L. Divine is probably the first author I obsessed over as a YA blogger and posts about her books are among the few that get responses from teen readers on my blog. Her Drama High series began in 2006 and provided teens with a fresh literary perspective by presenting a primarily Black cast of characters in a contemporary setting faced with everyday concerns like friend issues, love concerns, parent’s expectations and school with just a few big life, gritty issues. Oh, the drama!
My students liked the books as much as I did and couldn’t wait for the next one to appear. I was so excited to actually be able to meet Ms. Divine earlier this year!! I was so impressed by her energy, her genuine concern for young people and her accessibility. While I’d like readers to know that side of her, my interview today looks more at what’s happening with the Drama High series and how she maintains her authentic voice.
As a child, what did you do for fun?
I loved to play with my cousins and neighbors, read, listen to music, jump double-dutch, roller skate and hoola-hoop. I also loved being in the kitchen with my grandmother, mom and stepmother, which are also some of my favorite childhood memories, not to mention playing with dolls, doing hair and other “normal” kid stuff.
What’s your favorite place?
By far I love being at home. My children and I can hibernate all weekend long. It’s also one of my favorite places to work once I reach the edit phase of a manuscript.
What book(s) are you currently reading?
I am re-reading my favorite writer, Octavia Butler’s Lilith’s Brood series, as well as Iyanla Vanzant’s Peace from Broken Pieces. I am also a big fan of anything written by RM Johnson, Joseph Campbell, Hill Harper, Nathan McCall, Tananarive Due, Alice Walker and many other gifted writers listed at the back of my latest novel, Drama High, volume 15, Street Soldiers.
The most challenging obstacle I’m currently encountering is keeping the books published. Just because I (and my readers) have faith in the series doesn’t necessarily mean it’s easy to publish and market. I started out as a self-published author and now, eight years later, I am again self-publishing. I love Drama High and am happy to be here because of it, but it’s an uphill battle, especially being a black author writing about black teens in mainstream cultural situations.
I noticed that one of the topics you speak about is overcoming obstacles in multicultural thinking. What are some of the obstacles you see in this regard as an African-American writer, and how do you overcome them?
As I stated before, it is an obstacle. I think all stories from all cultures are valid and have something to share. But in this industry, more often than not, if you’re a black writer no matter the genre, you’re immediately labeled as such and unfairly categorized as solely “black” or “urban”—it unnerves me most of the time. I call this era of writing the “Resegregation of Black Writers” because no matter how talented or popular a writer may be, there’s always the limitation of race to contend with.
What about editors and publishers who are predominately white; do they have obstacles in multicultural thinking or are they obstacles?
Yes, but it’s not limited to white editors, agents and publishers. I’ve had many of the same limitations in dealing with black people in the industry, more often than not, in dealing with religion and basic stereotypes. It’s truly amazing that we, as black writers, are told what to write because it sells to a black audience when, as an artist, I just want to share my stories with my audience no matter the nationality.
In one of your interviews, you state “this is why I love writing for teens: because there are no limitations to the merging of reality with imagination. That’s why I believe we’ve yet to see the full potential of this relatively new literary niche.” Your series does this uniquely with Jayd’s grandmother, and the practices and traditions she provides. When you hear from teens about the series, are they able to relate to the wisdom of this character?
Personally, I enjoy her and the way she relates to Jayd. She’s a unique and necessary voice in YA lit, a niche that typically ignores what adults bring to the table.
Yes, teens do relate and enjoy the mystical elements of the series, but this is not always the case. I catch a lot of flack from Christian readers and their parents about Jayd’s lineage but again, we all have something to share and this is how I choose to tell my story.
I have to compliment you on how well you control your author’s voice. From having heard you speak, I know you have so much you want/need to say to young adults. Do you have any tips on how to control the way get your message across?
The best advice I can give is to be as genuine and as authentic as possible. Teenagers can sniff out a liar instantly and will call you on it—yet another reason I love working with young adults so much!
Volume 15, Street Soldiers, was recently released first as an eBook, and will come out in print this summer. What lead to this decision?
Actually, my former publisher decided to stop publishing the series after I’d already made the commitment to write all 44 novels in the Drama High/Drama U series. That said, I knew when I started this series that it was going to take serious faith to even get it majorly published. As I’ve said many times before, I will keep writing as long as there are readers who want to share Jayd’s journey—even when the writing is no longer paying my bills. Unfortunately, I can’t write or publish at the same speed as I did with a major publisher backing me, but I’m learning and doing my best.
What does diversity mean to you?
Diversity means allowing people to be individuals. Black people shouldn’t judge other black people for being different from the status quo any more than other nationalities shouldn’t judge “outsiders” for being of a different race or cultural. More often than not, we are harder on each other than necessary. When we reach true diversity, we won’t have to defend our individuality any longer.
Dont’ miss today’s other interviews!