as a professor in college, and in addition to being this wonderfully imaginative writer, she’s also just a beautiful person and the kind of professor who genuinely makes a difference in students’ lives.
On the YA front I have such an absolute deep respect for Nic Stone and Jason Reynolds – not only their writing, but also for their advocacy and the work they do in connecting to and encouraging young readers and uplifting other writers.
I’m terrible at answering my all-time favorites because I feel like that list is so long and I hate choosing. That said, I find myself returning to The Brief and Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz. There are things that are problematic about the book, but it’s such a well-written work and manages to weave the political and the personal as it relates to the Dominican Republic, what it means to be an immigrant, and one family’s history in such a beautiful way. Plus, it just really boils down to what it means to love, which I think is what drives any good work.
Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides is another one that I find myself returning to. Toni Morrison’s entire oeuvre is just transcendent and I get something new out of it every time I re-read one of her books. Same with James Baldwin. The Warmth of Other Sons by Isabel Wilkerson!
Do you have any reading recommendations for people that enjoy The Black Kids?
Middle Grade – The Only Black Girls in Town by Brandy Colbert
YA – pretty much anything Brandy Colbert, Nic Stone, Elizabeth Acevedo, the list goes on. There’s an embarrassment of riches in the YA world right now.
Adult – Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche, Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams
Non-fiction – The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson
As a book lover, I must admit that I’m a sucker for beautiful covers. What was the process like for creating the cover of The Black Kids? Do you feel like the cover does the story justice?
The cover is all thanks to the incredible talent of Adriana Ballet and the cover design by Lucy Ruth Cummins. Simon and Schuster pitched a few ideas and artists to me and I was really drawn to Adriana’s work and when I saw the final artwork, I actually teared up. I had some input on the smaller details like lip color, earring size, how much flame should be in the sunglasses, but, really, it’s all them.
The cover is such an incredible representation of Ashley’s journey from being slightly outside of the riots looking in, to really finding herself as part of a community by the end of the text.
If you could give your 20-year-old self any piece of advice, what would you tell her?
There’s this lovely song by Ambar Lucid “Letter to My Younger Self” where she sings in Spanish and English to her younger self that even though things are hard right now, the universe is going to give you(her) many flowers. It’s a beautiful song about who you think you’re going to be versus who you end up being, and the fact that there’s beauty at the end of the struggle if you just keep holding on. I had a very emotionally rough twenties, and that song really speaks to me.
In your article for Elle you ended with a call to action of “Wake up. Up you wake.” Do you feel like younger Millennials and Generation Z have been answering this call? What are your hopes for the future?
Very much so! I am so deeply impressed by Gen Z and younger Millennials and the power of their mobilization in the face of childhoods and young adulthoods that have been shaped by things like Parkland and Newton and Pulse and the deaths of their fellow Gen-Zers like Tamir Rice and Trayvon Martin and seeing young economic and political Latinx refugees held in cages.
Young people have always been at forefront of change in every major civil rights movement, and this is no exception. I hope for a future that is more just, more humane, more equitable, in which people regardless of their sexuality, gender identity, race, or religion are equally uplifted and supported and represented in the political process and economically empowered. But to do so takes dismantling many of the systems and institutions that haven’t served most of us equally, and that takes a huge political shift on the local and national levels. So please everyone, go vote!
Christina Hammonds Reed holds an MFA in Film and Television Production from the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts. Her short fiction has previously appeared in the Santa Monica Review. She lives in Hermosa Beach, CA.
The Black Kids
by Christina Hammonds Reed
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Release Date: September 1st, 2020
Genre: Young Adult, Historical Fiction, Contemporary
Perfect for fans of The Hate U Give, this unforgettable coming-of-age debut novel explores issues of race, class, and violence through the eyes of a wealthy black teenager whose family gets caught in the vortex of the 1992 Rodney King Riots.
Los Angeles, 1992
Ashley Bennett and her friends are living the charmed life. It’s the end of senior year and they’re spending more time at the beach than in the classroom. They can already feel the sunny days and endless possibilities of summer.
Everything changes one afternoon in April, when four LAPD officers are acquitted after beating a black man named Rodney King half to death. Suddenly, Ashley’s not just one of the girls. She’s one of the black kids.
As violent protests engulf LA and the city burns, Ashley tries to continue on as if life were normal. Even as her self-destructive sister gets dangerously involved in the riots. Even as the model black family façade her wealthy and prominent parents have built starts to crumble. Even as her best friends help spread a rumor that could completely derail the future of her classmate and fellow black kid, LaShawn Johnson.
With her world splintering around her, Ashley, along with the rest of LA, is left to question who is the us? And who is the them?