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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2 thoughts on “About Courage #6: Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich

  1. Thank you both for this lovely interview.
    This is my absolute favorite: “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.” Story of my life! 😀

  2. I love Ella Baker (I learned about her through an obsession with Black women’s history, and SNCC) and I think more and more students are learning about her in school which is fantastic.

    And the fact that I recognized the courageous characters and stories you mentioned makes me happy, I hope more people read the books you mentioned because they are all excellent!

    I concur with Neesha, it’s a quote-worthy line and definitely describes my life as well.

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