Author Spotlight: Alice Faye Duncan
Aug. 10, 2018
We are excited to feature picture book author Alice Faye Duncan and her picture book, MEMPHIS, MARTIN, AND THE MOUNTAIN TOP-The Sanitation Strike of 1968 (Calkins Creek; August 28, 2018) illustrated by R. Gregory Christie.
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Tell us about your background and how you came to write for children.
I am my mother's only child. I discovered my love for writing when I was in elementary school. It was then that I stumbled upon a poetry book by Paul Laurence Dunbar. The encounter set me on course to write poems and short stories in African American Vernacular English (AAVE). I was excessive about the form for the first 15 years of my professional writing career. I mastered it in my book--HONEY BABY SUGAR CHILD. That book is 13 years old and remains in print.
Congrats on your latest picture book, MEMPHIS, MARTIN, AND THE MOUNTAIN TOP-The Sanitation Strike of 1968. Tell us about it and what inspired you.
I owe abounding gratitude to Dr. Almella Starks Umoja. She was kind to share her memories of the strike with me. In 1968, her father, Rev. Henry Logan Starks, was pastor of Saint James A.M.E. Church in Memphis, Tennessee. Reverend Starks was also a community organizer and strategist for the sanitation strike. Almella marched with both of her parents during strike protests. She also heard Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. deliver his “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech at Mason Temple Church. As an eyewitness to these historical events, she was generous to read my manuscript in its many iterations and forms. My story is not Almella's biography. And yet, her life gave my character, Lorraine Jackson, breath and bone.
You have been writing for children for a long time. How has the industry changed over the years?
Here are some staggering numbers of a heartbreaking reality. According to the Cooperative Children's Book Center at the University of Wisconsin, US publishers released 3,500 books for children in 2017. Of these books, 340 were about or concerned the history of African American children. And from this number, African American authors wrote 122 books. Sounds dismal?
The dearth was even greater when I poised myself to write about the Memphis strike. US publishers released 2,800 books for children in 2005. Of these books, 149 were about or concerned the history of African American children. And from this number, African American writers wrote 75 books.
The organization, We Need Diverse Books is using the influence of writers, teachers and librarians to inspire change in publishing. In the meantime, I follow the small imperceptible voice that compels me to write. It is my opinion that the stories I am seeking, are also seeking me.
What projects are you working on now?
Here is a list of my upcoming books:
MEMPHIS, MARTIN AND THE MOUNTAINTOP will make its official debut on August 28th--which is the 55th Anniversary of the "March on Washington."
Sterling Press will release TWELVE DAYS OF CHRISTMAS IN TENNESSEE, illustrated by Mary Reaves Uhles, on September 4th. Told in a series of postcards, this is the story of two cousins in ugly Christmas sweaters, who travel the state in search of famous history makers, inspiring Tennessee land formations and tourist attractions.
A SONG FOR GWENDOLYN BROOKS, illustrated by Xia Gordon, will debut on New Years Day (2019). This collection of nine poems explores the life and times of Gwendolyn Brooks, the first black author to win the Pulitzer Prize. Brooks mastered the technique of writing sonnets. She then wielded her words to express the love, laughter, and loss of Americans in general and Black Folks—specifically.
What advice would you give to aspiring authors?
Pave the road to success for a friend and a road will be paved for you. Expect blessings everyday and never fail to be one.
What is one thing most people don't know about you?
When it comes to journaling--I only write in Shinola Detroit notebooks. When it comes to pencils--I only use Blackwing 602 (Firm Graphite).
Where can people find you online?
Readers can find me at www.alicefayeduncan.com
Twitter: @alicefayeduncan Instagram: AliceFayeWrites
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