Thursday, September 28, 2023

Q&A with Alice Faye Duncan




Alice Faye Duncan is the author of the new children's picture book biography Coretta's Journey: The Life and Times of Coretta Scott King. Her other books include Opal Lee and What It Means to Be Free. A longtime educator, she lives in Memphis.


Q: What inspired you to write this book about Coretta Scott King?


A: It was 2018. Dr. King's children visited my city (Memphis) to remember their father at the 50th anniversary of his assassination.


During a church service, his baby child, Dr. Bernice King, encouraged people to speak her mother's name often. She said her father's legacy would be impossible without her mother because like her father, Coretta was an activist and strategist for freedom. She said few people know her mother's life story.  


Coretta Scott King was tried by racial terror before she knew Martin. Her womanhood and warrior spirit was shaped as a student when she was in her parents' house. Before she was a King, Coretta was a Scott. I wanted to share this part of her life story.  So, I wrote Coretta's Journey.


Q: What would you say are some of the most common perceptions and misconceptions about Coretta Scott King?


A: Children often view Coretta as a one-dimensional personality. She was a pretty face. Or, she was a devoted wife. They never grasp that Coretta was resolute and strategic in working toward liberation, before and after her husband's death. 


People also assume the King family was rich because they were popular in Black middle-class circles and Martin was a Black preacher with a large congregation.


The reality is that the Kings were not rich. And after the death of her husband, as a single mother, Coretta had no choice but to work in order to feed her children and keep them housed. 


Q: How did you research the book, and did you learn anything that especially surprised you?


A: Mrs. King wrote two autobiographies. Edythe Scott wrote a biography about her sister, Coretta. And Octavia Vivian wrote a biography about her best friend, Coretta. I read these books and I interviewed Coretta's youngest child, Dr. Bernice King, in 2018. 


To complete my research, I read Dr. King’s speeches and interviews to hear his opinion and thoughts about Coretta. I discovered that she was a woman of her times. Martin wanted her to be pretty, be smart, but don't take up space and be a resounding voice.


Martin was happy with Coretta singing. But preaching? Speaking? Not so much. The American Civil Rights Movement was a patriarchy like the American society of the ‘50s was a patriarchy. 


I was surprised to learn that Coretta's mother and father (the Scotts) encouraged her to dream beyond traditional jobs established for Black women in the ‘50s. When Coretta said "I want to sing opera!" her parents put their minds together to send her to Boston where she studied European music and violin. 


Q: What do you think R. Gregory Christie’s illustrations add to the book?


A: Greg used watercolors to illustrate Coretta. The effect is dreamy and cosmic as the text speaks very much about the cosmos along with Coretta’s and Martin’s zodiac planets which are Venus (Taurus) and Saturn (Capricorn).


Q: What are you working on now? Get ready for my new book Traveling Shoes. It is about the life of Tigerbelle and US Olympian Willye B. White. She was a child from the Mississippi Delta who ran track to keep from chopping cotton. Like her name, she willed her way to greatness with determination, practice and grit. 


Willye White was from Greenwood, Mississippi. She won her first Olympic medal when she was 16 years old. 


Everybody knows Tigerbelle, Wilma Rudolph. Nobody knows the name Willye White. Willye ran track professionally for 20 years from 1956 -1972. She was an American Ambassador of Sportsmanship. She was a voice for women's rights in sports. Dr. King marched to the mountaintop. Willye White...RAN!


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: Coretta's Journey is the story of a Black woman who was a preacher, prophet and activist. During childhood, in her father’s house, her parents raised her to walk through fire, tame serpents, and speak truth to power. 


Teacher guides for all of my books are found on my website at 


--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Alice Faye Duncan.

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