Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Brooklyn Blossoms Book Club hosts GIRL RISING Screening for International Day of the Girl

Here's the second event for the Brooklyn Blossoms Book Club! I love the idea of a U.N. sanctioned International Day of the Girl (October 11th).  This brings to light all the atrocities that girls are facing around the world. I saw Girl Rising (10x10 Action Campaign) a few months ago and was moved to tears by each of the girls' stories, especially the one from Haiti, of course. Check out the trailer, a short feature with Edwidge Danticat, one of the narrators, and a flyer for the event!


Monday, September 16, 2013

huffington post's mom of the month

Mom of the month?! Okay. I'll take that. Though this was part of the mater mea feature. I do feel special, however. No impostor syndrome here. I deserve all accolades. I used to type while nursing. That involves some serious skills.

Read the interview here on the Huffington Post.

Monday, September 9, 2013 feature

My children and I were featured on this wonderful site highlighting mothers of color. I worked with a fantastic team of journalists, editors, and photographers. Very impressive. So honored to have had the opportunity to share my mothering story. I remember wanted to know all the details in the lives of other mothers. How in the world was it possible to do it all. My youngest is now 6. I did it. I survived. We all survived, in fact. Unfortunately, my husband Joseph was not featured here. Understandable. But there does need to be a pater mea.

You can get a glimpse into my home life (they took photos of knickknacks!) and my beautiful children and read all about how I manage (or mismanage) it all here on

Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Brooklyn Blossoms Book Club w/ Rita Williams-Garcia

Rita Williams-Garcia's sequel to the award-winning One Crazy Summer takes place in Bedford-Stuyvesant in the early 1970s. So I absolutely had to have this event at the Bedford-Stuyvesant Restoration Plaza, one block from where Delphine, the 12 year-old main character, lives with her grandmother, father, and two sisters. 

The event will feature a double-dutch contest, a reading and signing by Ms. Williams-Garcia, a 1970s fashion showcase by vintage boutique owner and friend Helen Williams Nurse, and girlie goodies by Soultanicals founder Ayo Ogun-McCants and her KiddieTanicals line. AND Greenlight Bookstore will be in there selling books that I personally hand selected!

This was a bit of a dream come true. I don't know why I love to do this, but it was absolutely fun planning and organizing this. I even took my daughters with me along Fulton Street in Bed-Stuy handing out flyers to any little girl we came across. 

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Rejectionist: Introducing the Brooklyn Blossoms Book Club!

Author Sarah McCarry of the wonderful blog The Rejectionist interviewed me about my new literacy initiative, the Brooklyn Blossoms Book Club. August 31st will be the inaugural event with guest author Rita Williams-Garcia and her new middle grade novel, P.S. Be Eleven.

Here's an excerpt from the interview:

Tell me about Brooklyn Blossoms Book Club! What's your ultimate plan for the book club? Who will be a part of it?
Well, the cutesy little name was my daughters' idea. They're ten and eight and they read lots, of course. I'm in the Writing for Children & Young Adults program at VCFA so my bookshelf is full of picture books, middle grade, and YA titles. My daughters are lucky to own nearly every single book featuring a black girl as its main character. I'm in a position to know what those titles are. Most folks are not. My daughters' friends' parents are not aware of what's out there for their daughters. When I read a good book that I know will empower a girl in some way, I want to hand out free copies at a schoolyard or something. That's how I felt about Rita Williams-Garcia's One Crazy Summer and P.S. Be Eleven. I just happen to have daughters who fit the age range for those books, and they have friends. So the Brooklyn Blossoms Book Club was inevitable.
But it's more than just a book club, of course. It's more of literacy initiative aimed at underserved girls in Brooklyn. By underserved, I mean the girls from neighborhoods with poorly funded libraries and no independent bookstore in sight. I want to hold book events in community centers or playgrounds and make certain books accessible to those who need them the most. I want our local libraries to be safe spaces for girls. Some libraries in Brooklyn are so underutilized. There are more young people waiting in line to use computers than there are sitting at tables reading books. It's not uncommon to see a girl making out in the corner of the library. I once a stopped a fight that was about to happen right on the steps of my local branch. I think the library staff spends more time babysitting than actually being librarians.
I want these girls to develop critical thinking and writing skills from book discussions. I want them to create skits from these books, make themed art projects, write book reviews, and interview authors on camera. I want literacy to be a multidisciplinary, engaging, and fun experience. I need these girls to begin to examine how they are portrayed and perceived in stories, and in the media in general, through the lens of picture books, middle grade, and YA titles. Ultimately, I want these girls to let the world know that they're brilliant, they have their own opinions, and they have the final say on what images and ideas they want to claim for themselves.
Read the rest of the interview here.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013's coolest black family in america #17

Our family is featured in's COOLEST BLACK FAMILY IN AMERICA series. It's the story of how we became a family.

