Interview and a Giveaway!
Recently, I was fortunate enough to be able to catch up with author Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich. She’s busy with the release of her new book It Doesn’t Take Genius (Six Foot Press), working on The BrownBook Shelf/Highlight’s Amplify Black Stories as well writing future books, parenting and so much more!
In addition to giving up time for this interview, Olugbemisola has graciously offered to donate a copy of her book for a giveaway. Interested? Leave your name and email addy in the comments to be entered. I’ll remove your email address before allowing your comment to be seen. If I’m having one of those days and your email goes through, you my friend will receive a free copy from me! It’s definitely a book you’ll want to have in your personal, school or public library.
Contest ends Friday 14 May 2021 at 11: 59pm ET
EC: What were your summers like as a child?
OR-P: My summers were pretty low key. We moved around a lot, and generally lived in urban-suburban areas, there was plenty to do at home. Lots of time in backyards and playgrounds, at the library, at community centers. I did go to day camps — music camp, drama camp, physics camp, Y camp, swimming camp…and I “ran” my own camps for my little sister, usually with activities based on the books I was reading. J I went to sleepaway camp twice, only for a week each time. One was volleyball camp, and the other was a Black camp that was nothing like Camp DuBois, except that it was Black people. It was a lot less academic and jam-packed with activity (also a lot less fun. And the food was not good.)
EC: Olugbemisola, how does it feel to tell that type of story? You’ve gone deep into Black class and identity issues in ways we just don’t talk about and especially not in public!
OR-P: I had a lt of fun with this! I thought that Miles Brown and Skylan Brooks had such wonderful performances in the film Boy Genius, and I really wanted to take their characters and put them in an all-Black environment, where they could be joyful, be curious, be vulnerable, just BE.
A lot of the time adults don’t remember how much kids engage with “the world,” how they do think and talk about what we might think of as big issues—and at the same time care deeply about just being kids.
Do these young Black members of the upper class, should these young people, have a greater responsibility to their communities?
Yes. It is so much better to be rooted in community, in the understanding that by looking out for one another, we gain so much more than we do by focusing on individual achievement and narrow concepts of success. White supremacy wants us to compete against each other, to think that “there can only be one,” and that is a terrible, seductive, and persistent lie.
EC: Where did you get the idea for this elite summer camp? Does such a camp exist?
OR-P: I had so much fun coming up with DuBois– I wish it did exist! I did get a lot of inspiration from existing summer camps and programs; there was a Black camp that I attended for a week in 8th or 9th grade, I looked at summer Freedom School programs ,summer BLM programs, performing arts and other themed-camps as well.
EC: You drop a lot of wisdom and knowledge on your readers without being heavy handed or didactic. How did you do that?! How do you have a message, a concept that you truly believe in and relate it in a story without sound like The Author Placed This Here?
OR-P: Ha, thank you! I try to stay deeply rooted in the characters first. Who they are, what they’re wondering about, what they think they need, that’s what comes first, and I think that whatever message comes out, comes from that—and it’s often not what I’m originally thinking the story is about. In this case, I wondered a lot about the film characters’ sense of identity, and how that might affect them after the events of the film.
When I start writing, I may be working through questions, or thinking about things that I’ve heard kids discuss or ask questions about, and that becomes a part of the story too. I see my stories in my head, like films or theatre. I used to write plays as a child, and did a lot of drama at school, and I think my storytelling is still very much anchored in that as well. And an environment like that, this very special camp, where I can play around with a variety of characters, is such rich story ground!
EC: I loved that mom! She, and some of the other adult characters in the book truly were lifelong learners not just in going back to school but, also in their ability to relate to and learn from young people. They were so essential to the plot. How did you intend to use adults in this story? Did they evolve in the way that you hoped?
OR-P: I really love the mom too. And Triple M, who is a combination of some friends of mine and characters from the 80s film and tv show Fame. It’s funny, I feel like your question is the first time I’m thinking about the adults in the story. They just kind of…walked in, very naturally, from that starting point of: who are Emmett and Luke? Who can I picture in their lives? What do I think they need? What do they think they need? Who would help them be more of themselves?
EC: The young people in It Doesn’t Take A Genius were really stressing! Add that to the real life things going on now with Anti-Black and Anti-Asian hate being magnified, COVID and isolation. What messages do you hope to give them? I know you touched on this in the book but, I’m wondering what you think they need to here.
OR-P: They were really stressing, and that was hard. On one hand, I wanted to write a story about Black joy and summer fun, but on the other hand, these are Black children, so those real life things are a part of their lives in many ways. It was a challenge to write in the middle of everything going on, but it also felt even more necessary. There are so many days that the feeling of living in a world that is so sharply anti-Black almost takes my breath away, even though it’s not surprising. And that makes me more committed to show our children how much I see them, and love them.
I also think it’s important to recognize what readers are living through and experiencing, and remind them and all of us that our kids can be joyful in the midst of struggle, even trauma, that our children can ask questions and wonder and imagine better for our communities, and that they can and should hold adults accountable for what is happening in the world now. Yes, the children are the future, but there is also now, we have a responsibility to our kids now, and we can’t just keep leaving messes for future generations to clean up. A lot of the time we talk about how our kids will do better than we did, and forget that we can do better now.
EC: You have such a diverse writing portfolio! In what new ways would you like to stretch your artistry next?
OR-P: I love having the opportunity to do so many different things! I have a middle grade novel coming called Operation Sisterhood, a picture book biography of milliner Mae Reeves, a middle grade about the climate crisis, a YA novel, and a nonfiction project that deals with the issue of capital punishment. I’d love to get into easy readers and chapter books, audio storytelling and podcasting, television, and web/multimedia narratives. I’m ITCHING to write a mystery! I have an adult novel in mind, and I’d love to adapt my first novel, 8th Grade Superzero, to another format, and continue that story in a sequel. I love those kids, and think about them often. J
Thank you so much for reading, and these thoughtful questions, and all that you do, Edi. I can’t tell you how much your advocacy on behalf of our children offers comfort and strength to us creators. Thank you for being a light!
Thank you, Olugbemisola! It’s a pleasure to work with someone who is so talented, so kind and so focused on young people. I would really love to see 8th Grade Superzero continued is some way shape or form! It’s such an enjoyable story. I knew I reviewed the book, but didn’t remember that I combined the review with an interview. It can be found here https://crazyquiltedi.blog/2010/06/08/book-view-8th-grade-superzero/
Be well and do good!