Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Q&A with Tameka Fryer Brown




Tameka Fryer Brown is the author of the new children's picture book That Flag. Her other books include Brown Baby Lullaby.


Q: What inspired you to write That Flag?


A: I wrote That Flag in 2015, after nine church members were massacred at Mother Emanuel AME church in Charleston, SC, by a white supremacist who confessed his goal had been to initiate a race war. News reports showed a photo of him brandishing a firearm and clutching a Confederate flag.


Fierce public debate about the Confederate flag arose, specifically about whether it was a racist emblem or merely a symbol of Southern pride. The fact that so many adults were still ignorant or in willful denial about its problematic nature, about how it came to be and how it’s been wielded throughout our nation’s existence, convinced me it was time to share the truth with our children. Because the best way to eliminate racism is to plant seeds of empathy and truth in the hearts of kids as early as possible.


In 2015, no one was willing to publish That Flag. After the “racial awakening” in 2020, my agent, Marietta Zacker, and I sent it out again. This time multiple houses expressed interest, including Luana Horry at HarperCollins. Luana is an amazing editor, so I guess things worked out the way they were supposed to.


Q: The Kirkus review of That Flag called it “A thoughtful and age-appropriate exploration of a somber subject.” What do you think of that description, and what age group do you think would especially appreciate the book?

A: I very much appreciate the adjectives “thoughtful” and “age-appropriate”, also “brave” and “essential” as written in School Library Journal’s starred review.


I believe children in the designated age range (ages 6-10) will appreciate the emotional and historical honesty in That Flag, as they tend to have a high level of curiosity and a visceral desire for truth and understanding. Kids are naturally skilled at asking questions, so I can only imagine the insightful conversations that will occur in classrooms and homes across the country because of this story.


Q: How would you describe the dynamic between your characters Keira and Bianca, and did you know how the story would end before you started writing it?


A: The dynamic between Keira and Bianca is realistic. Though best friends, there is an underlying tension in their closeness because of the Confederate flag waving in Bianca’s yard, and because of Keira’s parents’ concerns about it.


That tension is a common experience. Most Black people I know have had childhood friendships with non-Black kids that seemed completely unaffected by racism…until the day they didn’t. And it tends to be a one-sided awakening. I experienced it as a kid. Witnessed it as a mother and a teacher’s assistant. Even watched it happen on Roots between Kizzy and Anne. It’s a painful rite of passage that needs intentional disruption.


It's important to note that Bianca is not the antagonist in this story. She’s just a kid who lacks information and, therefore, understanding about the meaning and impact of the flag her parents have chosen to celebrate. Once she begins to receive said information, her understanding increases and she begins to influence change within her own family. That’s the power of truth.


While I didn’t know how the story would end before I started to write it, I quickly determined “happily ever after” would be inappropriate. Reconciliation after heartbreak is a process. I wanted to respect the collective truth of everyone who has experienced something like this and not end the story fancifully for the sake of adult comfort. I wanted to respect readers, too, by offering hope in an authentic way.


Q: What do you think Nikkolas Smith's illustrations add to the story?


A: Everything. Nikkolas is an artivist, who uses his art to inspire others to make positive change. In That Flag, he has done a masterful job at portraying the emotional journey of Keira and Bianca. His illustrations are evocative, compassionate, and, ultimately, hopeful. I feel so blessed to have worked with him on this project.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I have another book scheduled to be released in 2024 called You Are: Ode to a Big Kid, that acknowledges and extols the growing independence of kids. There are a few other projects in the works, but nothing I’m free to talk about yet.


Q: Anything else we should know?

A: My website and social info maybe? My website is tamekafryerbrown.com. On Instagram, I am @tamekafryerbrown. My public Facebook page is Tameka Fryer Brown, Children’s Book Author. And for now, I’m on Twitter as @teebrownkidlit.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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