Welcome to my book blog, Blissfully Bookish. For this Q & A, please welcome the fabulous author and one of my CPs, Alliah L. Agostini! We both share the same agent (Miranda Paul) so I was excited to chat with her about her new nonfiction picture book, The Juneteenth Story: Celebrating the End of Slavery in the United States, published by becker&mayer! kids (Quarto) and illustrated by Sawyer Cloud.
BUT first- YAY! Alliah is generously giving away a FREE signed copy of her book(US only). To be eligible to win, please enter the Rafflecopter contest by clicking HERE. Contest ends May 13, 2022.
Please describe the journey to publication for The Juneteenth Story: Celebrating the End of Slavery in the United States.
My agent, Miranda Paul, told me becker&mayer! kids was interested in developing a book about Juneteenth’s history. The opportunity struck a chord because my grandfather was one of the founders of my hometown’s Juneteenth celebration in 1976.
I started with a rough outline, but I immersed myself in research about the history of emancipation and Juneteenth’s evolution and dove into every book, article, audio and video recording I could find— I had so much material, but still had to be decisive since picture books are only so long.
My editors helped refine the narrative, and also made sure the book went through rounds of fact-checking and sensitivity reads to make sure the research and story were consistent.
Once the text was finalized, Sawyer Cloud (the illustrator), shared her incredible magic to give this story and all of these historical moments so much life with her vibrant, touching illustrations.
It was a pretty condensed timeline of less than a year, which is fast for publishing. But if I’ve learned one thing since I’ve joined the industry, it’s that there is no typical anything in publishing.
Where did you draw the book’s inspiration?
My inspiration came from wanting to lend my own voice and my experience to the narrative about Juneteenth. So many people think Juneteenth was, until recently, a scarcely celebrated holiday. But in some unexpected places (like Buffalo, NY) its roots run pretty deep. I wanted to make sure to bring this to life while also putting additional historical context around the holiday’s evolution, and even some of the personal perspectives. I also thought it was important to share the diversity of thought about Juneteenth within the Black community, and even the different ways Juneteenth was celebrated by people who were formerly enslaved vs. their descendants. Early readers have mentioned the book compelled them to do more research on their own about some of the moments in the book – that fills me with so much joy.
What ideas and inspiration would you most like to impart to children?
So much, but more than anything, I want them to know that they and their lived experiences are valuable and important.
What is your writing process, and does it vary depending on the project?
Oh – it definitely varies by project. Sometimes it starts with a nagging seed of an idea that I plop down in Evernote or a Google Doc. I have so many ideas that I just jot down on one of those tools so I don’t forget them.
I may google around or ask my critique partners if there’s anything similar. If too similar, I may halt, but if the topic is similar but my thoughts on execution are different enough, then I’ll proceed with hashing out a draft – sometimes very quickly.
But I revise relentlessly, then share it with my critique partners, share or read it to my family and sometimes other friends. My poor kids have seen so many picture-less picture books, but they’re very honest, so I value their opinion. Sometimes they talk about manuscripts I wrote like they’re already real books, that always makes me feel so gooey inside.
Then I’ll revise more until I send up a prayer and cross my fingers and hit send to share with my agent to see if it’s something we want to shop around.
An elegant, scientific process, isn’t it? (Ha!)
Please paste a short and compelling excerpt from your book.
Newly freed Texans began to feel the long-delayed warmth of liberty’s glow. As the news spread, they prayed, ate, and sang in celebration, though some were still in shock. Others left right away to search for and reunite with long-lost family members from whom they had been separated by slavery.
June 19 became Jubilee Day- it was their independence day.
Do you have other WIPs or projects in the pipeline you would like to mention?
Oh, I have a lot of WIPs- I have a slightly overwhelming spreadsheet with a number of manuscripts in various stages. That’s just how my brain works. There are a lot of picture books, a middle grade I’m excited about (but really need to finish!) and some others.
I fortunately some fun things in the pipeline, but only one other I can technically mention right now. It’s called BIG TUNE.
This is the book that was originally going to be my very first, but I still consider it my first book baby! It’s a fiction book in verse full of Jamerican black boy joy, set in Brooklyn in the early 1990’s.
It’s a lot of fun, and I can’t wait to share the final with everyone! The illustrator, Shamar Knight Justice, is on fire, and his illustrations are so creative.
Please share your favorite books from 2021 that have inspired you.
Born on the Water – Nikole Hannah-Jones and Renee Watson are brilliant women and writers to begin with, but I’m so glad they used their lyricism to reframe our (Black America’s) origin story for children. I wish I had had this book growing up, but I’m glad my children do.
Misfits by Michaela Coel – Michael Coel is the creative force behind television shows I May Destroy You and Chewing Gum, and the book originated from a lecture she gave in 2018. As a fellow Black female creative I just found the story of her journey to be inspiring, relatable, and honest. Making your true voice heard while working through channels owned and controlled by people whose lived experiences are largely unlike your own has its own set of challenges.
What is the best piece of advice you would give to other writers?
Have the courage to listen to your gut.
And a bonus question just for kicks! If you could be any animal, what would you be and why?
I would be a lioness, but with a lion’s mane (But how come they get to have the better hair? No fair!) Perhaps I’m drawn to lions since I’m a Leo, but as I get older, I feel myself getting more courageous and I see them as courageous animals.
Alliah L. Agostini grew up celebrating Juneteenth in Buffalo, NY; Her grandfather was one of the co-founders of the Juneteenth Festival of Buffalo. Founded in 1976, grew to become the third-largest Juneteenth celebration in the world.
A trained marketer with a passion for children’s literature, Alliah writes with a commitment to spread joy, truth, and to help more children see themselves on the page. Alliah is a member of SCBWI, KidLit in Color, Black Creators HQ, and the PB Sunrays, and she has both an A.B. and an M.B.A from Harvard.
Handles: @alliago – twitter and Instagram
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