About Courage #6: Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich

Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich describes herself as someone who was often the new kid at school in more than one country.

Her first novel, 8th Grade Superzero (Scholastic, 2010) received a starred review in Publisher’s Weekly, was named an Amazon Best Book of the Month, a Notable Book for a Global Society by the International Reading Association (IRA), and a Notable Social Studies Trade Book for Young People by the National Council for the Social Studies and CBC, and to the Kansas National Education Association (KNEA) Reading Circle Catalog.

She contributed to OPEN MIC: Riffs on Life Between Cultures in Ten Voices edited by Mitali Perkins (Candlewick, 2013), and BREAK THESE RULES: 35 YA Authors on Speaking Up, Standing Out, and Being Yourself edited by Luke Reynolds (Chicago Review Press, 2013).

Olugbemisola has worked for more that ten years in literacy education and youth development. During this author_phototime, she was twice awarded a public service fellowship from the Echoing Green Foundation for work with girls and young women. Olugbemisola holds a B.S. from Cornell University, an M.A. in Educational Technology and English Education from the Steinhardt School of Education at New York University, and a certificate in the teaching of writing from the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project at Columbia University.

Olugbemisola is a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), PEN, and the Advisory Board of Epic Change. She’s a member of The Brown Bookshelf, a Web site dedicated to highlighting Black and Brown voices in children’s literature, and Smack Dab in the Middle, a community of middle-grade authors.

Olugbemisola currently lives with her family in Brooklyn, NY, where she loves walking and working on crafts in many forms.

Gbemi set aside her current reading of  I Am Malala  for this interview. She said that Malala’s story “is a shining example of true courage, of facing something when you know just how dangerous, scary, treacherous it is — and moving forward to face it anyway.”

Gbemi, You’ve actually been writing for several years and  I know you’ve been doing a lot of reading. Who are some of the characters you’ve read about that are noteworthy for their courage? What elements of their character (or of the author’s writing) speak to that courage?

One actual person that I spent a lot of time reading about recently is Ella Josephine Baker. She had the kind of courage that inspired so many. As a woman who did a lot of her activist work during a time when women were not seen as leaders, she ran the SCLC, helped found SNCC, and did so much more. As Bernice Johnson Reagon wrote in “Ella’s Song”, she was also

“a woman who speaks in a voice

and I must be heard
sometimes I can be quite difficult
I’ll bow to no man’s word”

She was outspoken and opinionated, but her work was not about vanity and talking to hear the sound of her own voice. She also had the courage to be in the background, do the small things, the taking care of people things, that “leaders” didn’t always do. She was the one asking marchers and Riders if they needed a meal or a place to stay. She was the one making sure that the NAACP paid attention to the “regular people”, not just the “elites.” She was focused on the needs of her people and the desire to get things done. When so much of the time, people in her position can fall prey to the cult of personality, she took the courageous position of making her work about justice for all, not glory for a few.

In fiction, I love the courage of Delphine in One Crazy Summer/P.S. Be Eleven and Marcelo in Marcelo in the Real World.  Standing up to a parent, understanding their flaws and choosing to love them anyway, to figure out one’s own beliefs and principles independent of family and/or tradition can be one of the hardest things to do. Always a favourite will be Meg Murry in A Wrinkle in Time, whose “faults” give her the courage to choose love when it feels impossible. In the Harry Potter series Luna Lovegood and Neville Longbottom are so wholly, courageously themselves–and they are heroes. I love courageous heroines on adventures, like Minli in Where The Mountain Meets the Moon, and Hazel in Breadcrumbs, and then the ones who display quiet courage and achieve small victories, or have the courage to apologize or be humble when they can get away with letting it slide, be transformed, take pride in their identity, or stand alone in taking an unpopular stance, like Alice in Kevin Henkes’ Junonia, Samar in Shine, Coconut, Moon, and Vidya in Climbing The Stairs. There are so many wonderful examples. I would love to read much more about courageous brown girls in real life and in fiction. Their stories are out there, we need to value them!

