Author Interview with Linda Trice, PhD
By Mo Gudino
A note from Linda
WHO AM I?
I write fiction and nonfiction for adults and young people.
I received my BA in history from Howard University, a MFA from the Writing Division of Columbia University, a PhD from the Center for Minority Studies, and a JD from Brooklyn Law School.
I taught lower grades in public schools in New York, Connecticut and Washington, DC and undergraduate and graduate students at Trinity College (CT), Lincoln University (PA), City University of New York and the State University of New York.
Linda Trice courteously agreed to the following author interview with PenumbraOnline, which took place via email in December of 2020.
On creative process and writing:
Q: Does any of your inspiration come from children’s literature you read or that your parents read to you?
A: I was born and raised in New York City. As a young child I could find no books about people who lived in cities until I discovered A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN and LYLE THE CROCODILE. I embraced those books.
I read Robert Lawson’s BEN AND ME when I was a child. It was my introduction to historical fiction. I was amazed and delighted when I realized that an author could take a real character and add fiction.
Several of my historical fiction stories for young people have been published. You can read some on my website: www.LindaTrice.com
Sadly, a few of the library books I read when I was a child had negative, racist images of Black people. I remember the hurt I felt then and try to dispel that ignorance as I write for any age.
Q: How do you decide on subject matter for each of Kenya’s stories?
A: One of the questions authors are asked is, “Where do you get your ideas?” I’ve been asked that question so much. I recently used it to create a humorous short story. A literary journal, Crack the Spine, will publish the story next year.
Let me give you another example of how I got an idea for a short story.
When I go to a new place, whether it is for a few years or for a few weeks, I read up on the history of the area, especially its Black History.
I am a native New Yorker but spent a few years in Sarasota, Florida. The history of the Seminole people of Florida intrigued me.
Enslaved Black people living in some of the Southern states escaped to Florida where they were sheltered by the Seminole. Some of them married and had babies by the Seminole. When the Seminole refused to give their Black children to the slave owners, enraged Southerners convinced the United States government to invade Florida which was then controlled by Spain.
Florida is also known for legends of the Swamp Ape, the Bermuda Triangle and other paranormal tales. I decided to combine Seminole history and some Florida supernatural myths into a story, "REMOVAL AT SEMINOLE MOUND." It was recently published in Penumbra.
Q: Your website states that you hold a Ph.D in Black Studies and that you were a Fellow at multiple artist colonies. How does your educational history inform Kenya’s book series?
A: I was a history major at Howard University, the historically Black university that produced our new vice president Kamala Harris, Toni Morrison, Chadwick Boseman and many Black achievers.
When I was a student at Howard, African countries were getting their independence from European countries. One of the first was Kenya. That inspired many Black people in the United States to name their children Kenya.
One of the things we learned at Howard was about the beauty, intelligence and strength of our people. I try to carry those lessons into my writing.
We learned too that our people lived in many countries. My Black classmates were from Canada, South America, the Caribbean and Africa.
Q: Kenya’s Song and Kenya’s Art have wonderful illustrations by Pamela Johnson and Hazel Mitchell, respectively, that amplify the beauty of the messages therein. Do you have a particular art style in mind for particular stories, or do you collaborate with artists in some other way?
A: When I write biographies and other nonfiction works for ages 9-12, I submit photographs that will help the reader understand the times, the characters, etc.
My picture books and short stories for ages 4-9 are illustrated by professional artists. For this age group, publishers expect the writer will also include a “dummy” with the submission of the text.
A dummy gives the artist an idea of illustrations the author thinks will be good for the book. According to author Lisa Cinelli, “A picture book dummy is a three-dimensional work-in-progress to organize the text, illustrations, pacing and rhythm as a prototype for the final, published picture book.”
Q: Both books feature a diverse cast of characters from many different racial and ethnic backgrounds. Kenya learns the music and dance of other cultures in Kenya’s Song, and Kenya shares experiences with her multicultural classroom in Kenya’s Art. How does race inform your creative decisions as you write?
