Yolanda T. Marshall is a Guyanese-born Canadian author. In 2015, after becoming a mom, Yolanda was inspired to write her first children’s book named Keman’s First Carnival. Yolanda is also the author of A Piece of Black Cake for Santa, Sweet Sorrel Stand, Miles Away In The Caribbean, and My Soca Birthday Party: With Jollof Rice & Steel Pans.
A world traveller, a jazz lover, and a devoted mother, she embodies art and takes her readers on adventurous, cultured journeys. Yolanda lives in Toronto, Canada with her family.
Author Q&A with Yolanda Marshall
Where do you find the inspiration for your books?
My son is my greatest inspiration. I genuinely do believe that if it weren’t for the birth of my son, Miles, I wouldn’t be a children’s book author. His entrance into this world forced me to pause and make peace with the fact that I rarely saw myself or my culture in picture books. I didn’t want him to experience the same faith. All the beautiful celebrations that will bring my Canadian child joy as he embraces his Caribbean/African heritage are what I write about. My inner child also inspires me — I want to write and share the festive stories I wish I had growing up.
What were your favourite books when you were a kid? As a young reader, did you see yourself in the books you read?
As a child, I had the Sweet Pickles series. My parents read to me every night; this collection was my favourite. The books were based on the fictional town of Sweet Pickles, consisting of 26 animals with exciting personalities and quirks. As I grew older, I found a few books I could relate to and saw myself in, specifically Heinemann’s Caribbean Writers Series. Most of these books were for the older grades, but the stories captured my attention, and I also saw myself in the authors like Beryl Gilroy.
What’s the most surprising thing you have learned when creating your books?
Authenticity works! If my books can teach parents of the Caribbean/African diaspora about their culture and trigger joyful nostalgia in my elders, I know I have hit the jackpot. Surprisingly, this lesson has allowed me to build confidence in crafting my stories. All my readers are invited to read differently. Also, if I am genuinely excited about the book, that energy is felt in words.
What is a challenge you have faced as a writer?
I happily exited a marriage when my son was just a year old. Although I love writing, it comes with its demands of sleepless nights while raising a child alone with a full-time job. I used to have the challenge of getting publishers to invest in my books written with Canadian-born characters of Caribbean/African heritage celebrating their cultures in Canada. I invested in myself and self-published my earlier books — no grants/loans. I refused to sit and complain about this challenge — I challenged myself to get it done and did it. Now that a small press publisher traditionally publishes my stories, I have conquered this challenge. After all, I have allies by my side. Challenges will always exist, and I plan to continue to write and dance around and over them.
What advice do you have for kids who are interested in writing?
Read as many books as you can. Explore the world through literate. I was once that kid who loved visiting libraries to smell the pages of old books before reading them. It was my safe place and space. Write your thoughts and stories — especially if you enjoy or want to express the emotions you are writing about. You know that little joke you told your friends? Write about it, even if it didn’t make them laugh. Write about what you learnt after reading an interesting book. Also, a dictionary will always be your best friend. Learn a new word every day for the rest of your life!