Angela Shelf Medearis

The Austin children's book author on reading, writing, and race.

How did you get started writing children’s books?

I was working as a legal secretary, and I got fired. I had some time to figure out what I wanted to do, and I knew it wasn’t going to be in the clerical field anymore. I had always liked reading, and when I was growing up, there were never any African American main characters or even supporting characters in books. I really wanted to change that, so I thought I would try writing.

But not all of your work is for children.

No. I’ve written four cookbooks. When my mother got her first social security check, she realized she was going to have to do something to supplement her income. She decided to bake pies. I said, “You will kill yourself trying to do that.” I suggested that she sell recipe cards instead. Eventually I wound up working with her on a cookbook. Some of my ideas just happen like that. One thing leads to another.

Do you ever incorporate characters of other races or ethnicities into your stories?

That’s a question I get asked a lot. I’ve noticed that white authors never get asked that. The answer is, I do it all the time. All my books are pretty diverse, except if I’m writing about my family. There’s a lot of black people there.

What are some of the particular issues confronting the African American children in your audience?

There’s always the negative to be overcome. It’s the elephant in the room that everybody can see but nobody is talking about. Somebody once said, “Yeah, you can win the race, but it would be a lot easier if you weren’t handcuffed and tied up when you started.” It’s tiring for children. I think that’s something a lot of teachers may not realize. African American children have a lot to deal with, and they’re tired. So you have to find ways that you can draw them in. You can do that with books. With a book, you can show we have the same emotions, family structure, and ups and downs that people of other races have.

Do you think the schools

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