Check out some family photos and the story here.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

memory is a mother

My mother has a big birthday today--ends in a 0 or a 5. I hesitate to say her age. She's a classy lady.

A lot of what a write has to do with mother daughter relationships. My young characters usually have to search for the source of their power within the folds of their mothers' memory. There's also the theme of immigration and tradition, what a mother chooses to pass on to her daughter in order to either assimilate into a new culture or retain certain cultural traditons from the old home.

In a country like Haiti, where my mother grew up during the Duvalier dictatorship, immigrant parents hold on to so many secrets. I've spent all of my adult life so far digging for those memories. My mother was a radio journalist. My father owned a radio station. But Haiti was no place for a young woman reporter. And America was no place for a young woman reporter who only spoke French. This makes me think of Langston Hughes' "Dream Deferred."
I couldn't bring myself to write anything other than a poem. Poems are fragmented and layered. This is how I know my mother and of her time in Haiti and why she chose to leave (if she had a choice). One day, I will have my children record her story. Memory is stories. Stories are culture. "Culture is a people's immune system." -Marimba Ani 

for you, mother, while you’re still here

while your sing-song voice still
lingers like delicate fingers
stroking piano keys

unlock cobwebbed memories
in dark corners
where two walls meet
like two open palms
catching falling water

holy Mary mother of me
pray sinner
catch stones, Magdelene
in the folds of your uniform
nurse the wounds with salty tears
bitter words have twisted your tongue
into the shape of this new home

nest the fruits of your labor pains
in the small of your back
where you rest your weary hands
head held high
up toward gray unforgiving skies
no mountains here
valleys are exalted

where opportunities bend to the will of dreams
and the past is rolled up into neat cylinders
and carefully placed into suitcases
labeled Haiti

no country for young truth tellers
wielding sharp words like machetes
cut Cain, sugar
wind the deceptive sweetness of suitors
around your clenched fists
and fight the cold winter winds
that threaten your very breath

sing French songs
as if roses sprout from your core
Comme d’habitude
as if you’ve reigned from your throne
atop La Tour Eiffel

because Pic la Selle was marked by rocky footpaths
your heels will stab the earth too deep
your jewels will blind the sun
your sea-blue dress will drink your sweat
and become the ocean
swallowing your body whole

and there the Lasirens will cradle you
within their wading arms
passing you from one mother to the next
until the first one greets you at the shores
of Ginen where you will remember yourself
gather the pieces
like broken ceramic cherubs
winged angels will fall to your feet
and the loas will rise and bow at your presence

but memory is an overflowing aluminum pot of diri kole
scoop by hot steaming scoop
of plump grains of rice
your children’s children will beg for more
during the great famine, mother

while you’re still here

May 25, 2013

Radio Difussion Haitienne.  Les Cayes, Haiti












Monday, May 6, 2013

Interview with

I've been going to for all things Haitian for quite some time now. I love their Haiti 101 series. It's a site that caters to young Haitians in the diaspora who want to connect to their culture, history, and the fabulous Who's Who in Haitian art and culture. So I am very honored to be featured in their latest interview. This was the most candid since the interviewer knew exactly what to ask. So I'd consider this a mini bio of sorts.

Ibi Zoboi: Interview with a Writer

To call writer Ibi Zoboi ‘versatile’ is an understatement. Her pen will write a compelling essay one minute, a short story the next, and a children’s book the next. A recurring theme in her works is identity and culture, mostly as seen through black and Haitian-American identity. What distinguishes her from other contemporary writers and authors with a Haitian background is the science fiction and fantasy factor. Zoboi founded Daughters of Anacaona Writing Project, an initiative for women of Haitian descent. “The Harem”, a short story she wrote was among the short story collection in the anthology Haiti Noir. Her latest work Bandit, a young adult fantasy novel, has garnered lots of acclaim, as well as the honor of being one of five works nominated for the prestigious Lee and Low New Visions Award. Zoboi’s A is for Ayiti is part of a series of children’s titles published by One More Book publishing.