How do you build courage in the characters you create?

Hmmmm…I’m not sure…I think that telling a story of courage, big and splashy or small and quiet, should somehow also tell the story of the struggles inside and out that accompany it. My characters are always making choices, and they don’t always make the courageous choice. But a lot of the time, they know it, and they learn from that, and draw strength from that to have courage the next time.

 I think.

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Coming in 2014

I thought 2013 was very disappointing in terms of releases by authors of color. While the quality of the releases was superb, the amount of releases left much to be desired. It could be that my hopes were too high, we’ll see what the numbers show.

It seems Asian Americans, particularly those from East Asian were most frequently publishing sci fi, with a romance or two now and then. Latinos seem to be publishing ‘real’ fiction. I’m not sure what corner African American authors were placed in, but it seems historical fiction is back strong on the scene. While there are a growing number of African American authors in speculative fiction, even I have to search hard to find them. Latinos? Haven’t seen many.

Please understand, I’m not saying Latinos, African Americans and Native Americans don’t write speculative fiction. It’s just not published.

What is published? What’s coming in 2014? I can tell you that I found way more debut authors of color this year than I did last year. I can tell you that I may have spent countless hours on this list, but I know it isn’t complete. It just can’t be! There are no Native Americans. It is ridiculous how few new Latinos and African American authors will debut in 2014.

Let’s imagine what it’s like to be a debut author. To have spent years creating, molding and shaping your own special story and to know that in a matter of months, you’ll be sharing it with the world. Courage! Giddiness! Terror! High expectations! I won’t be doing BFYA next year, so hopefully I’ll be reviewing the books, interviewing the authors and sharing news of the awards. Let’s wish them all unbounded success, many reprints and countless books to come.

Do come back to this post. Let’s hope to see the list grow.


Valynne Maetani Japanese American

Remnants of the Rising Sun (working title); Tu Books, 2014

website: http://nagamatsufamily.blogspot.com


Brandy Colbert African American

Pointe; G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers, April 10, 2014

website: http://brandycolbert.wordpress.com/


Ki-Wing Merlin Chinese American

website: Ki-Wing Merlin http://kiwingm.blogspot.com/

represented by Laura Dail Literary Agency


Livia Blackburne Asian American

Midnight Thief Disney Hyperion 2014

website: Livia Blackburne http://liviablackburne.com/


Amy Zhang Asian American

Falling Into Place; Greenwillow, 2014


Winifred Burton African American

Girl Out of Water; January 2014

website: http://winifredburton.com/


Crystal Chan Mixed Race

Bird; Atheneum Books for Young Readers

website: http://crystalchanwrites.com/


Varsha Bajaj Asian American

Abby Spencer Goes to Bollywood; Albert Whitman and Company, March

website: http://varshabajaj.com/


Rin Chupeco Filipino

The Girl From the Well; Sourcebooks Fire, Aug 1, 2014

follow on Twitter: https://twitter.com/rinchupeco


Lori M. Lee Asian American

Gates of Thread and Stone; Skyscrape/Amazon, 2014

website: http://www.lorimlee.com/


Jason Reynolds (author) African American

When I Was the Greatest; Atheneum Books for Young Readers, January 2014

website: http://iamjasonreynolds.com/


Lamar Giles African American

Fake ID; Amistad, 2014

website: http://lamargiles.com

About Courage #5: Medeia Sharif

sharif4bMedeia Sharif is a Kurdish-American author who was born in New York City. She received a master’s degree in psychology from Florida Atlantic University. While in high school, she became a voracious reader and she became a relentless writer in college. Her persistence paid off when BESTEST. RAMADAN. EVER. was published by Flux in 2011. Her second novel, VITAMINS AND DEATH, is slated for publication in 2014 with Prizm Books/Torquere Press. In addition to being a writer, Medeia is a middle school English teacher in Miami. Her memberships include Mensa, ALAN, and SCBWI.        source

To celebrate VITAMINS AND DEATH, Medeia is hosting an international giveaway on her blog of the 10 edgy books that inspired her to write VITAMINS AND DEATH. Deadline for entry is   31 December.  Medeia sent a synopsis of VITAMINS AND DEATH to promote its 2014 release.

