Renee Watson, author of This Side of Home, is no stranger to the Girls of Summer family. We selected her beautiful picture book, Harlem’s Little Blackbird for our 2014 list. I’m so delighted to have her with us this week when she shares advice that shapes not only her writing, but how she picks the lucky people who will be part of her life. MM
Why do you think the main character in your book represents a strong girl?
Maya represents a strong girl because she’s not afraid to ask questions—it takes a strong girl to not just go along with the majority, but to stop and truly dig deep to find out what she believes. Sometimes those questions lead her to answers that cause her to change what she’s always thought was “right,” sometimes those answers confirm what she already knew in her heart.
How did you first become interested in writing about the topic/character in your book?
I started noticing changes in my neighborhood—the same neighborhood in the book—my junior year in high school. For me, the change was not that rapid. It took about 20 years to see the fullness of gentrification in North East Portland. Gentrification was not a word I knew at fifteen but I knew the feeling of not belonging. There was something about the changes that made it seem like they weren’t for the people who already lived there but for the people who were coming. Yet, even with that feeling, I still wanted to go out and enjoy these new places. So for me, I understand both Maya and Nikki—I want the change, appreciate it even, but I don’t appreciate the push out that often comes with it. I didn’t have anyone to process that with. I wanted so badly to talk with someone about race and class when I was a teenager. I hope this book helps young people continue the conversation.
What is the best advice you ever received about writing?
To be honest, the best advice I was given about writing was actually about friendship, as well. Early on in my career a mentor told me, “Choose your friends wisely. You’re going to need people around you who also have big dreams, and you’ll need to lean on each other.” Of course, I think this applies to any career—but what she was saying is that writing is such a solitary task. There’s also a lot of rejection and so having a network of people who understand that—who are also striving for something—has absolutely helped me. And they’re not all writers, but they all are pursuing something bigger than themselves and this is encouraging. We motivate each other, set writing dates, and really do uplift each other. Without them, I’m not sure I could do this work.
BONUS: Finish this sentence please: Strong girls…
…..push through their fears and go after what might seem impossible.