Q & A

You are currently working on an MFA in Writing for children and teens.
Yes, I’m in my second semester. Best decision, ever! I’ve been calling myself a writer for fifteen years. I think in my last semester, in a matter of six months, I learned how to write a book. And I’m very much committed to writing for children and teens. This is the age where magic happens. Magic can be real in the mind and imagination of a child–magic for black children especially. I teach creative writing and essay writing in New York City public schools, so I call myself an “Imagination Teacher”. You wouldn’t believe how many of our children can’t fathom a magical world outside of their own realities. They’ve inherited such rich cultural traditions from the American South, the Caribbean, West Africa, and all they can come up with is Harry Potter, sparkly vampires, fairies, and unicorns. This is especially true for Haitian children. Why can’t we have tales of the lougarou and even the Vodou pantheon to instill cultural values? Ti Bouki and Ti Malice are fine, but we need some new narratives, silvouplĂ©!

How was it growing up Haitian in Brooklyn?That’s like an oxymoron. A Haitian in Brooklyn is basically…Haitian. There are enough Haitians around to make you feel right at home. The adjustments and the assimilation happened on the outside—–at work and at school. There’s a huge difference between growing up in Flatbush—Little Haiti & Little Caribbean—and growing up in Bushwick where I lived from age five to ten—Little Puerto Rico and Dominican Republic. If I’d spent my early years in Flatbush, I think I’d be a different person. But Bushwick was rough for a little Haitian girl. My mother had held on to her childhood memories of Haiti so she sent me to school wearing the very finest in French colonial schoolgirl attire—stiff, lacy, bright party dresses with matching ribbons. We’re talking 1980s crack era Bushwick here. Despite my name and clothes screaming Haitian against the graffiti and crack vile-strewn schoolyard, I denied it every single time. Someone would accuse me of being Haitian and I’d vehemently protest saying that I was full-blooded Dominicana. This was survival! Admitting to being Haitian was permission for a beat down. There were other Haitians around, but most times, we denied it so we never really found each other unless if our parents knew each other. You remember AIDS the 4 Hs back in the 80s? The saying was that you got AIDS from being a Homosexual, Heroine [addicts], Hemophiliacs, and—drumroll please—Haitian!

Please read the rest of the interview here.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Interview with Summer Edward, Founder of Anansesem Caribbean Children's Magazine

Excerpt from interview:

You're currently studying as an MFA student in Writing for Children & Young Adults at the Vermont College of Fine Arts. How important is pre–qualification in our field?

I don't think there is such a thing as pre-qualification in writing. An MFA does not a guarantee a salaried job once you graduate, of course. And choosing to get one is a very personal decision. The only thing a writer must do is to write very well. And I'm certainly getting those skills at VCFA. I'm not there to write one good book. I'm there to learn the craft of storytelling.

There are certain skills a writer needs to make a career out of telling a good story. The Writing for Children program is very specific and it was the first to offer such a program. I'm surrounded by award-winning faculty and students (Trinidadian writer Lynn Joseph is my classmate). I'm in my second semester and I've read nearly a hundred children's and teens' books so far. I've examined different craft concepts and themes in children's literature and worked closely on my last manuscript. Rita Williams-Garcia was my last advisor and I'm now working with Susan Fletcher.

I'm a mom of three and I'm forced to carve out a block of time to focus on reading and writing. This has been worth every (loaned) penny! And I'm committed to a life-long career of writing for children so this was a necessary investment.

Last year you won the Gulliver Travel Grant given annually by the Speculative Literature Foundation. How have you used the grant to further your writing career?

The grant did not necessarily further my writing career. It's a nice addition to a bio or query letter, of course. But it did help the novel that I was writing. I'm writing about Haiti and I needed to be there on the ground to get some of the details correct. I'd been relying on blurry memory and Youtube videos before then. I visited Haiti during Fete Gede, or Day of the Dead, and Gede figures prominently in my novel. The Speculative Literature Foundation does an excellent job of highlighting and supporting genre writers (fantasy and science fiction), and I was truly honored to be their 2011 winner.

You've written a fantasy YA novel, Bandit, that's yet to be published. I love the title of the novel. Can you give us a sneak preview of what it's about?

