Q: You’ve focused on picture books before, but this is your first novel—why did you decide to move in another direction with this book?
A: I have always tended to write longer picture books, I believe in part because I enjoy digging more deeply into the heart and mind of my characters. Writing a middle grade novel allowed me to do just that while exploring and researching a topic (The Great Migration) that has intrigued me for quite some time.
Q: How did you come up with the idea for your character Langston, and why did you choose to set the novel in Chicago in 1946?
A: Langston was modeled after my son Malcolm, who at 11 years old was an incredibly sensitive, intuitive child who loved going to the library and reading books together.
After reading Isabel Wilkerson's The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration, I began to wonder how a young boy like my son might have fared leaving behind a home he loved in the South and moving to an unfamiliar city in the North.
Q: Was your writing process very different with this book?
A: It was wonderful to not have to pay close attention to my word count, as I do when writing picture books, but the greater difference was the amount of research that went into writing this book.
After reading the Isabel Wilkerson book, I looked at photos from 1940s Chicago, did research on the library young Langston visited, read the works of poets Langston Hughes, Gwendolyn Brooks, Arna Bontemps, and others, watched the movie Raisin in the Sun, researched Alabama to get a sense of landscape, popular sports figures from the period, kitchenette apartments, the Chicago Defender newspaper and the Chicago Black Renaissance.
Q: What do you hope readers take away from Langston’s story?
A: I hope readers connect with Langston's ability to find a sense of belonging, strength and courage by his discovery of a library and poetry in the midst of a tumultuous period in his life.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I am currently working on the sequel to Finding Langston where I explore the life story of Lymon, one of the characters in the book who becomes Langston's tormentor.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: I have two exciting projects due out next year: Not Playing by the Rules: 20 Trailblazers Female Athletes (Random House) and Counting the Stars: The Katherine Johnson Story (Simon & Schuster).
--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Lesa Cline-Ransome.