History Historical Badasses

How Mildred D. Taylor’s stories can teach us how to be hopeful throughout hardships

For stories of Black history and excellence, check out our Black History Month series. Celebrate with us by sharing your favorite articles on social media and uplifting the stories, lives, and work of Black people.

When I was in seventh grade, my English class was assigned to read a book titled Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor. I can’t remember the exact moment I learned about racism in school, but reading this book was an eye-opener. To this day, I can still recall two vivid scenes from the book: Cassie Logan describing the worn-out textbooks meant for Black students and her Papa’s leg being crushed by a wagon during a racist ambush.

Mildred D. Taylor began writing about the Logan family in 1975 with her first novella, Song of the Trees. Her historical works are about the hardships faced by African-American families living in the Deep South. Taylor was not the first author to narrate such moving stories. Yet, to me, she stood out for the sense of hope and resilience she breathes into her characters.

Taylor was born in Jackson, Mississippi, but moved north with her family when she was just three months old. Despite not having a Southern upbringing, she insisted that the region held pleasant memories for her as her family’s home. They eventually settled in Toledo, Ohio as her father did not want her and her sister to grow up in the racially segregated society of the South that he lived in. When Taylor started school, she was the only black child in her class. Yearly trips to Mississippi and firsthand stories from family gatherings helped her become familiar with the South. Taylor would eventually use some of the stories for her novels.

Taylor attended the University of Toledo where she majored in English and minored in History. By age 19, she had written her first novel, Dark People, Dark World. Sadly, due to revision disagreements with a publisher, the novel was never published. After graduation, Taylor joined the Peace Corps and taught in Arizona and Ethiopia. She then attended the University of Colorado School of Journalism, where she worked with university officials and fellow students to curate a Black Studies program. It’s inspiring how Taylor maintained the respect from her roots and encouraged for others to do the same in education.

In addition to all those accomplishments, Taylor kept writing. In 1973, Taylor entered a contest funded by the Council on Interracial Books for Children. “I tried writing [a story] from a boy’s point of view because the story was based on my father’s life, but that didn’t work,” Taylor said in a 2006 interview with the American Library Association. “So I decided to retell it from the girl’s point of view. It won that honor and got my foot in the door.”

The story was eventually published as Song of the Trees, and won first prize in the contest’s African-American category. It was also listed as an outstanding book of the year in the New York Times.

In 1977, she also won the Newberry Medal for the sequel to Song of the Trees, Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, and several other literary recognitions.

“I wanted to show a different kind of black world from the one so often seen,” she said of her characters, the Logan family. “[Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry] will always be the most special book I have written.”

Black stories are often heavily centered around trauma. There’s a common assumption that Blacknes and suffering go hand in hand. While the Logans are a disadvantaged family, what we learn from them is their ability to make the most out of situations. Cassie and her brothers are a strong unit who have a solid relationship with their parents and appreciate who they are surrounded by. If anything, Taylor has shown us the importance of family dynamics in the face of constant trauma.

In an interview with The Brown Bookshelf, Taylor commented on the backlash of parents who felt her work was too painful for children to read. “As much as it hurts me to write words of pain, I know that they must be written, for they are truthful words about the time I write,” she said.

Sometimes, even if it can be uncomfortable, writing about pain is necessary. It can help others become more attentive to voices that are often silenced. What I find heartbreakingly relatable is that the Logan children instantly learned that they were living in a different world than their white peers. How Taylor writes about pain from Cassie’s perspective lets readers know that children are never too young to start understanding the world around them.

In the same interview, Taylor discussed receiving letters from students like myself who read her books as required reading. The students, however, said the books weren’t just about history. Rather, they are about the values they wished were more a part of their world today.

In Taylor’s words, “[It] is so uplifting to find there are still those who read my books and not only feel a greater understanding about our past, but feel the relevancy of that past to apply to the great turmoil of today’s world.”

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How reading taught me to be emotionally competent in life

I’ve always loved reading. While other children often got told off for being naughty, I often found myself being told off for ‘being away with the fairies’ as my Math teacher called it – simply put, I love books.

Reading is fun; you come across so many characters that you like and dislike and so many to relate to. Personally, I’ve always related to Matilda – a tiny human that wants to do nothing more than read and be the best version of herself. Even as I’ve grown older, I seek knowledge through books rather than the internet and if there is one thing reading has taught me, it is how to be emotionally competent. 