In my picture book for ages 4-10, Kenya’s Song, my character Kenya learns the music and dance of various Black cultures.
I hope readers of Kenya’s Song will understand that all Black people are not the same. We come from different cultures, experiences, etc. In Kenya’s Song, I concentrated on people of West Indian and Caribbean ancestries. In the United States, many of them are often called Black.
The characters in Kenya’s Song speak different languages, have different dances but in many ways are culturally united. One is that their ancestors came from Africa.
I interviewed elderly people from the Caribbean as part of my research for Kenya’s Song. All of them said, “Linda, remember, it all begins with the drum.”
Q: How do you hope readers of various backgrounds will respond to Kenya’s loving, Black family and her culture?
A: I hope to dispel negative and foolish beliefs about Black families through my KENYA books. I want to show that Black families, like many families in the United States eat meals with each other and in many ways enjoy spending time with each other.
In KENYA’S ART for instance, we see Kenya’s family doing crafts together as they try to find ways to recycle toys and other objects in their home.
On Kenya’s Song and Kenya’s Art:
Q: Although readers frequently see Kenya interact with family and friends, Kenya’s Song and Kenya’s Art both distinctly feature tender moments between father and daughter. In the stories, Kenya’s father joins her on her whirlwind adventures and helps her find her passions. Why do you find it so important to emphasize father-daughter relationships in these stories in particular?
A: In KENYA’S ART and KENYA’S SONG, I show the strong bond Kenya and her father have. I hope adults who read the books to children will understand that many Black men are devoted to their families and enjoy spending time with them.
The Father –Daughter bond is important in a young girl’s life. Some social scientists believe it gives little girls a template of how males should treat her as she grows older. The relationship teaches her that she is smart, capable, cherished, protected and loved.
My friend, psychotherapist Lurline Aslanian, L.C.S.W., told me that the Father –Daughter bond gives a girl the confidence to be herself, to enjoy and flourish in being herself, and to use her voice.
She said that Black girls, especially, need to be able to learn to speak up when something does not feel right, when there are micro aggressions and when there is discrimination or injustice. The close connection with her father's strength and support for her provides a substantial foundation for living freely and successfully in a world that may not always appreciate her.
Q: Is there anything else you’d like readers to know about Kenya’s Song, Kenya’s Art, you, or any other projects you have in the works?
A: The book I am working on now is WHEN CHARLOTTE FORTEN MET HARRIET TUBMAN AT THE PORT ROYAL EXPERIMENT, THE SUN CAME LIKE GOLD THROUGH THE TREES. It is a nonfiction book for adults and young adults.
THE PORT ROYAL EXPERIMENT is a part of Civil War history that few know. Both Charlotte Forten, a wealthy Black abolitionist and Harriet Tubman helped newly freed people on South Carolina’s Sea Islands while the Civil War was raging around them. The American government asked Harriet Tubman to go there as a spy. She was paid as a secret agent.
People who saw HARRIET, the recent movie about Tubman or Denzel Washington’s movie, GLORY, will recognize some of the historical characters.
I hope readers will understand the diversity of the Black experience better through this book and much of my published writing.
Thank you, again, to Linda Trice for agreeing to this interview with PenumbraOnline. If you haven't already, check out her works and look forward to more from her in the future.
Author Interview with Lisa Braxton
By Jessica Charest
Lisa Braxton is a writer based in Boston, Massachusetts, best known for her debut novel, The Talking Drum, which was published in May 2020. She has also published short fiction and nonfiction in various literary journals in the past, including PenumbraOnline's Summer 2020 edition. She courteously agreed to the following author interview with PenumbraOnline, which took place via email in November of 2020.
Q: In terms of writing in general, are there any authors who have inspired you over the years on your path to becoming a novelist?
