Happy 2019! Welcome to KidLit Coffee Talk! Grab a cup of coffee (or tea) and read on to learn more about the incredible Alexandria LaFaye. I first met Alexandria when I joined the talented group of writers of Storm Literary Agency. Her latest picture book, Follow Me Down to Nicodemus Town (Albert Whitman & Co.) was released on January 1st, 2019. Follow Me Down to Nicodemus Town was illustrated by Nicole Tadgell.
First off, what kind of coffee (or tea) do you like to drink?
While I do enjoy the smell of coffee, I rather prefer to drink a good steaming hot cup of chai, preferably pumpkin with steamed milk. My favorite cup is yellow with flowers and my favorite word, “Mom” on it.
There’s nothing like drinking a hot drink out of your favorite mug. Tell me a little bit about yourself and your writing journey.
I grew up in a small Wisconsin town with an elementary school just large enough to get lost in and discovered about 60 seconds after my arrival that I was a complete and total geek! Now, I’m taller. I constantly told stories—while playing, while making art, while waiting in line at the bathroom—to talk to people, I didn’t really have to go. The folks in my school weren’t ready for my brand of weird, so they shunned me. I thought, “Well, they don’t to be friends because they don’t truly know me, but what could I do to make them want to get to know me?” My big plan at the time was to become famous. When I learned that a six year old had published a book, I thought, hey, if she can do it, so can I. I didn’t count on it taking me twenty years to accomplish that, but you know what they say about good things and waiting. Of course, I did a lot of reading and writing and revising during that wait. Since I just tried to spell “wait” as “weight,” I should probably point out that I have dyslexia so reading and writing were a challenge for me in school. And what do I do for a living? I’m an author who is also an English professor. I LOVE irony! Don’t you?
I’ve been writing since I was a child, so I’ve been on this writer’s journey for decades. And if I were to describe it briefly, I would say that it’s all about reading as a writer, committing to continual growth, networking, and never giving up. I’ve published 15 books so far and I hope to, at least, double that before I’m done. (Pst! Secretly, I’d like to publish 99 books.)
Wow, in your life you are truly immersed in reading and writing. Tell me about your newest book, Follow Me Down to Nicodemus Town.
I’m a huge fan of history as a writer and a studier of the past and the stories for history that inspire me the most are the ones about people who faced great odds and succeeded. I’m also committed to increasing public awareness of elements of history that have often been overlooked, hidden, or underrepresented. As a huge supporter of equity, social justice, and diversity, I want every voice to be heard, every work of art seen, and every story told. Follow Me Down to Nicodemus Town is the story of a fictional family within the real historical community of African American homesteaders, known as Exodusters, who established the frontier community of Nicodemus, KS. I wanted to share this story because so few people know the stories of the Exodusters.
I love picture books that focus on overlooked moments in history. What was the most exciting part of the publication process? What was the hardest?
That would be hard to winnow down to one thing, but when it comes to picture books, I’d have to say it’s probably the illustrations. It’s so exciting to see the artist’s rendition of your work, but it’s also very hard because the artwork is an expression of their interpretation of your story, and there’s no guarantee they will see it in a way that complements your view of the story. With my last two picture books, I’ve been incredibly lucky to work with two amazing artists who had very similar views of the stories and they both expanded on them in ways that truly improved the whole storytelling experience. Eglatine Ceuleman’s interepretation of the life and school experiences of Bartholomew Botts in No Frogs in School (Sterling, 2018) is so zany, full, and comical, I pouring over and delighting in the details of that book. Nicole Tadgell’s interpretation of Dede, the main character of Follow Me Down to Nicodemus Town, is so wonderfully radiant, strong, and empowering. Ms. Tadgell also did a truly wonderful job of bringing life on the praire alive, recognizing the amazing role the skyscape plays in that world. Her historical accuracy in depicting the town of Nicodemus as it was when it first began is also wonderful.
I absolutely agree – the illustrations in both of your latest picture books are gorgeous. What else are you working on?
My next book is a collaboration with the wonderful author-artist Lea Lyon and the illustrator Jessica Gibson. Ready to Fly (HarperCollins, 2020) is based on the amazing life of Sylvia Townsend, an amazing African American ballerina who was denied access into ballet classes as a child, so she taught herself how to dance ballet from books she loaned out of the bookmobile. She went on to open her own dance studio which is still open today. You could say, I favor stories about unsung heroes.
That sounds wonderful! I can’t wait to read it! What is your favorite part of being a published author?
Hearing from people who have been touched by the books I’ve written in positive and empowering ways. I also LOVE to do school visits to remind kids that they should never overlook or ostracize members of their class because everyone is born to be an amazing person and we should all work together to help all members of our community realize their dreams.
What’s one picture book you loved when you were little and a more recent one you love now?
One of my favorites was a classic by the time I read it and you hardly even see the book anymore. It’s Robert Bright’s Georgie and it’s about a friendly ghost. Now adays, it’s so hard to pick just one, but I have to say, I’m a HUGE fan of Beekle, that bus-driver wannabe pigeon, and a British picture book about a misidentified escaped bear Silly Doggy.
Beekle is one of my favorites, too. What are you currently reading?
I’m slogging my way through Map of Days because I’ve read the others. The concept behind these books is great, but I must say that I wish they had an equal about of artistry in the writing and depth of character development.
I always love to hear what other writer friends are reading. Last question, what is one thing most people don’t know about you?
Oh, but I can’t tell you, it’s a secret.
Ha ha! Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions!
To learn more about Alexandria, visit her website at https://www.alafaye.com
Connect with her on social media
Facebook – @alafayeauthor
Twitter – @Sylvanocity
Now, it’s GIVEAWAY TIME!
Alexandria has generously offered to give one lucky reader the opportunity to win a prize of their choice:
- an autographed copy of Follow Me Down to Nicodemus Town
- a classroom Skype visit
- a picture book manuscript critique
To enter the giveaway, simply comment on this post. A winner will be chosen at random on Tuesday, January 15th. And don’t forget to subscribe to my blog. Good luck!