I read all types of literature; essays, novellas, poetry, short stories. Hand me anything with words and I’ll absorb it. Remember during English class where your teacher would tell you to find the deeper meaning of the crow in the background or the gloomy setting of the book? Everyone would groan in disbelief – “Miss, it’s just a crow.” And it’s true, it may very well be just a crow, but secretly, I enjoyed looking for the deeper meaning of the scenes and characters in the book. I found it helping me to develop my understanding of humans in general. 

I think what a lot of people forget is that when authors write, they write what they know so it is likely that the characters in the book are a mirror image of someone the authors know or used to know. That would mean that all the little traits that the characters have in a book suddenly make them a part of who they are. When we were reading The Kite Runner in class, I knew that the protagonist’s father’s thoughts on Islamic leaders were his own personal thoughts. I had seen an interview somewhere where Khaled Hosseini described his hatred for Islamic leaders as he had grown up watching Kabul fall down at the leader’s expense. The same thing happened when we were reading Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones. Sebold drew from her experience as she wrote of Susie Salmon’s death. 

But it’s not just character emotions and insight that I’ve learned to pick up through reading; my friends will tell you that sometimes, I jolt when I walk past people because I can almost see their emotions. I didn’t have a social life growing up (story of every broody teen ever), but I am no longer a broody teen. I turned to books for comfort because of the lack of people in my life and somehow, I have ended up with the ability to feel other people’s emotions and their fluctuations. And I know I’m not the first person something like this has happened to. I have a friend who often calls herself emotionally inept – you could tell her the saddest story in the world and unfortunately, it will go in one ear and out the other. And that not to say that she’s not paying attention – she is. Her eyes zoom into your soul and everything in between. But she can’t comprehend emotions unless she is reading about them. 

I think that although the death of the book is on the rise, it is important to appreciate what a good book can do for a person; for a lonely person, it provided me with an endless variety of friends and a boost in confidence. For many other people, both children and adults, it provides entertainment and knowledge. It allows you to put yourself in someone else’s shoes for a brief moment in time and just escape.

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USA Politics Inequality

All our favorite authors came together to stand against the USA’s cruel immigration policies

If you keep up with news, you would’ve known by now that USA is slowly morphing into a YA dystopian novel.

The immigration policies and the “zero tolerance” directive have led to the deportation of entire families, and have separated children and parents in a cruel and inhumane way. It’s not new to hear about a literal infant being ripped away from its mother’s arms – while breastfeeding for God’s sake – and I honestly don’t know how one can even consider that acceptable.

It’s a time of fear, sorrow, and cruelty. But it’s also a time of hope and strength, as people come together to do what they can. The YA and “Kid Lit” community has come together to stand in solidarity with the families being separated at the border. Recently, twenty YA authors joined hands to form a fundraiser, “Kid Lit Says No Kids in Cages”, which has now expanded into a marvelous collaborative effort and display of solidarity.

“As members of the children’s book industry who have built careers with teen and youth readers around the world, we jointly and strongly condemn the inhumane treatment of immigrant children evidenced by the United States Department of Justice in the past week.”, the website reads, “We believe that innocent children should not be separated from their parents. We believe the “Zero Tolerance” directive issued by Attorney General Jeff Sessions is cruel, immoral and outrageous. We believe the Department of Justice is engaging in practices that should be restricted to the pages of dystopian novels.”
[Image Description : The official graphic of the fundraiser] Via Kid Lit Says No Kids in Cages
The fundraiser collects money to reunite immigrant kids with their families and implores its supporters to get actively involved in the movement. The creators of the fundraiser – many of them POCs and immigrants themselves – are using their unique position to contribute to the cause in a way that ‘s meaningful and productive. Among the original 20 authors include Melissa De La Cruz ( Blue Bloods), Margaret Stohl ( Icons), Adam Silvera ( They Both Die at the End ), Tahereh Mafi ( Shatter Me ), and Rainbow Rowell ( Fangirl ). Their initial goal was to raise $42K, which they easily surpassed within 24 hours. Now, the fundraiser boasts over 4,700 signatures and has raised over $200K.

