About Courage: Finale


Courage is the most important of the virtues, because without courage you can’t practice any other virtue consistently. You can practice any virtue erratically, but nothing consistently without courage. ~Maya Angelou

In the past days, beginning with G. Neri and Johnny Cash all the way through Ari  I hope you’ve seen what a human virtue courage is. It transcends race, gender, diversity and adversity. It’s something we admire in anyone.  There are so many individuals I could have asked to be part of this series! I’d like to thank those who did share they courageous stories!

Thinking about your reading experiences, what authors, characters or literary events seem the most courageous to you?

Before I was a blogger, teacher, quilter, or librarian I was a mother. That is at the core of who I am, and my children are the most important people in my world. To close this series, I opted to be self-indulgent and ask my three children what authors, characters or literary events seem the most courageous them. Children? My oldest is 30 and youngest is 28.

My oldest son lives on the west coast and is about to be a dad! He most admires the courage of Eddard “Ned” Stark from Game of Thrones.

 I think reading has helped me grow in many areas including courage.  I’ve followed photo(1) many characters that I greatly admire for their unflinching determination in tough circumstances.  Others have cowered away from their responsibility and duty.  Reading has helped me see much more than I could have experienced in a limited time on this planet.  I’ve found tons of admirable characters real and imagined that I aspire to be like.  I’ve learned that courage is rarely applauded, recognized, or even celebrated.  I believe, that it is one of the cornerstones to strong character.

My daughter, K10 Is a contemporary artist living in the southeastern US. She occasionally vlogs at youtube.com/k10official and has weeekly posts on youtube.com/perfectandrogyny

I have never thought  about the word courage. What it is. How it’s displayed. If I have it. Yesterday I spent the better part of two hours standing in a line that will change the course of my life. 

I have attended four different colleges in my short life and during that time I have managed to obtain no degrees. (Courage is being able to share parts of your life that photoyou may be ashamed of). Three of the four colleges I went to were for the same major but were simply location changes. When I realized that I was one of “those” people who would not be happy in life unless I was doing what I truly wanted to do and not just working to make money I dropped out. After a stint living abroad I moved back to the states and relocated to attend an art school because that is where my heart lies: creating. I believed that I was finally in the right place but life had different plans. I did not have enough money to finish school and get the degree I really wanted. So ever since I have been learning video production, graphic design and motion graphics on my own. 

And there I was standing in line to enroll into my fifth school. But a few things have changed. I know what I really want. I know that I am mentally and financially ready to make this change. I used to be really insecure about this area of my life because I know that I am smart and have a resume that is pretty impeccable for someone who has not obtained a degree yet I know I could be more accomplished if I had a piece of paper stating that I am as capable as I am. Makes sense right? Yes, it should, because our society says that it should.

So, while I was waiting in line a woman appeared behind me and asked if I was a current student. She wanted to know what I thought about the school but I could offer no advice or counsel. 

I quickly learned that the woman speaking was 67 years old with two sons, one who had his MBA while the other was still figuring out his life. The woman was very insecure about being older and going back to school after so many years. She knew it was what she had to do to stay alive (both by keeping her mind active and literally to make necessary ends to survive). She told me about her friends, most of whom are older than she is, and how they have sharp minds, travel, keep moving and have the ability to change as society changes. She envied them. She admired them. She was ready to join them. 

     It was very clear that my role in this conversation was  to listen and learn. I gained a few bits of advice about life but what I really left with was the knowing that as long as I am living I need to keep the courage to push forward.  To live the life I want to live. To never be content. To not just ride the waves of but to swim ahead, with knowledge, and be the one making the waves. My past is what has given me the courage to make better decisions today. Decisions that will lead to a better tomorrow. Courage to me is shamelessly living your purpose and doing the right thing along the way.

My youngest son lives in the southwest. While I expected he would look at some of his recent reads such as Quantum Enigma. Rather, he decided to go for something a little more real than non-fiction. His literary source for courage is the Bible.

To me courage is being able to put all faith in the one and true living God. To know that He is faithful and true to His word no matter the circumstances that face you. My faith is growing and walking in the Lord is a newer experience for me but I know that He is real and moving in my life. I am finding myself growing in courage when it comes to the changes in my life, among many other aspects, that I find that do not line up with walk the Lord would have me walk. The courage to stand up and do the right thing in the eyes of the Lord and not necessarily what the world would IMG_8277(1)consider the correct thing to do.  I’m finding the courage to write about God and how He has moved in my life and been faithful to me. This has all helped make this a real thing to me. Even if others don’t see or understand the change, it’s ok because in the Lord’s time they will understand when He makes it ready to be known. I cannot and, more importantly, will not force it on any person who does not want to receive the message I have to share. Why not? Because it is His story, I am the tool in His hand and do not wish to try to be the hand that moves but am content in being used by my Father. I have the courage to know in His mighty will all things work for the good of those who love the Lord.