Deidra Battle wants nothing more than to be invisible. After her mother, a public school teacher, engages in an embarrassing teacher-student affair at Lincoln High, they relocate to a different neighborhood and school. Being her mother’s briefcase, Deidra joins her mother at her new workplace, Hodge High.
Since her mother has reverted to her maiden name and changed her appearance, Deidra thinks no one will figure out they’re the Battles from recent news and that they’re safe. Neither of them is. Hodge brings a fresh set of bullies who discover details about the scandal that changed her life.
Feeling trapped at home with an emotionally abusive, pill-addicted mother and at school with hostile classmates who attempt to assault and blackmail her, Deidra yearns for freedom, even if she has to act out of character and hurt others in the process. Freedom comes at a price.

I asked Medeia about courage!

Medeia, you’ve actually been writing for several years and  I know you’ve been doing a lot of reading. Who are some of the characters you’ve read about that are noteworthy for their courage? What elements of their character (or of the author’s writing) speak to that courage? How do you build courage in the characters you create?

I have taken a turn in my writing. My latest book coming out in 2014, VITAMINS AND DEATH, is dark and gritty, whereas my first novel, BESTEST. RAMADAN. EVER., was far lighter. In VITAMINS AND DEATH, the main character has to dig deep for courage to fight the problems she goes through both at school and at home. There are many external prompts—for example, the need for both emotional and physical survival as my character deals with an abusive mother and relentless bullies. Internally, my character is ambivalent about speaking out, fights her dark thoughts, decides to be gutsier, and then looks towards a brighter future. She also finds the good in people around her, which is hard to do in the environment she’s in, and this also fuels her courage.
Some of my favorite books that inspired me to go edgy have similar aspects that speak to courage. In the beginning, the main characters are silent or semi-silent victims who have people prey on them, and then their convictions on fighting what’s bad in their world solidify. Some of these books are Laurie Halse Anderson’s SPEAK, Elizabeth Scott’s LIVING DEAD GIRL, and Cheryl Rainfield’s SCARS.

About Courage #4: Marty Chan

Raised in Morinville–a small town north of Edmonton, Alberta–Marty Chan is a playwright, 167742_187544194605253_5404330_nradio writer, television story editor, and young adult author. Much to the chagrin of his mother, he doesn’t include engineer on his resume. He attended a year of the Engineering Program at the University of Alberta, but received the Dean’s Vacation (a quaint way of saying “don’t let the door hit you in the butt on your way out”).

After a year, Marty returned to the U of A and graduated in 1989 with a Bachelor of Arts Degree (English Major/Drama Minor). He fell into improv comedy when he joined Edmonton Theatresports, but his paralyzing stage fright resulted in “penguin arm” acting, forcing him to abandon performing and take up writing.

His signature play, Mom, Dad, I’m Living with a White Girl, has been produced across Canada, published three times, and broadcast as a radio drama. The stage play won an Elizabeth Sterling Haynes Award for Best New Work and the Adams Chinese Theatre Award at Harvard University. In October 2004, the play had a successful Off Broadway run in New York.

martyMarty was a regular contributor to CBC Radio Edmonton from 1994 to 2000. His weekly commentary series, The Dim Sum Diaries, recounted his misadventures as the only Chinese kid in a small prairie town. These weekly commentaries were adapted into a half-hour television program (The Orange Seed Myth) which won a Gold Medal for Best Television Pilot at the Charleston World Film and Television Festival, and earned Marty a Gemini nomination for best writing in a children’s program.

In 2004, Thistledown Press launched Marty’s first young adult novel, The Mystery of the Frozen Brains, which has become a hit with young readers across Canada. Resource Links magazine rated listed it as one of the BEST BOOKS OF 2004 for grades 3 to 6.