A: There are many authors who have inspired me. My favorite novel from childhood is Little Women, which I read when I was 9 years old. Louisa May Alcott’s story about the four March sisters and how they went about their lives on their own terms evoked so many emotions in me as I read that I said to myself that I wanted to provide readers with those same emotional experiences. At a young age I set about writing my own stories and got much encouragement from my family. Later on, I discovered Langston Hughes. So many of his short stories resonated with me. Some actually made me cry, they were so powerful. James Baldwin is another of my favorite authors whose work I find inspirational.
Q: Every author has their own process while writing. What did your typical writing routine look like while working on your novel? Do you have any tips for aspiring writers?
A: I had no typical routine. I wrote wherever and whenever I had a moment. I was working full-time while writing The Talking Drum. Sometimes I would stop at the shopping mall on the way to work and write for about an hour in the food court. Then I would write at lunchtime at my desk, do my workout at the gym after work and write at the library on my way home. On Saturdays, I would carve out 3 to 4 hours at the library for writing or at home. If I had time, I would also write for a couple of hours on Sunday evenings. If you were to ask me about any of the television shows popular from 2008 to 2012, I probably wouldn’t know what you were talking about. I watched almost no television during that time to prioritize my writing.
Q: On your website, lisabraxton.com, you explain that much of your inspiration for your debut novel, The Talking Drum, comes from your parents’ story owning a clothing store and dealing with redevelopment in their neighborhood. What does it mean to you to have been able to draw upon the experiences of close family members? Drawing from such personal experiences, were there any scenes that were more difficult to write than others?
A: It meant having my parents be part of my dream of becoming a novelist. It meant having them unwittingly give me consultation on making my novel as realistic as possible. My mother passed away in October, so having her experience help to inspire The Talking Drum means that a part of her will always be with me in the form of the book. One scene that was difficult to write because it was painful based on watching my parents operate the business together, was the scene in which Sydney has reservations about renting out the basement apartment to the older couple. She thinks that their references should be checked. However, Malachi, her husband, bulldozes over her and listens to his best friend, Kwame. I witnessed my mother trying to have her voice be heard regarding business decisions with the clothing store, only to have my father do things his way, which led to some big mistakes and setbacks for the business and their relationship.
Q: The Talking Drum is filled with a variety of characters including upstanding citizens, arsonists, con-artists, and individuals trying to overcome painful pasts. Yet you’ve done an excellent job of giving each character their own distinct voice and personality. How did you approach creating your characters?
A: The story’s plot laid out for me the situations each character faced based on the larger issues of the fires and the planned demolition of the Petite Africa neighborhood. But their inner struggles were drawn from the experiences of people around me and research I did. For example, I had to do quite a bit of research to create my Senegalese drummer, Omar. I read the biographies of African drummers who emigrated to the United States during the late 1950s and 1960s to get a sense of what their lives were like in their home countries and their impressions of the United States and also the impressions Americans had of them. In addition, I took drumming lessons from a master drummer from West Africa. Some of his demeanor, confidence, cockiness and swagger ended up in Omar and Omar’s best friend and “frenemy,” fellow drummer Khadim.
Q: Which character was the most challenging for you to write, and why?
A: Sydney was the most challenging to write because she was so much like me and my mother. She was a composite of the both of us. It’s challenging to create a character who is like yourself because you can’t step outside of yourself to see yourself in all of your dimensions. Because Sydney also shared some of my mother’s characteristics, I struggled not to make her too nice and give her a generous amount of flaws and foibles to make her interesting.
Q: Which character did you enjoy writing about the most?
A: Kwame. He’s a mover and shaker in town, has the ear of the mayor, a jack of all trades, property owner who flips properties and also owns a record store. But we know he has another layer to him. He’s slick. We know he’s scheming. We don’t know if we can trust him, but he’s so charming.
Q: In your novel, we meet Mustapha Mendy, an immigrant from Senegal, as well as a restaurant owner and activist. He plays a key role in the story as a community leader respected by the majority of people who meet him. Which qualities would you say he possesses that are particularly important to solid leadership? What trait about Mustapha did you find most admirable?