In the books of Acts we see the Lord tell Paul “Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.” (Acts 23:11). A few chapters later we see Paul sharing this same word with the men around him “So keep up your courage, men, for I have faith in God that it will happen just as he told me”. (Acts 27:25). This is the biblical example of what I’m saying is happening with me. The Lord has taken time to encourage us and it is important to share that testimony with others around you to encourage them. It is imperative that we share the courage the Lord has given us. How many people have not heard that my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ say these words: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33). Yes, to some this is just another quote from another book. But someone will be touched and that’s who I am speaking to, I humbly pray the Lord touches everyone’s heart that reads these words and leads them to know they are true. Grace and peace to you. 

My children make me be courageous! Who does it for you?



About Courage 10: Ari

Ari has been one of the most popular YA bloggers to date. I could easily attribute her wildly successful blog to her passion for literature in general or to her passion for diversity in particular, but Ari will be successful at anything she chooses to do. Note her email handle “willbprez”.

Because of the young age at which she began blogging, Ari worked to seclude her identity. She never even posted a picture of herself! That didn’t stop her from posting a letter that brought her to the attention of the ALA and an invitation to speak at a midwinter conference. She presented in 2011 (I think) at ALAN in Chicago along with Lyn Miller-Lachmann, Maggie (another teen blogger) and myself.

While she is not blogging at this time, Ari is on both Twitter and GoodReads. She attends college on the east coast where she majors in International Relations.  According to her Twitter bio, she’s “aiming to be an Anonymous Extraordinare/renaissance woman via my love of blogging, community service, dancing, ’30s-’40s films, politics, reading and sports”.

Chicago (for now)

 Ari, What kind of courage did it take for you to begin blogging about diversity in YA books? What did it feel like to begin posting reviews and your thoughts and opinions about the industry? Did you ever tell your parents, friends or teachers about your blog? How did blogging change you?

I was apprehensive about writing this post. I would never describe myself as courageous nor could I have AV headshotimagined myself writing an essay on courage to be featured alongside great writers that Edi invited to submit essays for her blog. Thus I am thankful for this opportunity Edi, though it is one that I hardly think I deserve!

That being said, when I first began blogging at Reading in Color (my now mostly-defunct blog) it was easy. I didn’t really expect people to find my blog to be perfectly honest. I didn’t worry much about my blog’s physical appearance, my reviews were mostly free of grammatical errors because I tend to be a stickler for that stuff, not because I feared turning off my potential audience. Then I began to discover other blogs, such as Color Online. TheHappyNappyBookseller. Zetta Elliott’s personal blog, Fledgling. These blogs focused on diversity in children’s books and they pushed me to raise the bar, to actually attempt to make something out of my blog. I wanted my blog to be good enough to be a part of the conversation on the lack of diversity in youth literature, specifically young adult literature. Good enough meaning I needed to spend a bit more time and effort on my book reviews and discussion posts. I then began to struggle with courage as my blog gained more readers and industry attention. Editors wanted to send me books, this required me telling my parents because they couldn’t figure out why so many book-shaped packages were being sent to our house and I eventually bought a post office box. My parents have always been extremely supportive of all that I do and my mother wanted to promote my blog to her friends. I was not courageous enough to say yes. I asked her to not mention it to her friends and for the most part she respected my wishes. She did tell one of her best friends and my English teacher and this would result in certain classmates at my high school learning about my blog. I am ashamed to say that when asked about my blog by anyone outside my family I would quickly answer the question and change the subject, or deny that I even had a blog. This is one of my biggest regrets now, as I wonder if I had been able to get over my shyness and embarrassment over blogging, perhaps I could have helped further the cause of championing the need for diversity in YA books.

I loved posting book reviews and my thoughts and opinions about the industry. I especially enjoyed posting discussion posts because they taught me a lot about the publishing industry (such as the fact that authors have relatively little say in choosing their book covers. Or that there are very few people of color who work as editors). Plus those posts tended to produce the most comments, which led to me discovering new-to-me blogs, and I liked visiting other blogs and learning about all kinds of YA books but especially YA books about people of color that may have flown under my radar. The scariest post I ever wrote was my letter to Bloomsbury after the second white-washing incident mainly because I worried that I sounded childish and that it would not be seen as eloquent. I almost didn’t publish it but I was so angry and upset that I knew for my own peace of mind I had to post it. And it’s one of my most popular posts to date and allowed me to meet new people as they commented on the post and wrote their own responses and by reading these other posts I learned a lot about how people think regarding diversity overall.

Reviews were fun to write because they helped me articulate my thoughts. I tried to be concise although it is still a mostly-losing battle, I do love to talk and that translates to my reviews! Reviews also provided me with a better understanding of what I looked for in a book. And when I had to deal with an author responding harshly to a negative review, the book blogging community gave me the tools to handle the issue as I researched other people’s posts about a similar issue and reached out to friends for advice and was overwhelmed by their support.

Book blogging changed me specifically in that I did not realize how bad the publishing industry was in regards to diversity in YA. I honestly thought that if I started my blog I would discover that I was wrong and just wasn’t looking in the right places for books that featured protagonists who not just acted like me but also looked like me. I wanted authors to see color, embrace it, but not make it a big deal and the book blogging world helped me articulate this thought. Blogging also changed me by forcing me to stop hating technology and learn to use Blogger and get a Twitter handle. I am now obsessed with Twitter so that was a very good thing for me! Blogging has changed me in general, although to be honest I’m not sure how but I do know that it changed me. It introduced me to a fantastic book blogging community, some wonderful mentors and friends and great books and for that I will always be grateful. I hope to be able to post more on my blog in the future although the odds of that are slim due to college being so time-consuming, who knew? ;p I still follow the book industry closely and read articles about diversity in YA, I’m just more silent than I used to be but I want that to change because I’m still very opinionated!

