Authentic and Transformative: Interview with Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich

Closing out my Women’s History Month interviews with women I admire, a talk with my dear friend and co-author, Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich.

I met Olugbemisola's words before I met her via a NJ SCBWI critique group. And I was flat-out floored by the voice. Reggie, the star of her novel 8th Grade Superzero, just about killed me with authenticity. Which was kind of a perfect way to get to know her, as authentic is just about a perfect word to describe her.

You’ll see. Read on.

You are an active member of the We Need Diverse Books (WNDB) Movement, the Brown Bookshelf, and probably at least 43 other impressive organizations. Can you discuss what draws you to those organizations and how does the work you do there feed you?

Books! Are Awesome! I'm all about sharing the power and joy of reading. Reading is an act of expansion. Reading is, as is often said, a political act.  I grew up in a household where conversation about and action around social justice was a regular part of our lives; I worked as a literacy educator for many years, and know firsthand how vital it is for all readers to have "windows, mirrors, and sliding glass doors," as Rudine Sims-Bishop once said.  We live in a system that ignores and often actively suppresses voices that don't represent the dominant culture, and my work with WNDB and The Brown Bookshelf is about amplifying the voices of underrepresented and marginalized creators and readers. In this country, we often seem to resist the radiance and power of the stories of the world, and I think that diminishes us. Reading, sharing, discussing, enjoying, grappling with literature that truly represents the multi-faceted world that we live in is such a wonderful opportunity -- I always want to be a part of celebrating and promoting that.

What draws you to the nonfiction subjects you write about? Can you talk about them?
Ella Baker once spoke about wanting all people to know that they had "something in their power they could use,” and I'm drawn to stories likes hers, along with Ella Jenkins, Lena Horne, Louise Bennett Coverley, Ida B. Wells, and Shirley Chisholm -- women who discovered a power within and used it to promote justice, to empower others.  Oh, and music -- I'm drawn to anything that has to do with music. And figure skating. And the early 90s New York Knicks. And tea.

We could stop here to discuss John Starks if you want.

Or I could ask what literary or other events or publications are you excited about this year or in the years ahead?

We have Two Naomis coming out in September -- I can't wait! It was so much fun, discovering these girls together. Collaboration taught me so much, about myself as a writer, about how different points of view can enrich a story, and about how wonderful it can be to have a writing partner to share the ups and less ups of the publishing business with. :) (Bad grammar, sorrynotsorry.)

I loved the way we could throw a (friendly) curve ball in our chapter and see how it was handled or ignored or thrown right back in the next. But more than anything, I felt like the luckiest reader because I got new chapters of your beautiful prose in my inbox on a regular basis.

I'm also very excited about my essay in The Journey Is Everything, edited by Katherine Bomer, an educator and writer whom I've long admired. The collection is meant to expand students' views on essay writing, to remind us of the power of essays to transform our thinking, expand our vision, foster all kinds of learning beyond the "5 paragraph formula.” I wrote for the first time about grieving the death of my mother, after her relatively short and intense struggle with MS. I was given the space to write without the goal of being "inspirational" or of "moving beyond" pain, but to write about what it means to be in the midst of it, to live in it. The act of writing in that way was a powerful one for me, and I hope that it can encourage students to think of writing as a way to live in and work through challenging times. Even in the process of writing the piece, I made new discoveries, and was transformed. That is one of the most beautiful and powerful things about the process of writing -- that transformation, along with the possibility to connect with oneself and/or someone else.

(For the record, I would like this image to be as large as the one above. But ineptitude keeps me from achieving that goal.)

(For the record, I would like this image to be as large as the one above. But ineptitude keeps me from achieving that goal.)

And that right there, that’s authentic. Because I never had the words to say it before, but “without the goal of being ‘inspirational’ or of ‘moving beyond’ pain." Yes. That. Exactly.

What a perfect note to end on. (Bad grammar, sorrynotsorry.)