Marty was the first playwright in residence at the Citadel Theatre. He also served as Chair of the Edmonton Arts Council and taught playwriting at the U of A. He received an Arts Achievement Award and a Performance Award from the City of Edmonton. He also earned a Horizon Award from the University for his contributions to theatre. However, his mother still wishes he stayed in Engineering. Marty released The Ehrich Weisz chronicles : demon gate in October, 2013.

Currently, Marty resides in Edmonton with his wife Michelle and their two cats, Buddy and Max.  source

Marty maintains a fan page on FaceBook.

Marty, you’ve actually been writing for several years and across many different genre and in that, I’m sure you’ve been doing a lot of reading. Who are some of the characters you’ve read about that are noteworthy for their courage? What elements of their character (or of the author’s writing) speak to that courage? What did you build on to create Ehrich Weisz’s courage?

I think courage is a concept that’s easy to understand, but hard to practice, which is +-+921266303_70why readers empathize with fictional characters that demonstrate this noble trait. Katniss Everdeen (The Hunger Games) and Augustus Waters (The Fault in Our Stars) spring to mind. I love them both, because they have to be brave in the light of adversity, but they are also heroes because they know who they are and accept themselves. As the only Chinese kid growing up in a small town, I can relate to how hard it is to be true to who you are when that is the very thing that sets you apart from everyone else. When I wrote The Ehrich Weisz Chronicles: Demon Gate, I wanted to build on Ehrich’s courage through his love of his brother. He would do anything to save his kid brother, and his love is what gives him the strength and courage to face the challenges in the story.

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About Courage #3: Margarita Engle

Margarita Engle is the Cuban-American winner of the first Newbery Honor ever awarded to a Latino. Her award winning young adult novels in verse include The Surrender Tree, The Poet Slave of Cuba, Tropical Secrets, and The Firefly Letters.

Engle’s most recent books are The Lightning Dreamer and When You Wander. Her new middle grade chapter book, LightningMountain Dog, was published in August 2013 and is a Kirkus Reviews Best Book of 2013. Margarita’s upcoming book, Silver People, Voices From the Panama Canal, will be released in 2014. It has been selected as one of Junior Library Guild selection for their Spring 2014 catalog.

She lives in central California, where she enjoys helping her husband with his volunteer work for wilderness search and rescue dog training programs.

My prompt for Margarita: I think you’re a courageous writer. You write in a non-traditional format with characters and settings that aren’t typically trending in children’s and YA books. Where do you get the courage to write what you write? How much courage do you need to go to your editor with a story about a little black girl in Cuba, a search and rescue dog or a book written in poem form? Do you think readers find courage in your writing?


Writing is a wild exploration.  Wilderness explorers need courage.  Courage to follow fascinating topics Margaritawherever they lead.  Courage to face difficult emotions.  Courage to experiment with non-traditional forms.

Courage.  What a complex word!  As a writer, I am terrified of being misunderstood.  I’m afraid of not meeting expectations, especially my own.  I’m reluctant to experience sadness, while writing about history’s madness.  I’m intimidated by the possibility of being judged negatively by critics who often marginalize Latino themes, verse novels, and poetry in general.  In other words, I’m afraid of failure, but failure is a complex word too.  If I succeed in communicating with readers, then I haven’t failed.

Too often, success is measured by external standards.  In order to keep my goals attainable, I need my own personal standards.  I need peace of mind, the freedom to write without self-censorship, and the generosity to be content with any level of “success,” as long as I know that I’ve done my best. 

So I choose to write about themes that are important to me, in forms that I love.  One way or another, each of my books turns out to be about freedom and hope.  This is not something I deliberately set out to accomplish.  It occurs naturally, while I research, scribble, erase, re-write, revise, wonder, explore…

I have never completely rejected a topic because it was obscure, unpopular, or difficult to research.  In the verse novel form, I feel free to fill in missing details by imagining how it felt to live in a particular time and place.  I have never avoided a story only because it was emotionally painful, but I do reject historical topics that turn out to have no hopeful ending at all.  No matter how fascinating, if the real-life ending is completely depressing, that particular historical event is not a tale I want to offer to young people, who already face so much discouragement and confusion in their daily lives. 