The banner has also led more authors to come forward and share their support and experiences, one of them being Tomi Adeyemi ( Children of Blood and Bone ), who took to Twitter to share her own childhood experience where she almost got separated from her mother. “When I was in sixth grade I had to testify in immigration court for my mom. I sat there on the stand—11 years old—trying to explain to a judge why I needed my mom to stay. When I realized the judge might actually take her away, I cried so hard I could no longer speak. It was single-handedly the worst experience of my life and in the end we were lucky. She got to stay. There are absolutely no words for the unspeakably horror trump and this government are inflicting on innocent immigrants and refugees. Families are being ripped apart,” she wrote as she urged her followers and readers to donate and sign the statement.

The money collected through the fundraiser is being donated to six organizations actively working towards reuniting families, namely The Florence Project, ACLU, RAICES, Women’s Refugee Commission, Kids in Need of Defense and Al Otro Lado.  It’s beautiful to witness the writers you’ve come to love and adore take a step towards voicing against the injustice happening in the country. As a reader, and a member of the community myself, I feel proud and hopeful when I see these kinds of selfless acts of kindness.

As these authors and members of the kid lit community use their presence and voice to an advantage, it’s also a call to all industries with a prominent voice to make use of it for a good cause. Even though children are no longer being separated from their parents, families are still victimized, torn apart and require help.

If you wish to contribute to Kid Lit Says No Kids in Cages, you can do so here. Also, make sure to sign your name to the official statement.

Gender & Identity Life

I found my passion in writing and so can you

Sometimes, when a day transitions from bad to beyond abominable and I can almost feel my residual sanity slipping through my fingers, I close my eyes and imagery floats before my eyes, the imagery of my escapade, my solace: I am underwater and the water is scintillating and a calming hue of blue. It is a place which is above mere worldly adversities. It’s just me and water bubbles gurgling through my nebulous floating hair with “Nothing It Can” by Helios playing in the background.

That is my happy place.

While my safe haven seems nothing more than an intangible concept, it is the only thing in the world that can almost make me feel enthralling yet complex emotions. I also find this solace in my writing.

I cannot pinpoint a particular day when I woke up and decided to put pen to paper, but I do vividly remember the turning point in my journey with writing.

I had read the last Harry Potter book when I was about 11-years-old, which was around the same time Leisure by W.H Davies was a part of my school curriculum for English. My unworldly mind was blown away. I was too young to fathom the beauty of the pain lingering with that poem (which I can today, now that I suffer from existential dread every other day). I wasn’t even mature enough to appreciate Harry Potter for its larger than life reflection of reality.

All I knew was that mere words could create a world that is beyond mortal imagination and could make me feel things that I didn’t even know existed. I too wanted to master the art of tugging at heartstrings and making people feel ethereal emotions.

Writing ended up becoming more than just a form of art for me. What had started off as words strung together to have a certain rhythm to them began to fuse itself with my existence. Every scribble at the back of notebooks and scraps of paper and every journal entry began to hold more significance than I realized. It was that idiosyncratic trait that helped me identify myself in a crowd, even if it meant nothing to the world.  As a kid, who always had trouble expressing herself, writing was my savior.

What I didn’t realize was that there is a Joker to every Batman. Even though I was my art own protector, (and there was no knight in shining armor gloating in self-glory that I had to deal with), what I didn’t realize was that I had to deal with the villain to my story: my insecurities.

While writing helped me grow every single day, I was no stranger to society’s obsession with the performing arts. Every brown kid ever is au courant with how the world puts that graceful dancer that embraces every joy in the world with delicacy on a pedestal. I began to feel like my art was just as inconsequential as I believed I was. A part of me perished every time it dawned on me that everything I wrote will perhaps just fade away with the ink.

Today my insecurities still consume me to a point where I am shrouded with dark thoughts of quitting because I’ll probably never be good enough.

However, I have been lucky to have discovered my thing, my art. Owing to my art, I have been lucky to have discovered parts of me, to live every day a little better than I did the previous day. Like every terrible phase of my life, my writing saves me from my burgeoning insecurities as well or at least attempts to.

It is an awful feeling to feel like you’re not good at that one thing which makes you, you. But it’s all worth it when you realize that your piece means something to someone somewhere, even if it holds some significance in only one person’s life.

Everyone has their thing. It’s just a matter of time and place until they discover it and embrace it. And once they do, they’ll know that going on is worth it. It doesn’t matter if it’s your profession, your hobby or means of venting, it’s worth it.

