At the age of 12, Marley Dias is already a social activist to be reckoned with. When she saw that her West Orange, N.J., elementary school was lacking in diverse books—particularly those featuring black girls—she found a way to address the problem, and her #1000BlackGirlBooks campaign was born. Her efforts have drawn accolades from around the world and major media attention. Dias has now written a book, Marley Dias Gets It Done: And So Can You! (Scholastic Press, spring 2018), in which she offers advice to readers who want to follow her example.
For the opening session at the ALA Midwinter Meeting on February 9, Dias will be interviewing Patrisse Cullors, cofounder of the Black Lives Matter movement. We asked Dias to reflect on her activism and publishing journey so far, and to share some of her future goals.
What inspired you to create the #1000BlackGirlBooks campaign? How did you put it together?
Realizing that the access that I had to diversity was not a reality for most students was the biggest thing that personally inspired me to create this campaign. My elementary school did not provide enough diverse resources for students. I started by sharing my desire to see things change, then I came up with a name for the project. Then with the help of my mother’s foundation, the GrassRoots Community Foundation, we shared it with the world through social media. I came up with a question to pose to people. I asked them to find books where black girls were the main characters and then send a copy to me. When I got the books, we posted them again on social media, specifically on Instagram and Twitter. My mother, father, and close friends also shared it through their social media accounts.
Can you give us an update on the campaign? How many books have been collected and donated?
I have collected more than 10,000 books. And we have donated to lots of communities across the globe. My next big step is the development of the Black Girl Book Club and an app where we can link authors and readers to these books.
What are your goals for the #1000BlackGirlBooks initiative? And what are some of your personal goals for the future?
My goal for the #1000BlackGirlBooks campaign is to create systemic change across all school systems. I want there to be diverse books that reflect the lives of every person, regardless of whether or not they are in the majority. Some of my personal goals are to have my resource guide actually help young authors of black girl books share their stories, and to generally uplift the community of authors who write diverse books.
Do you remember the first book starring a black girl that you fell in love with? What have you been reading lately?
The first black girl book I fell in love with was most likely Please, Puppy, Please by Spike Lee and Tonya Lee. I have recently been reading P.S. I Still Love You by Jenny Han.
You have become a very visible social activist, appearing on television and speaking at numerous conferences and events. Do you have a favorite appearance or speaking engagement so far?
One of my favorite speaking engagements so far was my NEA national convention 2017 talk. I cowrote and performed a piece of poetry in front of a very big audience. It was a really big deal because I had overcome my huge fear of being very raw on stage.
How do you balance your busy activism with your schoolwork?
My health and schoolwork come first. I work hard to get lots of sleep, but I probably work just as hard to spend time with friends. Now that the book is finished I have plenty more time to enjoy reading and playing with my friends and dad. My mom and team share things with me little by little so I don’t get overwhelmed with all the things that have to happen.
What has been the reaction of your friends and your hometown community to your growing fame?
I have some friends who love to perform and wish they were getting the attention I am getting. But that doesn’t stop them from supporting me. In general, my friends have been very supportive. They cheer for me and many of them come to events to support me.
Have you recruited any of them to join your cause?
I have not directly recruited anyone. A lot of my friends I have met through the GrassRoots Community Foundation’s SuperCamp, where they have had to do their own social action projects. GCF has a community of girls in New Jersey and some in Philadelphia who are working to change the world. We all pitch in to help each other. We brainstorm and plan together.
What has it been like writing your book? What do you hope young readers take away from it?
The process of writing a book is fun and hard work. I was writing while traveling. I wrote on the Amtrak, in nail salons, on my living room floor, at the kitchen table, and in my bedroom. I think the book is amazing. Readers can expect a guide on how to blend their passions and frustrations to make the world a better place.
If you write more books, any idea what you want them to be about?
Yes, I think my next book would most likely be about unsung local heroes—their real lives and real impact.
Can you give us a hint about what the audience might hear when you interview Patrisse Cullors at the ALA Midwinter Meeting?
The audience can expect to hear from Patrisse about the development of Black Lives Matter and the goals of their political movement, as well as the role of reading in shaping their ideas.