Updated: Apr 4
There are a few questions that come up every time someone finds out I'm an author:
"Why do you write?"
"When did you start writing?"
"You're a software engineer??"
The last one has always baffled me. It's as if working in software means that you are constrained to only using only grunts to communicate when you come out of your darkened lair every fifteen days to top up your unhealthy snacks.
I mean, I have written all my life (poetry mostly) for my pleasure, and I have always loved reading. The measure of my dad's love for me is bourne out by the many snowstorms the poor man braved to get books for his son, who finished them the very next night! Suffice it to say that as a kid, toys were not a great gift :).
Anyway, I digress...my origin story came from a startling conversation with my son.
Dum dum dum!!!
I jest, but it was a pivotal moment for me. As a father with a pretty silly imagination, my son and I relished the times where I would make up stories with him as the star, and we would laugh and giggle at the wacky worlds, we would create together before bed.
It was after one such storytelling session that my son turned to me and asked, "Dad, why am I not peach?"
Now imagine the utter confusion that statement caused. I had no idea what we were talking about! He doesn't like peaches for a start, and we weren't talking about fruit anyway. What did fruit have to do with the "ghost who could"? That, by the way, is the fantastic story I made up that night.
It took a minute for it to dawn on me what he was saying. For context, my son goes to a small village school. How small, you ask? The whole school, all grades, is a total of ninety kids! Of the ninety kids, my son is the only BIPOC. Let's just say he's very hard to miss in school plays :).
It dawned on me that my son was feeling out of place. In hindsight, I should have expected it or planned for it, but as they say, hindsight is always 20/20. Don't get me wrong; my son is a wonderful, bubbly young boy with oodles of confidence. It was only natural that he would start to question why he stood out so much.
It was at that point I glanced at his bookshelf, and my heart sank. I hadn't been intentional enough about the books I got for him. I got them because they were fun, end of and while that was not wrong, I had to do more.
Needless to say, a flurry of diverse AND fun books quickly arrived (they exist), and I set to work reading them with him and re-affirming the fact that he was not out of place and he was not alone. He loved seeing characters that looked like him, and that's when it hit me.
There weren't enough African children's stories!
My son had two identities, Ghanaian and British. He spent most of his summer holidays in Ghana being spoilt rotten by grandparents and extended family, yet storybooks represented very little of that.
I thought back to my childhood and what I had on my bookshelf: Goosebumps, The famous five, Tintin, Asterix & Obelix, and a whole host of others that I remember quite fondly, including some Western classics such as Huckleberry Fin, Wuthering Heights, Tom Brown's School Days.
While I had access to wonderful African stories growing up, most of them were not "fun" in the traditional sense and were not as digestible as some of their Western counterparts.
I was going to change that!
In my naivety, I set out to write a children's story focused on Ghanaian culture. Boy, what a trip that was! I quickly learned that self-publishing is HARD, but I persisted. Failure was not an option. I gritted my teeth and worked hard, finding the right story, finding the right illustrator, finding the right copyeditor, finding the right book setter. The list of things that needed doing went on and on.
Finally, the picture book was ready. I printed the first copy and sat down to read it with my son.
I cannot describe to you the look on his face when he heard about Ghana in a book. I cannot describe to you the excitement as he pointed at things he knew, things he experienced on his holidays. I cannot explain the joy he showed talking about the food and the little boy's expressions.
But while I can't describe it, I can tell you it changed me.
I wanted him to have more of those moments. I thought about all the other kids in Ghana and other African countries who grow up without any of those moments. I determined in my heart that I would change that. No matter the cost.
Self-publishing my first book had its advantages. I had made lots of mistakes and learned from it. I had a clearer vision of what I wanted to accomplish with my stories. I understood the research requirements required to support an illustrator, and I understood the basic mechanics of telling a story.
I rolled up my sleeves, learned everything I could about the art form of picture books, and finally signed with my fantastic agent a few months later.
My mission is clear.
Every child deserves to see themselves in stories. My mission is to make sure my child and others like him see themselves in stories as they grow.
I want African/Ghanaian-inspired picture books, chapter books, middle grades, and YA that compete with the best the West offers.
I want stories that provide a worthy mirror for African children and an open window for non-Africans to see and understand our world view.
I want every child of African descent to be able to point at their bookshelf at each age level and say, "that book spoke to me."
That is why I write.
That is why I co-founded BlackCreatorsInKidLit - a safe space for Black creatives to learn and grow, and that is why I co-founded Haberman+Nerds - an incubator for African storytellers to learn craft and compete with the best the West has to offer.
That is why I write. Who knew a peach could be so powerful.