A: Mustapha is a “salt of the earth” kind of person. Family is important to him. His wife has died and he keeps a framed picture of her on his bedroom bureau. She is forever in his heart. His nephew, his grandchildren, his goddaughter are his life. The people of Petite Africa consider him the “mayor” of their neighborhood. He is a father figure to the community who would help anyone who came to him for assistance, and that is to be admired.
Q: A major theme throughout your novel depicts the importance of family and community staying strong together in difficult times. It also expresses the pain of seeing some characters focus on the individual, betraying that sense of community. How important has community been to you throughout your life?
A: My parents instilled in me the importance of community at an early age. My parents were part of The Great Migration of African Americans from the South to the North. They left rural Virginia for Bridgeport, Connecticut in 1956. They knew few people in Bridgeport--my father had sisters in the area--and had to start pretty much from scratch to build community. There were only certain neighborhoods where African Americans could easily move at that time, and as a result, they established community early on with many of their African American neighbors. They joined a church, got involved in church ministries, joined business and professional clubs, civil rights groups, and charitable organizations. When we were children my parents got my sister and me involved in groups as well, and sometimes we accompanied them to various fundraisers, galas, banquets and dinners, which instilled in us the importance of community. I am active in my sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha, of which Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris is a member, president of the Greater Boston Section of the National Council of Negro Women, Boston Chapter of the Women’s National Book Association, Boston Association of Black Journalists, and Women’s Fiction Writer's Association. I’m also a member of a church and participate in Bible study.
Q: Toward the end of the novel, we see Sydney and Malachi expressing their concerns for the future of their business and the neighborhood. Malachi’s perspective seems more optimistic, claiming that the community will support their own, while Sydney’s perspective is slightly more skeptical. If you could meet these characters and speak to them, what would you say about their concerns?
A: I would not say anything to Malachi because he has the right to have the opinions he has based on his 1970s perspective. I would not tell him that in time there would be more integration, which would present challenges for black-owned businesses. Once people could shop anywhere they wanted, they would have more choices, leading to black-owned businesses being neglected and suffering. Malachi seems to think that black people will only purchase books by and about black people from a bookstore like The Talking Drum Bookstore and Cultural Center. But he of course would have no knowledge of the big box bookstores of the future and Amazon.com and other online booksellers. I wouldn’t want to pierce his optimism. However, I would applaud Sydney’s skepticism and encourage her to watch industry trends and plan to grow and allow the business to evolve based on societal shifts.
Q: In writing, authors often have to revise or remove some scenes. Were there any scenes that did not make it into the novel that you were particularly attached to or any scenes that changed radically from the first time you imagined them by the final draft?
A: I had a lot more description of Omar’s life in Senegal, growing up, learning to drum with his father, going through rites of passage with other boys once he reached a certain age, drumming at the big festival in Dakar, impressing Duke Ellington. I initially created a couple of chapters on Omar’s early life. One of my beta readers said that all that detail was rich, but it took away from the plot. It seemed to be a digression. I ended up sprinkling those details here and there so the story wouldn’t become weighed down.
Q: After The Talking Drum, do you have any projects in the works for your readers to look forward to?
A: Yes. I am working on another novel. This one takes place in the mid-1800s in the Beacon Hill section of Boston. It is an interesting period in our history and fun to research.
I would like to thank Lisa Braxton, once again, for taking the time to answer PenumbraOnline's questions. Please look forward to more from her in the future, and, if you haven't already, take some time to check out The Talking Drum.
Author Interview with Liliana Figueroa-Larios
Q: When did you start pursuing art more seriously and what did that look like for you?
A: Despite pursuing an art degree for the past four years of my life, I feel as if I only started to pursue art more seriously as recently as this year. I say that because I initially chose art as a degree path simply because my parents told me I needed a degree in something. Art was already a hobby of mine and it seemed easy enough to pursue. I did not have any major hopes or aspirations with my degree. I planned to get a basic office job or the sort once I graduated. So, it didn’t matter to me if I became an “artist” by the end of it. I simply didn’t think I would ever be good enough for such a thing. It wasn’t until I started attending Stanislaus, was pushed artistically by my professors and saw how much my art improved I started taking my artistic practice more seriously. I began to feel I had a chance and I applied to the BFA program. Now, that I have gotten accepted, I find myself staying late at the studios, pushing myself to do better, seeking criticism, and looking into and applying for art shows.
