Q: What inspired you to write Dear Martin, and how did you create your main character, Justyce?
A: Dear Martin, for me, was a response to three things: the myriad shooting deaths of unarmed African American teenagers since 2012, the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement in response to these deaths, and the invocation of Dr. King in opposition to this movement—which didn’t sit right with me knowing what I knew about Dr. King and his M.O. So I decided to explore current events through the lens of his teachings to see what would happen.
Justyce just sort of appeared in my head one day. There’s a lot of me and my experiences in him, but really, he’s an ode to my two little boys who will one day read his story and very likely see themselves.
Q: In an interview with the Huffington Post, you described yourself as "brazenly optimistic." Why is that, and what do you see looking ahead when it comes to race relations in this country?
A: I wish I had a more interesting answer than that’s just kinda my personality, but… well that’s just kinda my personality. I’ve always been one to seek the silver lining because in a world as rich and beautiful as this one, I think there HAS to be one no matter how dire things seem.
And to be honest, I can’t say I’ve really thought very far ahead. When things slow down a bit, I’ll have a seat and give it some thought, lol.
Q: Can you say more about why you decided to highlight Martin Luther King in your book, and what do you think he would say about current racial issues?
A: As I mentioned above, one of the catalysts for this novel was seeing Dr. King quoted in opposition to exactly the type of nonviolent protest movement he espoused. Every time I saw “Dr. King would NEVER!” it became increasingly clear that the things Dr. King did do, that his teachings and philosophies, have been sanitized over time.
And I think he would say everything he’s already said. Yes, legislation was passed in the 1960s that made discrimination illegal—which is to say people can be sued for discriminating—but all the deep stuff, the heart stuff that he highlighted as problematic still stands.
We all just need to get to a place where we care at least as much about others as we do ourselves. That place of LOVE for all mankind he was always talking about.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb