Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Q&A with Alicia D. Williams


Photo by Jasiatic



Alicia D. Williams is the author of Mid-Air, a new novel for older kids. Her other books include Genesis Begins Again. She lives in Charlotte, North Carolina.


Q: What inspired you to write Mid-Air, and how did you create your character Isaiah?


A: It is most curious how inspiration begins in one area and ends in another. Initially, my inspiration was to prove to myself that I could write another novel. After the wonderful reception of my debut, Genesis Begins Again, I was stuck wondering, What did I do? And can I do it again?


After accepting my fear, I began writing. Then, my work was birthed out of grief from the social justice unrest. I suppose my ball of emotional angst sat with me each day as I faced the computer. I only wanted to make sense of the world. Again, my inspiration changed, or rather, the story I wanted to explore.


Isaiah came out of my want to question why boys are not encouraged to defy gender norms. How boys are held to a standard of toughness and, most times, toxic masculinity. And how they have to hide parts of themselves to fit in the narrowly defined “boy” category. 


And Isaiah was modeled after the sweet, sensitive boys I had the pleasure of teaching in my classrooms.


Q: How would you describe the dynamic between Isaiah and Drew?


A: Isaiah and Drew are opposites.


While Isaiah is protected in a bubble of safety and shielded from tragic news events of the world, he is also privileged in this way. He can hold on a little longer to his youthful innocence. His parents, with their professional backgrounds, have exposed him to culture, art, and travels.

And both this lifestyle and shield has nurtured his sensitive side—yet he struggles with the inner conflict, imposed by his well-concerned father, that boys and men have to be tough.


Drew has been exposed to inequalities and inequities. He’s the tough city dude who is also the glue holding his family together. A job that is too heavy for him. Drew supports his older brother who is diagnosed sickle cell. Helps his mother, who is thrown into single motherhood during the father’s absence.


And Drew keeps this all in because he subscribes to the world’s expectations that boys have to man up and be tough, take life’s challenges without whining or complaining.


With Isaiah, Drew gets to shelve this toughness, at least for a little while. He can do what kids do, be boys in the most innocent of ways—imagination and the world of make-believe. Escapism through movies and world records. And Isaiah’s home offers a safe haven, too, offering solitude, space, and peace to think.


All of which is hidden from Isaiah. And because Isaiah, even though a good friend, is blind to the reality, their friendship holds tension under the surface. And this echoes friendships. We all have to find balance to remove the façade, to feel safe to be vulnerable.


Q: How was the book’s title chosen, and what does it signify for you?


A: Interesting fact, my editor named Mid-Air. For me, the meaning doesn’t have a strong significance. I believe it relates to Isaiah’s friendships, self-acceptance, and discovery, which at his tween age, a pivotal mid-point of life, is all juggling in mid-air.


Q: The writer Renée Watson called the book “a must-read novel for anyone grappling with the shock and heaviness of grief.” What do you think of that description, and what do you hope readers take away from the story?


A: Artistry is up for personal interpretation. I’ve learned that once I write a story, it no longer belongs to me. While in the reader’s hands, they bring their personal beliefs, history, pains, and joys to the reading experience.


Whatever they take from my stories are always an honor because that means they engaged with the text. That also means, what I wrote connected with guarded, open, or even vulnerable places they hold inside.


So yes, I am more than honored to have book blurbs from not only Renée Watson, but Derrick Barnes and Jason Reynolds, as well. Renée is an incredibly intuitive and thoughtful storyteller.


While developing this story during the pandemic, I had been struggling with grief like so many others, so Renée’s analysis speaks exactly to this aspect of the book. And whoa, to have her and the others blurb my work—my work—is a dream.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I’m currently going through all of my unfinished drafts, you know, the ones we start and for whatever reasons, toss to the side. I’m listening to which story that speaks most to me right now. I need to make a decision fast, I know.


However, I do have a picture book on the horizon. A folktale, that I’m really excited about, called Nani and the Lion.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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