Emotions are one of the scariest aspects of writing.  I just completed a childhood memoir about summers with my extended family in Cuba, and the loss of travel rights after the Missile Crisis.  It was the most painful writing experience of my life.  I postponed it, and when I finally decided to plow ahead, I wrote ferociously, eager to tell the truth of my personal Cold War experience, even though it is different than most Cuban-American stories.  I am not a refugee or an exile.  I was born in the U.S.  Only my mother is Cuban, but those childhood summers were precious to me, and losing them was devastating.  I wrote while crying,  and if I’m invited to speak about the book (scheduled for publication by Harcourt in March, 2015), I expect to speak while crying.  More than fifty-one years have passed, but I still cannot pronounce the words ‘Missile Crisis’ without bursting into tears.  Nevertheless, my true story contains the seeds of hope, because somehow, on paper, I feel free to seek hopeful pathways, and follow them, exploring…

In The Courage to Write, Ralph Keyes recounts E.B. White’s belief that a writer’s key problem is to establish communication with himself.  “Everyone else is tuned in,” White clarified.  “In other words, if a writer succeeds in communicating with a reader, I think it is simply because he has been trying (with some success) to get in touch with himself.”  So it’s not simply a matter of courage, but one of sincerity.  When we write honestly, fear loses its power, words gain depth, and success becomes a personal journey, rather than a judgment imposed by others. 

There are no shortcuts in an explorer’s primeval world.  There is no technological substitute for the slow, gradual process of seeking and finding.  When I am asked to advise new writers, I tell them to turn off their electronic gadgets, go outdoors, walk, daydream, listen to birdsong, relax in a hammock, scribble with a pen and paper, practice, practice, practice, explore…

Margarita, thank you so much!

Firefly Letters   Poet Slave Surrender Tree mountain - New Ribbon Tropical Secretrabbit Summer Birds WildBook Lightning WhenYouWander2 shoesilver

About Courage #2: Zetta Elliott

img_11982Zetta Elliott earned her PhD in American Studies from NYU in 2003; she has taught at Ohio University, Louisiana State University, Mount Holyoke College, Hunter College, and Bard High School Early College. She currently teaches in the Center for Ethnic Studies at Borough of Manhattan Community College. Her essays have appeared in School Library Journal, Horn Book Magazine, The Black Arts Quarterly, thirdspace, WarpLand, and Hunger Mountain. She won the Honor Award in Lee & Low Books’ New Voices Contest, and her picture book, Bird, was published in October 2008. Her one-act play, girl/power, was staged as part of New Perspectives Theater’s NYC festival of women’s work, GIRLPOWER, in August 2008. Her young adult novel, A Wish After Midnight, was published by AmazonEncore in February 2010; her second YA novel, Ship of Souls, was published in February 2012. Her short story, “Sweet Sixteen,” was published in Cornered: 14 Stories of Bullying and Defiance in July 2012. Her most recent YA novel, The Deep is currently available on Amazon. The Kindle version is  currently only .99!  Zetta’s most recent article Black Girls Hunger for Heroes, Too: A Black Feminist Conversation on Fantasy Fiction for Teens, a conversation with Ibi Zoboi appeared in Bitch Magazine just last week.

I invited Zetta to participate in this series on courage with the following prompt.

Nyla is one courageous young woman. When you were developing her, did you purposely give her courage? In reading The Deep, what hints do readers find that say ‘courage’? Is it in her actions? The way people react to her? What she says? Who inspired the courage you developed in Nyla? 

I think you’ll find that Zetta really didn’t have to go  too deep to find inspiration for Nyla’s courage within herself.

Last month while having brunch with two writer friends, I mentioned that I am conflict averse. To my surprise, they looked at me like I’d just told the most hilarious joke! It has happened before: last spring I was interviewed by a young writer who referred to me as “a ‘no holds barred,’ uber-transparent blogger” who’s not “afraid to engage contentious commentators, or offend with what [I] say on [my] blog.”

