Bringing Diversity to Literature: Interview with Book Publisher, Margeaux Johnson

Margeaux Johnson has a background in writing and editing and previously wrote articles for ebony.com and others. When Johnson was looking for children’s books her Nigerian son could relate to, she saw a huge lack. So, Johnson wrote her children’s book Auntie’s Crown for her son and kids like him.

After Johnson, was asked “How can I start publishing my own books?” she decided to focus on publishing diverse authors to fill the void in the current literary world. She started Little Blk Books, a publishing company, primarily focused on diverse books and providing representation for children of color.

Margeaux Johnson Edit
Johnson with her book, Auntie’s Crown.

What’s your main inspiration to write?
I have a son who’s 7 and I’m writing these stories for him. My book, Auntie’s Crown, is for him. I’m also a teacher, so, it’s about things I’ve heard children say and things I’ve overheard them talk about. Because I’m a teacher and I have these experiences with children, it makes me want to write for them as well.

What genre is your favorite to write about and why?
I like sci-fi. I like to write Afro-futurism type stories. I think I just like writing. It’s really a good outlet for me.

“You want to provide kids with stories that they can relate to and gain an appreciation for literature and in doing so, you have to provide books that have characters who look and feel like them.”

What drove you to start Little Blk Books?
I’ve taught every grade from 4th to 11th. It’s very interesting seeing how children grow and what they’re concerned about. One of the things that drove me to get this off the ground and get more people to read diverse books was something my student told me. We were reading a story in English class and everybody was bored, so I said “What would make this story more interesting to you?” And one of my students said “Why don’t we read any books about black people?” I asked if they all felt like that and they all said “Yes.”

You want to provide kids with stories that they can relate to and gain an appreciation for literature. In doing so, you have to provide books that have characters who look and feel like them.

Screen Shot 2017-09-12 at 1.30.07 PM
Coloring book available at http://littleblkbooks.com.

Who are your favorite authors?
 I love Ernest Gaines. We read A Lesson Before Dying and a lot of the reason my class liked it was because they could relate to the words that Gaines used and the vernacular of Southern Louisiana. I also love Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Nnedi Okorafor.

What’s your favorite book?
A Gathering of Old Men is probably my favorite book because I felt like I saw my family in that book. Also, Americanah really spoke to me just because it was representative of things some of my friends have gone through, being of another culture. It opened a lot of people’s eyes.

What are currently your favorite children’s books?
Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters. I just introduced my son to Virginia Hamilton’s The People Could Fly: American Black Folk Tales.

“I read it to remind myself that freedom is not free and that my liberties can be taken away.”

What book should all Black people read in their lifetime?
For the past few years, I always read the autobiography of Assata Shakur. I read it to remind myself that freedom is not free and that my liberties can be taken away. I’m reminded of that book when you see black women in situations like Sandra Bland.

What is the current submission process for publication consideration?
The best way is to submit through the website, littleblkbooks.com

What’s your goal for Little Blk Books right now?
My goal is to promote people who write diverse books. We have some really good Indie authors that the public wouldn’t hear about by working with a large publisher.

 

“There are going to be more diverse books for children and it’s because people spoke up.”

What makes you hopeful about Black literature? 
There’s a lot of things going on right now. What makes me hopeful is black people succeeding, particularly black women.

I didn’t know ten years ago that there was a community of black women who were like me. Ten years ago I felt like I was an awkward black girl and now, there are a lot of us. Social Media pages like @WellReadBlackGirl and @weneeddiversebooks, things like that, make me hopeful because there’s a community of people gathering and talking about reading.

I also want to point out that there is a gap in children’s literature. A few years ago when i was looking for agents I didn’t see them specifically saying “I’m really interested in diverse characters.” Now I see a lot of agents looking specifically for that. There are going to be more diverse books for children and it’s because people spoke up.

What advice would you give for young African Americans looking to make a career in the publishing industry?
I would say do a lot of research. For example, Tomi Adeyemi, the author of the upcoming Children of Blood and Bone is very young and talks about Pitch Wars which is how she got her start. I’m saying this to give an example of what another author did. Some people go through publishing houses and some people did like I did and started their own publishing company.

“If you think about writing and you wake up wanting to write, find a way to do it.”

What advice would you give to aspiring authors about the publishing industry?
If you really want to do it, now is a really good time as far as options. If you want to write then you should write even if it’s writing different articles for different websites or blogs. I just wanted to write and I kept going and writing for different websites. I finally got to interview my favorite person, Issa Rae for ebony.com, she has a really great spirit. If you think about writing and you wake up wanting to write, find a way to do it.

Author: Noelle Bailey

Hey! I'm Noelle. I'm a LA native and self-proclaimed professional daydreamer. When I'm not working I love to blog, enjoy a good view, design, or nap. I love understanding what motivates people, what discourages them and everything in between. Follow my daydreams @noelledaydream on Instagram.

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