Sixteen year-old, Brooklyn-born Anacaona Makandal has the magical gift of being able to teleport things with her mind (stealing) and make things come to life with clay (pottery). Ana comes from a long line of Clay Women and she has also inherited her magical stealing powers from her father, the last Great Bandit of Haiti—a Robin Hood of sorts, who can travel between the world of the living, the world of the spirits (the Vodou loas/deities) and the ancestors—Ginen. She is the only girl in Haitian history to inherit such a gift. A girl isn't supposed to be a Great Bandit. She’s supposed to fine tune her prodigious sculpting skills to become a Clay Woman like her mother and foremothers.

Do you think there is a gap in the market for genre MG and YA books featuring so-called characters 'of color' and is that something you hope to address as a speculative fiction writer?

Yes, there is a serious dearth of multicultural books featuring characters of color, and more specifically, black characters. I can count on one hand how many sci-fi/fantasy books for young readers from diverse backgrounds have been published within the last couple of years. Zetta Elliott does an excellent job at articulating the lack of diversity in the industry.

I was writing speculative short stories for adults first, before this YA boom. I also worked with children and teens as a creative writing teacher. When I realized that some kids had a hard time placing themselves in the future or pulling from their own cultural mythologies to write sci-fi or fantasy, I became more determined to tell these stories where inner-city black and latino kids were the heroes and heroines of their own stories.

You submitted Bandit to the Lee and Low New Visions Award contest which recognizes a debut author of color for a middle grade or young adult science fiction, fantasy, or mystery novel. Now you're one of three finalists for the award; congratulations! What did you do to prepare your manuscript for submission?

I've been writing and calling myself a writer for the last thirteen years (Though things slowed down a bit after the birth of each of my three children). I think the time I've put into writing was the best preparation. I also got a chance to work on the first few chapters with my advisor at VCFA. What Lee and Low and Tu Books are doing is tremendous. There had been all these online discussions (and they're still happening) about diversity in children's books, and their New Voices and New Visions Awards addressed a serious need. I'm honored to be among the finalists.

The award winner will be announced on March 31. What will you do if you don't win? What will you do if you do?

I'm still working on my manuscript with my new advisor at VCFA. A book is not done until it's on a shelf. So I'm learning the very necessary art of re-writing. If I don't win, I get to work on it some more and make it even better. If I do win, I get to work on it some more and make it even better, but under a contract and a publication date. It's a win/win situation for me. I'm excited and sincere about the story that I'm telling, so I know it will get into the hands of readers with the help of some amazing folks. I've had some great ones who've helped me get this far.

Your first picturebook, A is for Ayiti, was recently published by One Moore Book. What have you learned about the art of writing picturebooks that you didn't know before?

Writing for children is very hard. A is for Ayiti is an ABC book based on Haitian culture using an English alphabet! Edwidge Danticat served as guest editor for the series and I had to go through several edits with her and the amazing publisher, Wayetu Moore. I also learned that there is a great need for more books like these. OMB's Haiti Series garnered so much support and attention. I'm so glad Wayetu Moore took on this huge task. A is for Ayiti was translated into Kreyol and copies are being sent to Haiti. I was so proud to be a part of this series.

Read the rest of the interview here.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

On Beasts in the Wilderness

Beasts of the Southern Wild has been the only movie to make me wail like a newborn.  This was not a sad, defeated wail.  It was a cry of pure joy.  I loved this movie and I care deeply about whether or not it wins an Academy Award tonight, how far its young actress, Quvenzhane Wallis, will go in her career, and how it’s perceived by those from NOLA who experienced Hurricane Katrina firsthand.  Conversely, I don't like that I loved it within the context of all things heirarchical, and all the other isms that exist in the world. 

Here’s why:  New Orleans and Haiti are two extremely spiritually charged Vodou centers.  The winds in these two places are Vodou’s breath.  Two disasters have claimed bodies here; one with raging wind and water (Hurricane Katrina), the other with a parting earth (1.12.10 earthquake). 

Beasts creator Benh Zeitlin has “assembled a new myth out of Hurricane Katrina."  And I suppose a new myth out of Haiti’s earthquake is not too far behind. Oh, wait.  A YA novel about Haitian boy during the earthquake and the spirit of Toussaint L’ouverture, In Darkness by Nick Lake, is the recent winner of the Printz Award. 
Some folks were very critical of Beasts, with good reason.  And sharp reasoning and critical thinking skills were required to peel away at Beasts of the Southern Wild to get to the meat and bones of what this movie was really conveying.

