It’s been a long time since I’ve done an author interview! I’m excited to get back into the swing of it with Brian Walker, the author of Black Boy White School. If you’re not familiar with the book, you can read my recent review, his Kirkus review or even the one on Publishers Weekly. Black Boy White School is Walker’s first book. I have to thank him for taking time out of his busy day which includes preparing for a new baby!
What types of books did you read as a child and how does that affect what your write?
I read a lot of horror books when I was a kid – Stephen King, mostly. I also read comic books (I’m a Marvel guy, not D.C.) I also read some Agatha Christie, Hardy Boys, and anything with animals in it. My favorite book of all time, although I didn’t read it as a kid, is Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man.
I can’t help but think that this story and all its elements were with you for quite some time. What propelled you to finally put pen to paper and write it?
What finally propelled me to write the book is that I have worked in independent schools for years and have noticed that, despite our best intentions as educators, many of the minority kids (especially Black and Latino boys) still have a hard time fitting in/excelling — even AFTER they graduate and attend college. I wanted to write something for them, their families and the teachers and administrators at these independent schools that would alert them to this important but often overlooked issue.
What surprised you most about the process of getting published?
What surprised me most about the publishing process – hands down – is how LONG it takes to get a book out and onto the shelves. There was a lot of editing, revision, talks about the cover,the title, etc. It wiped me out.
Which of your characters is most like you? I couldn’t decide if it was Ant because of his history or George because of his wisdom.
That’s great question… Umm, next question, please! Just kidding. I guess that I’m a lot like Ant, in that prep school was a foreign environment for me – but also like George, in that I attended private school for four years, learned the lay of the land, and was able to earn good grades and a few accolades, too. (although I was NEVER as good at basketball as big George)
What kind of commitment does it really take from families, schools and students themselves for a minority student to succeed at a boarding school?
Another great question. I think it takes a tremendous commitment from the schools, the students and their families – but I think, for me, the most important influence came from my mother. She didn’t take no for an answer and even when I wanted “out” she pushed me back “in.” Now, looking back, I can’t thank her enough for making me stay.
The treatment of Sudanese immigrants in Maine really plays a critical role in the story. How did you decide to give this immigrant group such prominence? Have you seen things change for the Sudanese?
I teach a unit in one of my English classes that takes a look at the Somali presence in Lewiston. I found it fantastic and fascinating that so many Somalis would choose Lewiston, Maine as a place to settle in the USA. As you may know, there was (and still is) a great deal of tension in Lewiston after so many Somalis settled down there. I just took that tension, put the fictitious school near the town, and rode it out. Also, admittedly, when I was a prep school student a bunch of townies really did march through our campus, dressed like the Klan and shouting racial slurs, before they planted a burning cross on one of our soccer fields. I have heard that over the last couple of years things have gotten better for the Somali and Sudanese folks in Lewiston, which is great. There are still, however, some things that can be improved.
I cannot imagine the emotions the Klan must have provoked in you and your classmates! Yet, you’ve managed to take that event and turn it into a learning experience for others through your writing.
I have to congratulate you on getting your first novel published! Have you begun working on your next project?
I have begun work on the next project and I have quite a few readings/signings/lectures in the works. Interested folks should check my author page on Facebook to get the latest news.
Thanks Brian, and best wishes to you on all your future projects, especially the new baby!