Tech Now + Beyond

Becoming a best-selling author isn’t just a dream for me anymore – it’s about to become reality

As an aspiring writer, getting a book published is the dream. A few years ago, the concept seemed pretty much impossible to me – a chance in a million. But with the rise of self-publishing, the industry is changing and it is so much easier to get your work published.

Where previously you would have had the difficult task of finding an agent or a publisher, now all that is necessary is good content and the will to get your work out there.

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I decided to do my research and see which companies would be best to use when self-publishing and how much the process would require from me.

Being a Kindle obsessed-human, Amazon was the first place I looked into. With Kindle Direct Publishing, the process seems relatively easy – create the content, format the document, create an account, enter the relevant information and publish. Surely it can’t be that easy right?

With all Kindle titles priced between $2.99 to $9.99, Amazon pays out a royalty of 70%. They will also advertise your book for you so after creating and publishing the book, not a lot needs to be done. A huge plus is that you don’t pay anything to Amazon for using this service, however, this does not necessarily mean that you won’t be spending any money.

In order to publish the best version of your work, you may want to hire an illustrator, get the piece edited or get help with formatting.

There are drawbacks, obviously, the books will not be in bookstores as Amazon itself is technically an online bookstore. But unless you sign up to KDP Select, there is still the option of publishing in paperback elsewhere.

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Xlibris goes a step further.

You just have to write the actual content, it will then design the interior and the cover, get your books listed and print them on demand. You can pick from a range of packages depending on which services you’d want. They also offer additional services of editing, marketing, formatting, and design.

The pros of this are that you can also have your book in paperback and hardback. You get a lot more help in every department in order to ensure that you come out with a more polished version. However, unlike Amazon, this is not a free service. The fees vary from what type of package and add on services you wish to have.

Another useful self-publishing website is Author House, which also offers a range of packages from e-books to full-color paperbacks. Furthermore, they offer a range of additional services from editorial, marketing, production, and bookselling.

Another helpful website is Writers and Artists, and this is a great resource, especially if you don’t know where to begin and what kind of publishing service you require.  You answer questions based on your manuscript and about the tools that you require such as editing, design etc. This website then lists all the companies that offer the services that you require and also compares them.

You can then request a personalized quote to gain an idea of how much each service will cost. This website also has articles and resources to help you on your journey.

These are just a few websites but there are so many services out there to help you create your own book. Personally, I think the self-publishing industry is incredible, having work published has become more attainable. My favorite aspect of this, however, is how simple the process has been made. I’m not technologically inclined so the fact that some of these websites help you format the manuscript is a game-changer for me.

Becoming a writer is no longer a childish dream of mine. I’m not J.K Rowling, but there is a chance that I can get someone somewhere to read some of my work.

That, for me, is enough.

Books Pop Culture

5 women of color authors you have to start reading this year

Everyone has heard about Gloria Naylor, Maya Angelou, and Alice Walker.  But I want to focus on recent novels that feature women of color as the main point of view, written by incredible women themselves.

Every one of the authors listed below have novels that were published within the last three years and are absolutely slaying the patriarchy by focusing on their personal experiences as a female during this era.

1. Roxane Gay

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Gay writes for film and television as well as stories.  She is a featured contributor to the  and an editor for PANK.   She also just recently wrote a script for Marvel. Gay is a beautiful example of a WOC author displaying honest and real women in her short stories and other works.

Her most recent novel, “Difficult Women” came out in 2017 and is already a hit.  This book is a collection of stories that show women and the complexities of their lives.  Her novels tend to be ferocious and hard-hitting about feminism.  This novel involves a mother attempting to avenge her child’s death through non-traditional ways.  Gay attempts to write about what is in the world around her, and explores the truth of that world even if it may be harsh.

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2. Pheobe Robinson

Robinson lives in Brooklyn and is an actress, writer and comedian.  She has been on tons of shows like MTV’s Girl Code and Comedy Central’s Broad City. She is well known for her podcasts, Sooo Many White Guys and 2 Dope Queens.  She has also written for “Last Comic Standing” and “White Guy Talk Show.”

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Her novel, You Can’t Touch My Hair and Other Things I Still Have to Explain is an incredible collection of essays about all different kinds of issues in today’s world.  She tackles race, gender and pop culture.  She mostly focuses on being a black woman in the United States.

