Discrimination, Racism Are Central Themes In Jewell Parker Rhodes Books

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Dr. Jewell Parker Rhodes grew up loving books. In third grade, she even started writing her own! Unfortunately, she never knew until college that black people like her could have a career in writing. She switched her major from Theater to English and has been writing ever since. Besides being an author, she also the Virginia G. Piper Endowed Chair of Creative Writing at Arizona State University.

I’ve read and reviewed two books by Jewell Parker Rhodes, Sugar and Black Brother, Black Brother. I love that she writes about such relatable topics like racism and colorism, and she also shines a light on the past in Sugar. “My entire writing career for both adults and children has been about promoting equity and social justice,” she said.

Jewell Parker Rhodes’ most unique experience as an author is dreaming about her stories. She dreams about characters and ideas for her books. I think that is so cool! Plus, when you’re dreaming, you can vividly see things in your head, which probably really helps describe things. (Now I have a motivation to go to sleep 😂)

This author gave such good advice in the interview. She is so inspiring!!!!!!! Read the interview below:

Question: If you could step into one of your stories and give one of your characters advice, who would you choose and what would you say to them?

Answer: I would tell Carlos in Ghost Boys not to feel guilty for giving Jerome a toy gun.  Though the gun (mistakenly thought to be real) results in Jerome’s death, it’s really police bias, not the toy that kills Jerome. 

Q. How has what has happened to George Floyd affected you?

A. George Floyd’s tragic death is part of a long history of racism.  My entire writing career for both adults and children has been about promoting equity and social justice.  My second adult novel, MAGIC CITY, was about the Tulsa Race Riot and will be republished next year for the 100th anniversary.  GHOST BOYS and BLACK BROTHER, BLACK BROTHER, my latest youth novels, are very much about colorism, racism, and police bias and how it affects children of color.

Q: If you could summarize your book Black Brother, Black Brother in four words, what four words would you choose?

A: Family, resilience, triumph, and anti-racist.

Q: You’ve written books for a lot of different genres, including adult fiction, children’s fiction, and even your own memoir! What is it like to transition from writing about your life, to writing a fiction novel for kids?

A: A big thread in my life is my grandmother’s love and upbringing.  A character inspired by my grandmother appears in all my work.  My other characters are based on people I imagine or composites of people who inspire me. My genres may change, but my themes of affirming humanity and decrying prejudice are consistent.

Q: Besides reading, what tips would you give budding authors?

A: Young authors should be kind to themselves and not be afraid to experiment with styles and genres.  As you grow older, it’ll become easier to write longer narratives, more complex poems, and songs. So, don’t worry if you don’t finish projects.  Just keep practicing your craft.  Also, pay attention to how different people talk, how they act/react.  Noticing these differences will help you to write three-dimensional characters.  Also, embrace new experiences.  These experiences will create new depth, ideas, and emotions in your writing.  Remember, too, that writing can be a lifelong passion.

Q: How did you become an author?

A: As a child, I always wrote but I didn’t know I could choose it as a career until I was a junior in college and saw my first book written by an author of color.  I then switched my major to English but it took thirteen years before my first novel, VOODOO DREAMS, was published.  For decades, I wrote adult novels trying to become good enough to write for youth!  I am very, very happy.  I’m working on my 16th book—Paradise on Fire—about climate change and wild fires.

Q: What is your most unique experience as a writer?

A: Dreaming stories.  It’s true.  I get ideas and solve writing problems in my dreams.  For my first youth novel, NINTH WARD, I woke from a dream and wrote the first two pages.  For GHOST BOYS, I was writing for a year and a half, when I dreamed about my character, Carlos.  I love Carlos because he, too, celebrates his heritage.  And with his friend Jerome dead, he becomes the big brother to the surviving sister.

Q: If your computer only had storage left for one story, what would you write about?

A: I would write about youth, inspired by my three-year-old granddaughter, enjoying life in a post-pandemic, equitable world playing with her dog and cats.

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