We had the opportunity to chat with Nadia L. Hohn, the editor of The Antiracist Kitchen and author of Malaika, Carnival Queen. Read on to learn more about Nadia and her writing!
Q: Where do you find the inspiration for your books?
A: The inspiration for my books comes from different places, for example, my love for my Jamaican heritage, Black history, and Caribbean culture. Some of my story ideas come from my experiences as a teacher in response to a question or problem that I have in my classroom. For example, one of the inspirations for The Antiracist Kitchen: 21 Stories (and recipes) was the fact that I enjoyed cooking with my students and didn’t see enough resources to help elementary school teachers build community and do antiracist work within their classrooms in an age-appropriate way. I wrote A Likkle Miss Lou after seeing how enthusiastically some of my first grade girls embraced and memorized the patois-infused Education (Studeration) by Jamaican poet Louise Bennett Coverley.
I am also inspired by events that happen to me or in my family, like the birth of a younger sibling in Malaika’s Surprise, the loss of my migrant farm worker grandfather as a young man in Malaika, Carnival Queen, or a road trip in the upcoming Getting Us to Grandma’s.
I am also inspired to write the kind of books that I would have wanted to read as a child and that reflect the diverse students that I teach. I believe all children should see themselves reflected in the pages of books.
Q: What were your favourite books when you were a kid? As a young reader, did you see yourself in the books you read?
A: When I was a child, I loved to read non-fiction books about children who lived in countries around the world or that showcased different cultures and languages. I imagined myself visiting these places some day.
I always looked for books with Black characters and if I found them, I’d read them.
I eventually discovered Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White at a Scholastic Book Fair which I absolutely enjoyed reading. Then I read books in the Little House and Baby-Sitters Club series, as well as Judy Blume’s titles.
I was born in the late 1970s, but grew up in Toronto in the 1980s and 1990s. I really loved to read books that featured younger Black or Caribbean characters but they were so difficult to find. When I was about 11 years old and found Harriet’s Daughter by M. NourbeSe Philip, which was about Black Caribbean girls and set in Toronto, I knew it was a rare gem.
In high school, I discovered fiction by more Black young adult authors like Walter Dean Myers, Rita Williams Garcia, and a couple of other titles by June Jordan and Rosa Guy. And I also went on to read adult books by African American authors like Alice Walker, Terry McMillan, Maya Angelou, and Toni Morrison.
Q: What’s the most surprising thing you have learned when creating your books?
A: The most surprising thing that I have learned when creating my books is that my list of topics and stories to write is always growing. Another surprise was the number of roles that I get to take on as an author—tour coordinator, presenter, editor, interviewee/interviewer, reading series host, moderator, graphic- and web-designer, social media manager, workshop clinician, professor, marketer, audiobook narrator, storyteller, writing student, activist, advocate, grant writer, sensitivity reader, and juror, in addition to my job as an elementary school teacher. I enjoy this variety.
But the biggest surprise for me was that writing stories and creating books would be my career. Even though I had kept a diary from the age of 9, wrote and illustrated stories starting at age 7, started two novels by 13, and had a few letters to the editor published by the time I graduated high school. While there, I wrote for my newspaper, penned announcements and read them on the school PA system, and staged some of my short plays, even entering one into a contest for young playwrights at Young People’s Theatre. Even after an upper year high school student told me that she had a feeling that I would be an author someday “like Alice Walker” (her words). Still, I never knew I could become a writer as a career… I presumed I wasn’t talented enough and that being an author was for “other people” who lived in the United States. I had never met any authors and my imposter syndrome was very real for the longest time—even when I got offered my first book contract for Malaika’s Costume. I think Teenaged Me would be thrilled to know that I am now an author today.
Q: What is a challenge you have faced as a writer?
A: A challenge that I have faced as a writer is finding more time to write. Sometimes I wish I had more hours in a day and all of my living costs covered, so I could focus exclusively on my writing. I also need to remember that my path is my own and will not look like anyone else’s. I’ve dealt with financial, health, and personal challenges and loss, as well as discrimination, but no matter what, I have kept on writing.
Q: What advice do you have for kids who are interested in writing?
A: The advice I have for kids who are interested in writing is to keep going, share their stories and read a lot of books. I would tell them not to throw their stories or any writing away. Keep the drafts. You never know when you will need them or what other projects can be developed into.