Mariama J. Lockington: For Black Girls Like Me
It's July! When you're hot and don't feel like doing anything, grab a book instead! There are a lot of really great new ones out!
For Black Girls Like Me
by Mariama J. Lockington
Makeda June Kirkland is eleven years old, adopted, and black. Her parents and big sister are white, and even though she loves her family very much, Makeda often feels left out. When Makeda's family moves from Maryland to New Mexico, she leaves behind her best friend, Lena―the only other adopted black girl she knows―for a new life. In New Mexico, everything is different. At home, Makeda’s sister is too cool to hang out with her anymore and at school, she can’t seem to find one real friend.
Through it all, Makeda can’t help but wonder: What would it feel like to grow up with a family that looks like me?
Through singing, dreaming, and writing secret messages back and forth with Lena, Makeda might just carve a small place for herself in the world.
July 30th, 2019
Introduce yourself and your debut novel!
Hello, everyone! I’m Mariama Lockington and my middle grade novel is FOR BLACK GIRLS LIKE ME and will be out on July 30th. It’s the story of a Black girl named Makeda, who was adopted into a white family as a baby. The story follows Makeda during her 6th grade year, when her family moves across the country for her dad’s new job, and everything shifts and changes. Makeda leaves behind her best friend Lena, also a Black transracial adoptee, and starts a new school. To make matters more complicated, Makeda’s older sister is too cool to hang out with her anymore, her mom is really sad all the time, and her dad is absent working his new job. Makeda starts to dream about what it would feel like to grow up with a family that looks like her, and uses music and writing secret messages back and forth with Lena to anchor herself in the world. This is an #ownvoices novel, as I am also a transracial adoptee, and at its core it’s a story about a girl searching for her voice and sense of belonging in the world.
What’s the most surprising part about your debut journey so far?
How many connections I’ve made with other #kidlit writers, bloggers, librarians, adoptees, and teens via social media! Writing can sometimes be a lonely endeavor, and you have to find ways to seek and build community. I have a really solid group of writer friends who hold me accountable to the work via a remote writing group, but I have been so blown away by the connections and friends I’ve made just interacting with people on Twitter and other social media platforms. Hearing about all of the books coming out this year, and just all of the incredible writing and work being done for a middle grade or young adult audience has been so inspiring and refreshing. I feel so lucky to be in this innovative, youthful space!
Give a shout-out to a fellow debut!
As I mentioned above, there are so many great books debuting this year! One book I read recently and adored was THE OTHER HALF OF HAPPY by Rebbecca Balcárcel. It’s about a girl named Quijana who is half-American and half-Guatemalan, and how she tries to navigate these two identities while growing up in the Southwest. It’s written by a poet, and is very lyrical, honest, and lovely. It’s available for preorder now, and will be out August 20th!
How long did it take you to write this book?
Technically, ten years. This book is a version of my MFA Thesis, which I started in 2009 and was a collection of abstract poems about a nameless, transracially adopted Black girl. However, the book really took shape in its current form starting in 2016, when I published an article for Buzzfeed about my own experiences growing up as an adoptee. My now editor at Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, reached out after reading my Buzzfeed essay. She asked if I’d ever considered writing a fictional book based on my own experiences as an adoptee, but for a middle grade audience. I was so excited by this prospect, since my other passion in life is teaching and working with youth. I then started to re-write my thesis as a middle grade book, and that took me about two years. Today, FOR BLACK GIRLS LIKE ME is told in hybrid form, and includes poems, letters, definitions, songs, as well as more traditional prose.
What’s a cool thing about your book that isn’t in the blurb?
Chickens. There are chickens in my book, including a really nasty rooster named Fireball that Makeda and her sister have to chase around and take care of. Additionally, FOR BLACK GIRLS LIKE ME includes a cast of homeschool kids and sheds light on the homeschool community in a way that I haven't seen done in many books before. I myself was homeschooled from 2nd through 8th grade, so it was important for me to include homeschoolers in my book, as it’s another community that shaped who I am today.
What advice would you give to a new writer?
1. Read everything and anything that you can get your hands on.
2. Don’t worry about writing something that EVERYONE will love, write what feels urgent and true and trust that it will find its audience.
3. Develop a practice of discipline, like running or needle point, that can help you with the discipline of writing.
4. Build a community of friends who you respect, and will give you honest feedback and hold you accountable to your work.
5. Stand tall in your words, and don’t apologize before reading your work out loud to an audience. You are the expert on our own life.
Describe your writing space.
I share a small, sunny home office that also doubles as a guest room. I have a dark wooden desk pushed up against a wall, but what really makes my space is my lavender, plush swivel office chair. It was a gift from my partner, and honestly it is so very cozy. I like to write with a lit candle at my desk. I love citrus scented candles or floral scents like lavender or gardenia. On my desktop, I have a unicorn pencil holder, an “I WOKE UP LIKE THIS” desk plate, and lots of sticky notes. Above my desk I have three cork boards, where I post motivational images as well as outlining notes. Oh, also when I’m writing I’m normally surrounded by at least one mug of tea, a glass of water, and lots of snacks. Gotta have snacks.
What book or author has most influenced your own writing?
Toni Morrison. She breaks all the rules when she writes, she didn’t publish her first book until she was 39 years old, and she presents us with characters that are unapologetically Black, complex, wounded, strong, and resilient. I’ve read almost every one of her novels, and each time I re-read one I learn and discover new things. I consider her to be one of the most important American writers we have, and I love that she challenges readers. If you’re looking for an “easy” story, ToMo is not your girl. She makes readers work hard, and I love that. I aspire to write novels that are messy, true, and nuanced. I’m not interested in writing stories that get wrapped up with a neat bow at the end.
Share a favorite song!
I read an ARC of this novel and it was absolutely beautiful! I can't wait for everyone else to get their hands on it on 7/30/19!