Taking from what others have written:

1.       Poverty porn. 

2.       Pickaninny stereotype. 

3.       White male gaze. 

All wrapped within a thin layer of tragic cinematographic beauty.  And I still loved it!  This dichotomy or hypocrisy is problematic.  But it's okay.  I’m not in a mental space right now (grad school overload) to adequately give a sharp-witted and concise review of exactly what was so intriguing about this film or a response to each of the criticisms above.  What I offer instead is a series of questions and musings on the larger metaphors the film has presented.  It resonated with me on so many levels.  And yet, I find each of the scathing reviews criticizing the story and its creators to be somewhat true and accurate.  I’ve seen Beasts three times—each with a different eye (yes, including the third one).  One for the artistry and beauty; another with a critical gaze of who was telling the story, for what purpose, and to what end; and the third for a purely intuitive response. 

 On Beasts
Who were the beasts?  The residents of Bathtub?  Hushpuppy and little wild-haired, underfed, and abandoned children like her?  The pre-historical aurochs breaking past the icy barriers of time to take revenge on the lowest rung on the human hierarchy? 

Initially, for me, the beasts were every dark, evil thing that has ever walked the earth—in animal form, human form, spirit form, in the form of ideas—this monstrous thing that has preyed on the least amongst us since the dawn of time.  I’m a poet.  I live for metaphors and symbolic truth.  I bend reason, twist and turn it sometimes, to fit it into a deeper meaning.

Hushpuppy was able to face this evil that threatened her life and the life of those she loved.  She literally looked it in the eye and it bowed to her. This was when I bawled.  Here was this character—a little girl, black, poor, the ultimate underdog—and here was this primordial creature come back to life to wreak havoc on the planet (metaphor for climate change, I guess), and it bowed to her.  She looked it in the eye and was like get-out-my-way-cause-I’ve-got-to-take-care-of-mine.  Climate change and racism and oppression and poverty and corporate greed be damned.  She still had to LIVE.  There was no room for fear.  There was no room for tears.  (“The hyper-masculinity of the black girl-child,” someone wrote.)

Well, okay. This message could’ve been conveyed without the poor child walking around in her underwear, sharing food with pigs, and her daddy slapping her around.  But…

I’ve never been to Cite Soleil or La Saline, Haiti.  There are others all over the world.  What the media calls squalors, dumps, slums. 

I’ve been to Port-au-Prince where I had to use a plastic bucket of water to flush a toilet.  Try doing that in the dark where much needed electricity is constantly stolen from you without warning.  This is nothing compared to...anything.  This wasn’t dire poverty, or course.  This was the reality of history, access to technology, corrupt governments, etc.  You live.  You make do.  You still have to eat.
Hunger.  To not see the possibility of a meal around the bend of tomorrow is maddening.  There’s no room for reasoning here.  The daily labor of literally providing a home, gathering scraps of discarded things, finding and making food, a living, is taxing on the body.  Tender moments of affection seep through the cracks like dripping rain.  Abandonment is “gone to look for work, to find food”. 

This is the wilderness of poverty where nothing is tamed and placid and cultivated. 

On Wild Things

 UNICEF Photo of the Year 2008 by Alice Smeets.
Beasts of a Haitian Wild

Me.  Les Cayes, Haiti.  Wild, yes.  But home within my village, loved and cared for.  I remember wilderness.  Beasts reminded me of that place, buried in my memory, and my mother’s perhaps, of hurricane winds and nothing but mangos for weeks in rural Haiti.  And a village. 

 What do you offer as empowerment to a black girl-child who sees nothing but scarcity around her?
Ultimately, who controls these stories?  Who wields these mythologies out into our collective dream psyches?  How are other narratives being exalted so that there is a balance of art and truth?  We are so starved for images that (initially) seem to present us in a powerful and magical light, that we will swallow whole whatever is fed to us. 

What this presents is the idea of poverty as normative for a certain demographic.  This is what Chimamanda Adichie Ngozi describes as the “single story;” the single story that places the black girl heroine in the most inhumane and dire circumstances.  The question that all stories must answer to break out of the confines of this monolithic narrative is how does our heroine ultimately reign supreme over everything that’s been handed to her?  This has to be done delicately, with unwavering empathy, and with a critical eye towards social hierarchy in all forms. 

Do we tame the wild things, or allow them to embrace their idea of freedom?  And this is also a question for all artists in general.  What stories do we tell?  And who, ultimately, has the means and resources to tell them?