Renée Watson writes about the Black girl’s experience with authenticity and heart. We caught five minutes with her while she was on the press tour of her latest title, Ways To Make Sunshine.
Everyone should be taking notice of Renée Watson. She is the Newbery Honor and Coretta Scott King Author Award-winning author of the novels Piecing Me Together, This Side of Home, What Momma Left Me, Betty Before X, co-written with Ilyasah Shabazz, and two picture books: Harlem’s Little Blackbird and A Place Where Hurricanes Happen.
In her latest book, Ways to Make Sunshine, Renée’s thought-provoking portrayal of a Black girl’s experience is a joy to read, as we shared here. Renée Watson charmingly represents culture, identity, and family alongside characters readers will love and identify with.
On her recent press trail, Renée spoke to Melan about her latest novel, the importance of visibility for young readers, her favourite authors as a child and her writing plans for the future.
Melan interviews Renée Watson
Is Ryan based on anyone?
Yes and no. The character Ryan is named after my Goddaughter, Ryan. Like the character, the real Ryan loves to make up recipes and experiment in the kitchen. They are both thoughtful and kind, and both live in Oregon. But everything else in the book, in terms of what Ryan experiences is all fiction.
What’s the story behind Ryan’s name?
I give a lot of care to the names of my main characters. Ryan means king so I used that to inform character development. Her parents are always telling her to be who they named her to be, so Ryan is trying to figure out how to be a leader, how to be kind, and how to push past her fears and try new things.
What do you want children to feel when they read the book?
I hope Ways to Make Sunshine inspires young people to focus on the good things happening around them even when they’re having a not-so-good day. I also hope children feel like it’s okay to make mistakes, that they can always try again and again. Ryan is not perfect, but she is trying to be the best person she can be.
Most of all, I hope children feel joy when they read the book. There is so much going on in the world, and I want young readers to have a book that can be a friend to them, that can give them a space to laugh and cheer a character on.
“I believe every child needs to see their lives reflected in literature. Stories validate our own experiences so if a person never sees themselves on the page, they might feel like they don’t belong… “
How important is visibility and representation in books for children?
I believe every child needs to see their lives reflected in literature. Stories validate our own experiences so if a person never sees themselves on the page, they might feel like they don’t belong, that their story is not important, or that no one else is experiencing what they are experiencing.
As much as it is important for young readers to have stories they can relate to, I believe young readers also need stories where they have to stretch and practice empathy for worlds and characters that they are not familiar with.
What did you enjoy reading as a 11-year-old?
I loved books by Beverly Cleary and Judy Blume. I also read a lot of poetry. Nikki Giovanni, Lucille Clifton, Maya Angelou, and Langston Hughes were some of my favorite poets to read as a child.
Who are your favourite three authors of all time?
Sandra Cisneros, Nikki Grimes, and Lucille Clifton.
You are incredibly versatile as a writer. What’s your best writing genre?
I really enjoy writing across all age groups. I don’t have a favorite. Usually when I get an idea, I ask myself, “What’s the best way to tell this story?” and sometimes the story feels better as a picture book or a poem, a story for ten-year-olds or a story for teens.
I had a lot of fun writing Ways to Make Sunshine because writing for younger middle grade readers gave me an opportunity to let the character be more playful and imaginative than some of my older characters. I loved thinking up challenges for Ryan and finding creative and sometimes humorous ways for her to solve those problems.
“I loved thinking up challenges for Ryan and finding creative and sometimes humorous ways for her to solve those problems.”
Do you have plans to write fiction for adults?
Absolutely! I hope to write adult fiction and I’ve love to write a screenplay one day.
Tell us about “I, Too”, why did you set it up?
I started I, Too Arts Collective because I wanted to create a space where underrepresented voices in the creative arts could be nurtured, where those voices were amplified and celebrated. We were housed in the Harlem brownstone where Langston Hughes lived and created. It was such a sacred space and we wanted to make sure his home was used to hold writing workshops for young people, readings, conversations, and book launch celebrations. We existed for four years and I am so proud of the work we did.
What are you working on next?
I just finished two projects. My next YA novel, Love is a Revolution, will be out in February 2021 and book two of the Ryan Hart series comes out spring 2021.
Ways To Make Sunshine is published by Bloomsbury Children’s Books. Buy the book here.