Happy New Year everyone!

Thank you, Ari!

The final post in this series will be on Wednesday!

About Courage #7: Deborah Taylor

GetAttachmentDeborah Taylor is currently Coordinator of School and Student Services for the Enoch Pratt Free Library.

Ms. Taylor is the 2015 Chair of the Sibert Award Committee for Outstanding Informational Books and  served as a member of the 2012 Sibert Award Committee. She has chaired the Coretta Scott King Book Awards Committee. She was a member of the 2004 Michael Printz Award Committee, the 2006 Printz and the 2007 Best Books for Young Adults Committees.  She was a member of the 2002 Newbery Award Committee and Chair of the 2000 Coretta Scott King Award Jury.  She has also served on the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award Committee and has reviewed for Horn Book.  She was the 1996-1997 President of the Young Adult Library Services Association of the American Library Association. She also serves on the Editorial Board for Capitol Choices and the Voice of Youth Advocates.

Ms. Taylor chairs a bi-annual Young Adult literature conference, “Books for the Beast“, which brings together adults and teens to discuss and celebrate the best in youth materials.  Ms. Taylor is adjunct professor at the University of Maryland College of Information Studies, teaching young adult literature and she has taught children’s literature at Towson University.

Look for Ms. Taylor to post on Crazy Quilts from time to time in 2014.

I asked Deborah, librarian extraordinaire, if she could develop a list of YA books which reflect courage. The only caveat was that they be written by authors of color. The following is her compilation. What would you add?


Curtis, Christopher Paul. Elijah of Buxton (Ages 9-12). Scholastc, 2007

Elijah leaves the relative safety of his community to help another family defy slavery.

Draper, Sharon. Panic. (Ages 14 and up). Atheneum, 2013

Diamond overcomes the bad decision that resulted in her kidnapping by finding the resolve to escape.

Flake, Sharon. Pinned (ages 12 and up). Scholastic, 2012

Despite having vastly different obstacles to overcome, Autumn and Adonis each have to draw on inner strength to move forward.

Hopkinson, Nalo. Chaos. (Ages 12 and up). Margaret K. McElderry, 2012

Combining elements of fantasy and identity narratives, mixed-race Scotch has to confront a world                         dangerously out of control.

McCall, Guadalupe Garcia. Summer of the Mariposas  (Ages 12 and up). Tu Books, 2012

The five Garza sisters begin a journey that connects them to the spiritual forces of their heritage.

Myers, Walter Dean. Street Love. (Ages 12 and up. Amistad, 2006

Damian has to overcome his family’s objections to love Junice, a girl with the courage to fight the odds of             a difficult family situation.

Nelson, Vaunda Micheaux. No Crystal Stair: A documentary novel of the life and work of Lewis Michaux, Harlem Bookseller . (Ages 12 and up). Carolrhoda, 2012

Despite being told there were no readers in his community, Lewis Michaux felt a calling to find and share             Black History and culture.

Rhodes, Jewell Parker. Ninth Ward (Ages 9-12). Little, Brown, 2010

Twelve year-old Lanesha is the embodiment of resilience as she struggles through Hurricane Katrina.

Williams-Garcia. One Crazy Summer (Ages 9-12). Amistad, 2010

Delphine takes seriously her role as the oldest to her younger sisters as they fly cross-country to see the                 mother who abandoned them years ago.


Beah, Ishmael. A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier (Ages 14 and up). Farrar Straus Giroux, 2007.

A boy soldier survives his country’s civil war and then reconnects with his personal humanity.

Bolden, Tonya. Maritcha: A Nineteenth-Century American Girl. Abrams, 2004

Maritcha’s courageous family fled New York after the Civil War  draft riots but she persevered despite the           challenges of the times.

Davis, Sampson  with George Jenkins and Rameck Hunt. We Beat the Streets: How a Friendship Pact Led to Success. (Ages 10 and up). Dutton, 2005

Three young men find courage in friendship to achieve their dreams.

Hoose, Phillip. Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice. (Ages 10 and up. Melanie Kroupa, 2009

Before Rosa Parks, a teen-aged Claudette struggled with discrimination on a Montgomery, Alabama bus.

Pinkney, Andrea Davis Pinkney. Hand in Hand: Ten Black Men Who Changed America. Illustrated by Brian Pinkney (Ages 10 and up). Disney/Jump at the Sun, 2012

Courage is the common denominator linking these men from different eras in America’s history.

There are four postings left in the Courage series. Coming next: Cindy Pon

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.

+-+256875036_70 +-+394026401_70 +-+255559789_70 +-+419102042_70 +-+01262890_70 +-+95604371_70 +-+77946119_70 +-+936667501_70


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!