Q: What inspired you to create America, My Love, America, My Heart?
A: I wanted to create a book that humanized the perspective of black and brown children after they encountered racism or a bias or an act of exclusion based on their differences.
Then, I sat down with the memory of being called the n-word at 6 years old. I remembered how I felt, how I had to renegotiate a world I thought loved me. Everything changed, and my 6-year old self had a lot of unanswered questions.
I figured most children of color have that shared experience, and we all might need to be empowered at times to visit and/or revisit those unanswered questions.
I also figured there were people on the other side of that experience, the offenders and bystanders, who needed to reflect upon the impact of their actions, the harm it caused, and their responsibility to rectify and repair those relationships.
Q: The Kirkus Review of the book says, "Through simple, poetic language and stark, symbolic imagery, Peoples-Riley delivers another powerful representation of the complex relationship between people of color and the country whose past and present call its love for some of its people into question." What do you think of that description?
A: It’s refreshingly accurate. The book is a catalyst for conversations, and I think that’s probably the type of book I make best. I hope children feel protected and empowered when they read it, as if the words themselves came directly from their hearts.
Q: How have people responded to the book so far?
A: The response has been fairly positive. The comment I get the most is that it is a “powerful and moving” book. However, I realize it is a provoking book, and not everyone is ready to hold space for black and brown children the way I want them to.
Q: In your Author's Note, you write that at a child of color, "My country, America, didn't feel free to me." What are your feelings about the state of this country today?
A: It’s complicated. I want for people of color to be at peace with their individual capacity and commitment to resistance, and I want more white people to hold our country to a higher standard of freedom, liberty, and justice for all.
The ones who do often get vilified, but I think that makes them much more patriotic than those who don’t.
The bittersweet truth about creating a book like America is that it will be relevant for future generations.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I just finished illustrating Show the World by Angela Dalton, a celebration of self-expression and the power of using your voice, centering Black children, and exploring the many things they can do, create, and say to make their mark.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: Thank you for giving me the opportunity to talk about this book! I really appreciate your support and the support of your readers.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Daria Peoples-Riley.