Interview: Alice Randall, Caroline Randall Williams, Shadra Strickland

Alice Randall is the only black woman in history to have written a number one country song. She’s a produced screenwriter and a successful author of contemporary adult fiction. Caroline Randall Williams, her daughter, is an award winning poet and the great-granddaughter of Arna Bontemps. Shadra Strickland  won the Ezra Jack Keats Award and the Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe Award for New Talent in 2009 for her work in her first picture book, Bird, written by Zetta Elliott. Strickland co-illustrated Our Children Can Soar, winner of a 2010 NAACP Image Award.

Yesterday, I posted a review of their soon to be released collaborative middle grade book, The Diary of B. B. Bright Possible Princess. Today, I’d like you to spend a little time getting to know these talented women!

Interview: The Diary of B.B. Bright Possible Princess

What a wonderful, precious book! How did you ladies decide on this collaboration?

Well, Caroline and I began this collaboration literally 25 years ago, August 24, 1987 when she was born. Before she saw daylight I was telling her stories. By the time she turned three, she was editing the stories, adding characters, suggesting events. Eventually we both fell in love with a black fairytale princess that we invented by telling stories back and forth to each other for years. When Caroline graduated from college we decided it was time to share our princess with the world. We eventually started looking for the perfect artist to give. B.B. physical life and found Shadra.

My awareness of the collaboration understandably begins a little later than my mothers, but I think she’s absolutely right; at about three, I distinctly recall beginning to chime in with my ideas about a princess that looked something like me. I had princess books, and historical books about brown children, but with very few exceptions, no fairy stories with girls of any color! That’s why it’s exciting for me that even though B.B. is brown, she meets queens from all over– China, Russia, Greece, Japan, Egypt– it’s time to see princesses from around the world, and I’m so pleased my mother and I are able to answer that call.

I didn’t realize that you’re a mother/daughter team! That makes the story even more special but, it makes me wonder if it was difficult to not to have more  of a presence of BB’s mother in the story?

Someone told me a long time ago, when you become a mother you step out of the picture and become a

Alice Randall & Carolyn Randall Williams

frame. I think that is something the Raven Queen understands. And B.B.’s story is the Raven Queen’s story–because it is every girl’s story. We are all called upon to one day start taking care of ourselves and encounter the world unsheltered by family but sustained by family love as well as our own courage, creativity, and curiosity.

This B.B.Bright is so very different from books we typically find for tweens. How difficult was it to get the book published?

A bit. People would love our princess but not quite know what to do with her. Caroline and I were steadfast. As women who had both been black girls searching the shelves for a book we didn’t find–one with an intrepid black princess– We knew what it was we wanted to create. Eventually we found a publisher who believed that we could have a book that worked on multiple levels—as an amazing book for every girl  but as a especially wonderful book for girls of color, as a tween chapter book and as a book Mamas and Aunties can read to the little girls they used to be even as they read to their children.

I really hope that people realize that this book about a beautiful brown-skinned girl is an empowering story for ALL girls! Are you planning a sequel? There are things I still need to know!

We are absolutely planning a sequel that will take B.B. to Raven World. And we’ve also have more possible princesses to introduce to the world. Each of them will have her own quilt and Godmommies but they will be different quilts and different Godmommies.

Shadra, how did you resist just turning this into a picture book and illustrating the entire

Shadra Strickland

story?!

Ha! My schedule, mainly. From what I understand, the story will be turned into a picture book soon.

When Christina, our editor approached me about illustrating the book, I originally turned her down. I was in the middle of my first year of teaching and two picture book manuscripts. But, when I read the story I was hooked. There was no way I could pass up the opportunity to contribute to such a unique story.

Illustrating a picture book is like running a marathon. Many, many months of work go into it before you begin to see any real results. Chapter books, middle grades, and YA novels allow slightly more instant gratification. It’s also a nice a nice way to add some variety to my picture book work.

The story was just too delicious to turn down. A young, spunky black princess coming into her own…it was right up my alley.

Are the images going to be in color in the hardback?

Just as the text of the novel is presented as diary entries B.B. has written, the interior drawings are presented as B.B.’s pen and ink or pencil and paper creations. Shadra has done such a terrific job of creating drawings that convey a sense of how B.B. thinks and creates as well as images that delight the eye. But Shadra’s work does delight the eye! I like to think of the cover painting as a portrait one of the Godmommies painted of B.B.

It was a pleasure meeting all of you, including B.B.! Thank you for the interview!

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