A Conversation Starter about the Lack of Diversity in Young Adult Literature

I posted this on Facebook and I was wondering if anyone had any thoughts?

But can we talk about the lack of diversity in books for young adults? I swear that I have read hundreds and hundreds of books since elementary school because I adore reading (um, that BookIt program in elementary & middle school was giving us the pizza hook up which led to my beautiful relationship with reading) but of those hundreds of books that I have read I can probably count on one hand how many have been either written by black authors OR had a black main character. And I’m not talking about those “Paster needs a boo” type books either. I’m talking about legit books for teens that don’t involve a teenage pregnancy plot line or whatever passes as “marketable”. Most YA books by black authors that I have read are either super religious OR have a tendency to have extremely graphic sexual content OR takes place during the times of slavery.

So these are my questions:
1. Where are all the books about the kids who looked like me/acted like me/talked like me?
2. How can we go about creating a market for young adult books written by black authors who feature black characters?
3. Does this bother anyone else or is it just me?

Book update: Looking for Beta Readers!

I just wanted to share with you guys that I am beyond excited about my upcoming poetry book! It’s still untitled (if you’ve followed me for a while you know at one point it was titled In the Making but I’m still deciding). It’s still missing a couple of poems but it is so close to the finish line. I have never been more proud of myself as I am with this endeavor. I truly believe in each of the poems that have made the cut. This is my most honest writing and it is kind of scary to think of so many personal moments printed for anyone to read. But I am ready.

I am aiming for an end of summer or early fall release. Things are on track for either at this point. More details to come, keep up here or follow me on twitter @talichaj or on Facebook Talicha J. for updates!

If anyone is interested in being a beta reader please send an email to talichaj@gmail.com

Happy International Women’s Day!

In honor of International Women’s Day one of my favorite poets, Sarah Kay, shared her poem This Type on her Facebook page. It’s a wonderful poem and I even used the last line as a writing prompt for FWF a couple of years ago. I want to pass this along to you guys because I think it is powerful. Please enjoy and don’t forget to share and go let the poet know how awesome you think her work is!

Awesome right? You can follow Sarah at:
Facebook: Sarah Kay
Twitter: kaysarahsera

If you wanted to read the (really bad) poem I wrote after reading this awesome one by Sarah you can read it here: Born To

This Grammys moment was so amazing I actually had to blog about it!

My favorite moment of The Grammy’s last night (and pretty much the only thing I didn’t fast forward through during the whole show) was the Chandelier performance by Sia. Now, don’t get me wrong, I LOVE Sia- I have ever since the moment I first heard Breathe Me from her third album ten or eleven years ago, but Kristen and Maddie are what made this performance breathtaking. The way they throw themselves into this whole production is what makes me appreciate artistic freedom.

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Of course, I knew Maddie would kill it because that kid is phenomenal but Kristen was a huge surprise. It’s not that doubted her ability to portray such a serious character (while dancing at that!), I just hadn’t expected her to be so intriguing with it, so invested in this kind of character. (I know, shame on me for putting her in a comedic box, I don’t like to underestimate people so I’m not sure why I did so for her).

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I needed to watch every facial expression, every change in mood and every act of embracing or rejecting that change. I can’t describe in one word the feeling I had while viewing this for the first time but my chest was tight, my jaw was clenched, and I was hanging onto every movement. When Kristen mouths “I’m sorry”, man that gets me every time! To be aware that you are in an unsafe space, that you are doing something to yourself that is harmful, and to be willing to own it is hard. It’s even harder to apologize to yourself and to those around you for doing something against your best interest, so I found that moment really drawing me in.

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I don’t think this video should be watched just once, I think to fully grasp the complexity of emotion and expression you have to really look. It’s there and it’s raw and beautiful. I think Sia’s videos and live performances do a good job of starting a conversation on the subject of mental health (especially since this song deals with the topic of her past history with alcoholism). She invites us into the chaos that is her mind–that is the mind of many others out there. A lot of times dealing with emotions can be overwhelming, just like the pace of this video can be. You don’t know where to focus and even how to focus on one thought or feeling. I think the best thing is to take a deep breath and spend time exploring (although everyone is different so there may be more to it for some).

Enough rambling on from me. Watch, discuss, share and I hope you enjoy the video. Try to go in with an open mind!

The affect of the Mental Illness Taboo

Mental illness is this taboo thing that people skirt over more often than not. As someone who grew up with a mother with schizoaffective disorder (a mix of schizophrenia and a mood disorder) I got to see first hand just how taboo the subject is. No one talked about it. It wasn’t the elephant in the room, it was a house filled with talking elephants, one that everyone quickened their pace when walking by. Is it awkward to talk about someones mental state? Yes, of course. But I think it’s also necessary. Absolutely so for the person with the illness, for the immediate family members of said person, and for the general publics consumption in order to breed understanding.