I thought those who know me best would have a different opinion, but my cousin surprised me during a recent visit when she called me courageous. “I’m not brave at all,” I replied, and that wasn’t false modesty. I really am conflict averse and will go well out of my way to avoid confrontation (for example, I don’t get along with my family members so I moved to another country).

As a writer, I spend a lot of time alone and when I feel the need to make a point, I do so from the safety of my couch—the internet makes it very easy to be an armchair activist, and I don’t feel it takes a whole lot of courage to post an opinion piece on my blog. I speak out when I see something unjust, but I’m not leading boycotts or marching in the street. I care about certain issues but I wouldn’t say I’m on the front line. That takes guts.

Lately I’ve limited my online advocacy work; diversity in publishing still matters to me, but I have a finite amount of energy and decided I would rather channel that energy into writing. The publishing industry and its defenders have no interest in equity and only pay lip service to the idea (not the practice) of diversity. So why bother trying to engage those who refuse to listen? That’s like whistling in the wind.

At the end of November I did post one last essay on The Huffington Post. I was about to self-publish my novel THE DEEP, and wanted to draw attention to my book while responding to a Horn Book essay on the lack of Black geeks in YA lit.  THE DEEP is a companion book to SHIP OF SOULS (2012), and together the novels represent two-thirds of my “Black freaks & geeks” trilogy. I did have a contract for this urban fantasy, but when the publisher insisted on holding the book until 2015, I decided it was best to go it alone.

Self-publishing does take courage—a recent opinion piece in The New York Times gave this wry definition of self-published authors: “Treated as Crazy Ranting People: either ignored or pitied by the general public until they do something that is brilliant or threatening.” Independent authors are often treated as pariahs—our books aren’t reviewed by the traditional outlets, won’t be considered for any major awards, and most bookstores won’t stock our titles. Publishers often look at indie authors as “tainted” and no longer viable, though there are exceptions to this rule.

The truth is, even people of color who KNOW the publishing game is rigged will look askance at a self-published book. To some Black writers (and readers), self-publishing is gutless, the most shameless surrender. “Just be patient,” they’ll say after you’ve faced a decade of disappointment. “Try harder!” they’ll exhort, as if the publishing industry were an actual meritocracy. Others assume there must be something lacking in your work but won’t read your book in order to dismiss or confirm that assumption.  

So why self-publish? I explain my motivation in the acknowledgments section of THE DEEP:

I felt sure that there was a teenage girl somewhere in the world who needed this book yesterday. I never found anything like The Deep when I was scouring the shelves of my public library as a teenager, but it’s a story that might have changed my world—or at least my perception of myself. Black girls don’t often get to see themselves having magical powers and leading others on fabulous adventures.

It’s that simple. Nyla is a fourteen-year-old girl who’s recovering from a sexual assault that took placeth-1 at a school dance. Even though she fought back, like so many victims Nyla blames herself and isn’t sure she can trust herself to make smart decisions when it comes to boys. So when a strange man approaches her and tries to convince her that she has a special gift, Nyla flees. But in the end she can’t resist the opportunity to meet the other “freaks” who inhabit the deep—a dangerous underground realm policed by The League.

When I was fourteen, I was a wallflower; I had acne, difficult hair, ill-fitting clothes, and a desperate desire to escape my older sister’s shadow. For Nyla, the dim caverns of the deep offer her a moment to shine. Miles beneath Brooklyn she finds the mother who walked out on her ten years ago, and she discovers she has more power than she ever imagined. In the deep Nyla finds her destiny.

It doesn’t take much courage to write a novel like THE DEEP—it was actually a lot of fun! But I knew I was taking a risk when I put a defiant, beautiful, Black punk girl on the cover of my self-published book. The image is dark, forcing you to take a closer look. When I signed the first five copies of THE DEEP, I wrote the same thing over and over: “Be fierce!” It’s my way of saying to readers, “Don’t be afraid to be different. Don’t be afraid to be yourself.”

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Thank you, Zetta for all you so courageously continue to do!