“It’s so important for black children to see themselves doing a multitude of things because it opens up possibilities,” Mariahadessa Ekere Tallie, author of Layla’s Happiness says.
She also says she hopes her new book makes black children and other children of color feel seen. I reviewed it recently and really liked it. This is her first children’s book, because she usually writes books for adults, including Karma’s Footsteps.
I am happy I got to interview this author. Read her answers to my questions below:
Question: Why did you write this book?
Answer: I wrote this book because 14 years ago I was searching for books to read to my newborn daughter and I could not find many with characters who looked like her or reflected our circumstances. I was already a writer, I’d had poetry and essays published and I performed my work for years so it seemed logical to write the thing I wanted to read. That’s what I did. Keep in mind I started writing children’s stories when my daughter was four or five so it took a long time to get this work into the world.
Q: Do you think Layla’s Happiness will have an affect on black kids in the community?
A: It’s so important for black children to see themselves doing a multitude of things because it opens up possibilities. If you open a book and see someone who looks like you swimming, gardening, hiking, traveling, excelling, falling and getting back up again, it makes those things seem more in reach. I know that when I realized black women were writers, it felt like I could become a writer also. I hope that the book makes black children and other children of color feel seen.
Q: What was the hardest and easiest parts about writing this book?
A: Writing the book was a joy. That was the easy part. Finding a publisher was the hardest part. It took six years!
Q: I read that you write poetry. Who is your favorite poet and how does she or he inspire you?
A: Ahhhh, I am moved by a number of poets, each for different reasons, I can’t pick one. Lucille Clifton, Pablo Neruda, Willie Perdomo, Sonia Sanchez, Langston Hughes, Aracelis Girmay, Christina Olivares, Cheryl Boyce-Taylor, Jaqueline Johnson and Ntozake Shange are writers who I return to. Ntozake Shange has inspired me in immeasurable ways, her work has influenced everything from my travel itinerary to my knowledge of flowers. She was a very powerful writer whose work nourishes me deeply.
Q: What is happiness to you?
A: Happiness to me is writing in my journal, spending time with my family, especially going to the beach or playing bananagrams with them, having close friends over to enjoy a meal, walking in the woods, dancing, making my parents laugh. Simple things.
Q: What is it like to teach in different countries? Which one is your favorite?
A: Well, teaching in different countries…the students reflect the value that education has in their cultures. I have enjoyed teaching everywhere! That’s the truth. I don’t know if I have a favorite country. I often say New York (where I’m from) is its own country though (laughs).
Q: What are three things you want people to know about you?
A: One, I love music. It’s an important part of my daily life.
Two, my husband Dominique Sindayiganza is an amazing soul who often has visionary ideas about ways I can share my work. I met Claudia, who is the publisher of Layla’s Happiness, because of my husband. I am convinced that the people you have around you play an important role in the quality and the trajectory of your life.
Three, I studied medicinal herbs and natural healing for three years with Robin Rose Bennett and getting in touch with nature changed the way that I live. I ended up managing farmers’ markets and learning to grow food after that.
Q. What is your favorite children’s book? Why?
A: My Feets Are Laughing by Lisette Norman remains a favorite. It is funny and thoughtful and the illustrations by Frank Morrison are gorgeous. I loved that the main characters of the book were the same ages as my children. That book was also the first time I had ever seen a character say that she wanted to be a poet. I was stunned by that. Kevin Henkes’ books….amazing. Yuyi Morales’ work….radiant. Oge Mora…shimmering. Zetta Elliott…brilliant. You know what else, I really am into the Chirri and Chirra books. They are gems.
Q: Are you planning to write more children’s books?
A: Yes!!! They are already written.
Photo Credit: Matthew Burgess