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Interview: Jamia Wilson, author of “Young, Gifted and Black, Too”

Interview: Jamia Wilson, author of “Young, Gifted and Black, Too”

Author of Young, Gifted and Black, Too, Jamia Wilson dives into the importance of featuring and uplifting black icons and communities

RD: What inspired you to write Young, Gifted and Black and the new sequel, Young Gifted and Black, Too?

Jamia: Young, Gifted and Black and Young, Gifted and Black, Too are love letters to the next generation. I hope readers will see elements of themselves in the stories of their heroes and celebrate their own lives, their gifts, and the possibility of realising their dreams. Both books were born out of respect and admiration for people around the world (alive and our ancestors) who helped us expand our vision for ourselves and our community. 

Interview: Jamia Wilson and “Young, Gifted and Black Too”  - Illustration of Lewis HamiltonAn illustration of Lewis Hamilton from the book. Credit: Andrea Pippins

RD: Did you see yourself represented in mainstream media and literature growing up? How did that affect you?

Jamia: When I was growing up, my parents did a lot of work curating the media I consumed to ensure that I had access to diverse representation, largely because I grew up as a third-culture African American expat kid abroad. I was often encouraged to ask my parents questions about the world because I noticed negative stereotypes and biases early on in the media, beyond what I was exposed to at home.

"I yearned for more diverse stories about people worldwide because I spent my childhood travelling and living outside of my birth country"

Moreover, I yearned for more diverse stories about people worldwide because I spent my childhood travelling and living outside of my birth country. As someone born with a disability, I also noticed a lack of resources and representation of people with disabilities in books and beyond. I have a special place in my heart for each of our heroes, but my absolute favourite profile to work on was Stevie Wonder because his words "Just because a man lacks the use of his eyes doesn't mean he lacks vision" have guided me for years.

RD: Do you have a favourite icon featured in the book?

Jamia: I love every one of our heroes, and it is difficult to choose a favourite because each one made an impact in myriad ways. One of my favourite heroes to feature was Sister Rosetta Tharpe because of the mark she made on music and the ways she continues to influence art and culture today. 

Interview: Jamia Wilson and “Young, Gifted and Black Too” - author Jamia Wilson and illustrator Andrea PippinsAuthor Jamia Wilson (left) and illustrator Andrea Pippins (right). 

RD: How important was it for you to include Black icons from all over the world, throughout history and up to the present day in this book?

Jamia: It was imperative for us to illuminate the life and work of changemakers worldwide because we want all of our readers to see themselves and their communities in the stories of our heroes. When I write each and every profile, I think about the sparks of connection that might inspire a reader because they shared a favourite interest, hobby, hometown, life challenge, birth order or other experience with a luminary in the book.

"We want all of our readers to see themselves and their communities in the stories of our heroes"

Andrea and I are both global citizens, and we have roots and experiences in places around the world, which is another reason we have been so excited about seeing our books published in multiple languages including those we and our loved ones speak.

Interview: Jamia Wilson and “Young, Gifted and Black Too” - illustration of Sister Rosetta Tharpe
An illustration of Sister Rosetta Tharpe from the book. Credit: Andrea Pippins

RD: What do you think needs to change in society to ensure that Black history and contributions are more widely recognised and celebrated?

Jamia: We are in urgent and dire need of a social, cultural, economic and political transformation but I have a strong belief in the next generation who are already speaking up and taking a stand to break cycles of domination and harm to promote progress. Knowledge is power. It deeply concerns me that book bans and other attacks on freedom of speech are on the rise, which will further limit access to education and information readers need to develop their own critical thinking and exploration about how they both understand their own lives and potential and that of others.

RD: What impact do you hope this book has on non-Black readers and their understanding and appreciation of Black history and culture?

Jamia: One of the greatest joys I have experienced is the diverse readership of our book. I always cherish messages from children who read our books who said they helped them in some way, made them curious, brought them connection, inspired their dreams and stoked their fires of empathy for others. I’m really proud that our books have also paved the way for young aspiring writers to think about reauthoring and reshaping the story of humanity as writers and artists.

"I’m proud our books paved the way for young writers to think about reshaping the story of humanity as writers and artists"

I often hear from kids who read our books and say they want to be a book illustrator like Andrea, or a writer like me. I have countless examples of this; one came from a young, multiracial white and Asian girl who wrote me that she loved Misty Copeland and she was busy chasing her own dreams so she had to go, and another from a little white boy who recited Usain Bolt’s pages by heart while moving his body into Bolt’s running stance as rendered in Andrea’s art. As they say, “The kids are alright.” It’s up to us to help and support them in building a better future.

Interview: Jamia Wilson and “Young, Gifted and Black Too” - illustration of Bob MarleyAn illustration of Bob Marley from the book. Credit: Andrea Pippins

RD: How can allies support and uplift the Black community beyond just consuming media or literature made by the community? 

Jamia: It’s important to me for allies to look into the meaning of what true solidarity means and how to let their deeds match their words and their intentions. I wrote about allyship in a co-authored book, Road Map for Revolutionaries, with Carolyn Gerin and Elisa Camahort Page—we lay out a process for how to actualise goals to create more expansive and inclusive spaces that make a difference

Interview: Jamia Wilson and “Young, Gifted and Black Too” - book cover

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