While in college, she was the only black person in the class and noted that when slavery came up everyone looked to her.  She has incredibly strong opinions on issues like femininity and body issues and provides a great voice through her book.

3. Han Kang

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Han Kang was born in South Korea and lives there still today.  She has won awards for her two popular novels, The Vegetarian and Human ActsThe Vegetarian was her first novel to be translated into English and has since changed her readers through her incredible novels.

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Kang tells the story of two sisters through three sections in The Vegetarian. The story gets interesting when one sister decides to divert from religious norms and become a vegetarian.  The relationship between the two sisters becomes increasingly tough and stressful for them both with different twists and turns. She explores violence and the consequences of imperialism in Korea.

Writers who can be honest and present a story like this of two sisters struggling through life together but apart is powerful and should be spread to many more languages still. She tells the story through two men and then her sister, which gives the audience an intense look on the view of women in this culture and society as well as from the eyes of her sister.

4. Margo Jefferson

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Margo Jefferson is currently a professor at Columbia University.  She is well-known for being a critic, but she has also worked as a writer and written screenplays.  She was a critic for years with the New York Times and also worked as an editor at Newsweek.  She won the Pulitzer Prize for criticism in 1995.

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Her recent novel, Negroland: a Memoir is the story of her life growing up in Chicago in an affluent black family during the ’50s and ’60s.  She uses this book to jump around times in memories and struggles to convey the tragic and difficult memories that she copes with.

Jefferson’s memoir is an important look into America’s past and includes the need for and strength that can be found in retracing one’s footsteps.  She shows a complex look into growing up black in Chicago, but also remaining a member of the privileged class.

5. Sara Farizan

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Faizan is the daughter of Iranian immigrants who grew up in Boston, but now lives in San Francisco.  She is known specifically for her queer young adult literature.  She is fascinating because of her unique outlook on the world from immigrant parents and growing up to realize that she is a lesbian.  She is known for writing about women who are discovering themselves in unusual settings.

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Her most recent novel, “Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel” is illuminating.  The story revolves around a girl who is growing up in Boston and attending a private school, much like Farizan herself.  It is important for individuals growing up, whether they are struggling to integrate because of their parent’s immigration, or their sexual identity or gender identity and so on, for them to understand that they are not alone.

Books Pop Culture

Make a point to read these 5 banned books

Banned Books Week is a movement  aimed to celebrate the freedom to read books that have been banned or challenged in academia. You may or may not be surprised that the list includes classics that many hold near and dear.

Interestingly enough, quite a few of these frequently challenged books are written by minorities. Here are 5 incredibly famous books by minority women that have made the list.

1. Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi

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Marjane Satrapi is an Iranian-born French graphic novelist. She was born and raised in Iran and experienced many of the socialist and communist movements prior and following the Iranian Revolution. Her graphic novel, Perspolis, is banned for having a “political viewpoint.”

It’s also cited for being “politically, racially, and socially offensive.” Psh.

2. The Bluest Eye, Toni Morrison


African-American novelist, Nobel-Prize winner, and Pulitzer-prize winner. Toni Morrison is definitely a triple-threat. So is, apparently, her novel. The Bluest Eye delves into racism in America during the Great Depression. It’s frequently challenged for containing “containing controversial issues.”

3. The House on Mango Street, Sandra Cisneros

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Sandra Cisneros is an American author of Mexican descent. Her book, The House on Mango Street, is widely read in literature classes (I read it myself as a sophomore in high school). It was banned in Arizona for allegedly promoting an overthrow of the government.

Um, no. The major themes in the book include struggling with identity, friendship, and loneliness. So…normal stuff that everyone deals with.

4. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, Mildred D. Taylor

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Mildred D. Taylor is an African-American woman with a Newbury Medal under her belt. Her novel, Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry tells a raw tale of racial segregation in the Deep South. It’s one of the most frequently challenged novels of the 21st century, with the primary reason being offensive language.

The main character, a punchy nine-year-old girl, doesn’t hold back her tongue. Honestly, though, the language is simply a part of American history.

5. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou

Arkansas-I-Know-Why-Caged-Bird-Sings-Maya-Angelou  Angelou

The late but dearly beloved Maya Angelou’s autobiography has been named by TIME Magazine as one of the best and most influential books of all time. Angelou has won countless awards, one of them being the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

How did such a popular book land on the banned list?

It seems that exploring identity, racism, and literacy is simply too much for the public to handle.