Q: Where do you draw inspiration from most and why?
A: I draw a lot of inspiration from what I want to see in the world and aspects of my identity. As a lesbian artist, I want to see more LGBTQ+ representation in the arts therefore, I make LGBTQ+ art. I also draw inspiration from the idea of remembrance and how society has purposefully forgotten the histories of women and the LGBTQ+ community.
Q: What difficulties do you face as an artist? Or, what is the hardest part of the creative process for you?
A: The hardest part of the creative process for me is battling the various ideas I have and getting started. My head starts to become a mess and I end up finding myself stuck with the possibilities. Sometimes, I have to force myself to just start working on a piece and figure it out as I go. If I end up not liking it I try to not get too distraught about it. Instead, I try to take it as a learning experience and try again.
Q: How long does an art piece typically take? Or, what factors come into play in regard to that?
A: Some pieces go by faster than others. On a rare occasion I can get three pieces done in one day. The artwork comes together so naturally and quickly. Other times it’s the opposite and it feels like the piece is fighting me. If so, I have to leave it alone long enough for me to clear my mind and come back to it. Factors that affect this I would say is my own mental state. If I am already frustrated and fighting with a piece it will take longer.
Q: How did you begin sharing your art with others? What helped you build the confidence to share your art?
A: As an art major, you are forced to share your art with others, via critic with professors, students or both. It’s one of the reasons why I was afraid to create personal works. Regarding confidence, it is still something that I am working on. I feel that the repetition of critics and after doing it for a while you learn to not take criticism too personally.
Q: What are your plans for the future after Stan State?
A: I am still unsure of my future plans after Stan State. I plan to keep working on my artistic practice and try to push myself to apply for art shows and galleries. I also want to participate in more vendor fairs and sell some of my art that way. Eventually, I think it would be cool to work at an art gallery someday or even open up my own.
In regards to creating the cover for After a long day, through the night:
Q: How did you go about planning the cover for the chapbook?
A: I began reading through the book itself and taking notes on parts that stood out to me or could be used to inspire the cover itself. I then took to Pinterest to make an inspiration board and gather together possible references, art styles ideas, aesthetics etc. That way when I met with the author, I could show them some ideas I had and work from there. On my own, I then developed thumbnails and digital college mockups to get a better sense of how I wanted the final result to turn out.
Q: What pieces from the book inspired you most and where can we see it best in the cover?
A: I feel that I designed the cover more on how the poems themselves as a whole make you feel rather than a particular snippet or piece. There’s a sense of romance and desolateness. Therefore, the idea of these almost ghostly figures sitting across from one another at the table. Are the figures really there? Were they there are some point and just a glimpse at a forgotten moment in time? I was inspired by these what-ifs.
Q: Do you see a link between poetry and art in any way? If so, how?
A: Yes, I believe art is connected to a lot of things in our life and I see poetry as a form of art itself. It’s an art form with words, I believe poetry and traditional art can/find influences in each other. For example, right now I have been using the poems of Sappho to help influence my art.
Q: How long did it take you to make the cover of the chapbook?
A: Making the cover, took a lot longer than I thought it would. It ended up taking a good two weeks as the human form is always a challenge even when you are simplifying it. I also wanted to make sure that the chapbook author liked the cover as well so there was a bit of back and forth in terms of revisions.
Q: How does commission work differ from original artwork?
A: Commission work differs in the way you don’t have complete artistic freedom compared to original work. I was working off what the author wanted, their vision etc. It was my job to bring that vision to life and create something we were both satisfied with.
Final question: What piece of advice would you give to an artist just starting out?
A: As an artist just starting out, I would say to keep creating. Even if you don’t think you are good enough your fear will only hold you back. The more you make, the more you are able to learn and practice from it.