A lot of people fail to realize just how wide the reach of one persons altered mind can span. I spent the majority of my childhood embarrassed by my mother because I did not understand what was happening with her. No one ever made sure I knew there was a reason for her peculiarities and as a result I grew to distance myself from not only her, but from other people in general. I was a shy kid because I didn’t have answers to the questions I knew people would have if I ever opened up about my home life (in fact, I was 19 before I finally got a name for her disorder). In turn, I became clinically depressed around the age of 13 and wound up seeing a child psychologist.

I will say this, it helped to have someone to talk to. I still didn’t receive answers about my mothers condition but I did get an outlet for how I felt and it was nice to have someone to pour my life into without judgement. I am pro-therapy and I know it doesn’t work for everyone but I’d say give it a chance. In honesty, the first few sessions were spent in silence. My psychologist would ask questions that I didn’t want to answer and so we’d just pass the time. But one day, it changed. I decided to speak and as a result I started to understand myself better. So to anyone who is on the fence about going to talk to someone; just give it a chance, give yourself a chance.

I think we need to teach more about mental illness, to make it something people can talk about without worrying that it will come with a preconceived stigma attached. Mental illnesses are not going away, yes there are treatments for them and people can live normal lives but they are still issues. I urge everyone to educate yourselves, to at least learn that underneath the mental illness is a person and they have to live their lives the best way they know how. I think for a long time, due to lack of knowledge I mistook my mothers mental health as a defining factor of who she was when really it was only just a small part. Only towards the end of my mothers life did I realize that aside from the quirks of her disease she was pretty normal. She had her hobbies and things she loved and she was funny. Most importantly, she was human.

I’d like to write more about this topic in future posts. I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences as well. Thanks for reading! Lets continue the conversation in the comments section below or on twitter: @talichaj

I’ve Got Goals!

This year hasn’t exactly started off as planned –my mother passed away on the 12th after spending a couple of weeks in the hospital and then hospice. I am determined though, to stick to the goals I have set for myself, to live the life I desire because I know it does not last forever, or even as long as we think it should. So I want to share those goals and have a place that I can come back to in the future to see how far I’ve come.

1. Publish a book of poetry

I have been working on a poetry book for a few years now but it didn’t feel right until last year. I took an online writing course with the brilliantly talented Megan Falley and my eyes were so wide open afterwards. The class helped me find my “page voice”, which I think I just made up. By “page voice” I mean the way my writing speaks on page. I have never been stronger in my writing than I am today because I figured out how to delve deeper into words than I have in the past. I have hope that this is only the beginning and that I’ll keep improving in time.

That being said, I am almost done with the book. I think I’ve got about five or six more poems until it feels complete. I am so excited to share these poems with the world. It has been a really amazing experience to sit down, write, and come out at the end of it with something I just HAVE to read over and over again because it’s that good (shocking!). If you’d like a sneak peak of what to expect in the book you can check out Reasons Why Loving You Was More Entertaining than Watching Prime Time Television and My Favorite Photograph of Us published by Germ Magazine.

2. Compete Nationally

Last year I competed at the Women Of the World Poetry Slam (WOWPS) and the Individual World Poetry Slam (IWPS) for the first time. These were both such amazing experiences and I am so grateful to have been a part of them. This year I would love to go back to both and am on the right track so far since I’ll be competing in Albuquerque, NM for WOWPS in March! If you’d like to help me get there you can support me by purchasing my album In the Making!

3. Go on Tour

I want to travel. I want to go to as many open mic nights and poetry slams that I can. I want to share my poetry and meet people as passionate about writing as I am. My goal is to just go. I think the best way for a poet to be known is to be present. The details are a work in progress but I will make this happen. For booking information you can email talichaj@gmail.com

There are also a lot of smaller goals that I have and maybe I’ll share them in a later post. For now though, this is the game plan. I am doing these things on my own so if anyone has any advice or wants to help out in any way, thank you in advance. You can contact me via email or on any of my social networking sites.

To everyone who has a dream; do it, live it, don’t let it go to waste.

Twitter: @talichaj
Facbook: Talicha J.
Instagram: TalichaOff

I read We’ve All Got Eyes, Man for #BlackPoetsSpeakOut

I wanted to get out there and DO something, participate in the change, lift the weight of the onslaught on justice with my own bare hands. But I didn’t know how. I kept asking, “What do I do?” and everyone kept telling me the best place to start was my talent, to raise my voice. In The Issues, Sharon Olds writes, “Don’t talk to me about Politics. I’ve got eyes, man.” That line plus the current state of our nation sparked this poem. So I thank blackpoetsspeakout for creating a place for us to make noise and demand change in a positive way. This is my voice, this is me saying I will not be silent. I will use my words to assist our cause.