The final event of the U.S. Book Show on May 27 was a sponsored panel led by PW reviewer Idris Grey, featuring Dhonielle Clayton, Shattered Midnight (Disney-Hyperion); Crystal Fleming, Rise Up! How You Can Join the Fight Against White Supremacy (Henry Holt); Makiia Lucier, Year of the Reaper (HMH); and Shanna Miles, For All Time (Simon & Schuster).
Staring with author introductions and an elevator pitch of their titles, the conversation dived right in, with changes in time and historical themes as common threads in the titles. “I had a summer where I dug really deep into historical romance fiction,” Miles said, “particularly Beverly Jenkins.”
Thinking about her book’s setting, “New Orleans was very interesting to look at,” Clayton continued. “How did all of the 1920s iconography translate into a place with Jim Crow.” Spending time in New Orleans, talking to the people there, also helped Clayton become familiar with the landscape of her novel. “I wanted to walk the streets my character was walking.”
Fleming said, “I approached the research first with an eye towards centering the knowledge of Black people, Indigenous people, people of color, and to do that in terms of which stories—and writers—to focus on. I really wanted to present young people with resources that would be a departure from white-dominated narratives in the classroom or in society more broadly.”
Detailing her research process of the Spanish influenza and drawing parallels with our current pandemic, Lucier noted, “I learned that history repeats itself.”
Switching topics to the importance of Black love as an antidote or counterweight to Black pain, Miles commented, “We’re just starting to see more Black stories come into publishing. There is a need for us to tell the true story of how systemic oppression affects Black people in America and worldwide. But we also need to see the humanity of Black people just as Black people.”
“I am very invested in making sure that we not only don’t always present the bruises of Black America as the only entry point into the story, but we also celebrate the triumphs,” Clayton pointed out. “[The book] is supposed to be a celebration of the Blackness of [New Orleans] juxtaposed with what was really happening... wrapped up in a Disney fairy tale.”
Noting the struggles faced by people of color, Fleming said, “We’re getting into horrors that you [authors] rightly draw attention to. But it’s also very much a book about the love that Black people, Indigenous people, and people of color have for themselves and for their communities.”
Referencing the Black Death, Lucier highlighted her characters’ emotional journey, emphasizing how she wanted to balance the despair of that part of history covered with a happier ending to her books. “I like my books overall to be happy books.”
Important discussions about the intersectionality of sexism and racism faced by Black women, in regards to both society and the worlds of the authors’ books, led into commentary about the violence faced by marginalized groups. “If we look at the role of Black women and social justice movements, Black women are the center of that,” Fleming stated.
Ending on a lighter note, the authors expressed what they were most excited to have their readers discover about their books. “I’m most excited about the fantasy element of the love story,” Miles said. While Clayton wants her readers to enjoy the New Orleans setting and the Easter eggs she scattered throughout, “I’m excited for people to get the next piece of the puzzle and put it together.”
“I like taking all those medieval elements and introducing them to young readers,” Lucier noted. And Fleming stated, “I hope that these stories inspire current readers to join this ongoing fight against injustice.”