Tuesday, November 7, 2023

Q&A with Danielle Joseph





Danielle Joseph is the author of the new children's picture book biography Ruth First Never Backed Down. Joseph's other books include the middle grade novel Sydney A. Frankel's Summer Mix-Up. She lives in Maryland.


Q: Why did you decide to write this picture book biography of South African activist Ruth First (1925-1982)?


A: I was born in Cape Town, South Africa, and have always wanted to write a story that takes place in South Africa. So even though I was originally hoping to publish a work of fiction, the more I read about Ruth First, the more fascinated I was with her story.


She was a revolutionary who never gave up and we have so much to learn from her. Like me, she was Jewish and ended up in South Africa after her family fled the pogroms in Lithuania during the early 1900s.


Q: How did you research her life, and did you learn anything that especially surprised you?


A: I read every article I could find on Ruth’s life. I also watched videos of her speaking and of other people speaking about her—freedom fighters, educators, and historians.


I read her book, 117 Days, which is the account of her confinement in a South African prison for her work against Apartheid. This really gave me a sense of who she was during her darkest hours.


Honestly, I was surprised how tenacious she was. No matter what was thrown at her, she kept on going. She was not afraid to speak up against injustice, even with her life on the line time and time again.


Q: What do you think Gabhor Utomo’s illustrations add to the book?


A: I think Gabhor did a fantastic job with the illustrations. He really captured the time period and the political climate. He handled some of the difficult scenes with a lot of grace and thought.


Q: How would you describe Ruth First’s legacy today?


A: I don’t think enough people know Ruth’s story and how hard she fought alongside all the other amazing South African freedom fighters during the Apartheid era. But those that do know her have a lot of respect for her and all the work that she did.


So, it’s my hope that this book will be an introduction to her legacy for readers young and old.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I’m revising a time travel middle grade novel right now and having so much fun with it.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: I hope to have more books to share about South Africa and some of the other legendary changemakers in the future.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Danielle Joseph.

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