In the fall of 2022, we spoke with author and alumnx Laura Obuobi (WCYA ‘21) about her 2022 picture book publication Black Gold, her upcoming publications, and her participation in the founding of the WCYA BIPOC Writers Group—a Slack group and newsletter for BIPOC students and alumnx in the WCYA program. Read excerpts from our conversation below.
ON HOW SHE CAME TO THE WORLD OF WRITING
I spent most of my early years consuming stories in all forms—movies, plays, books, oral folktales, and listening to audio stories on cassette tapes when I was very little. I had a few opportunities in high school and in college to explore writing short fiction for fun, and even though I thoroughly enjoyed those assignments, I did not consider it as something I would or could do as a career until a few years into working as a preschool teacher. Since I had spent so much time with picture books and preschoolers, the first stories I tried writing were picture books. Soon after I started drafting my first picture books, I realized that it would be important to plug myself into the writing world in New York City primarily through writing conferences. I also began to follow more book influencers, authors, writers, and writing organizations on social media. Along the way, I discovered the WCYA VCFA program and eventually applied to it. I was a little scared to leave the classroom and immerse myself into writing full-time for two years as a graduate student, but it was extremely worth it. Besides the learning and resources I gained at VCFA, I also have a lovely network of friends and colleagues who understand what it means to be an author or writer, and they inspire and encourage me in my work.
ON THE PUBLICATION OF HER 2022 PICTURE BOOK, BLACK GOLD
Black Gold is a poetic picture book that celebrates Black children. Although it was written with Black children in mind, it holds universal appeal in the themes embedded within the text, including self-confidence, self-esteem, self-worth, and inner power and beauty. I wrote Black Gold in the fall of 2018 during my final year as a preschool teacher. A few months later in 2019, I attended the Kweli Conference and signed up with an industry expert to look over the manuscript for me to see how I could improve it. This person’s feedback on the manuscript gave me the confidence to begin querying with it. During my first semester at VCFA I signed with an agent, and we found a publisher for it shortly after.
ON THE THEMES OF CELEBRATION, AFFIRMATION, JOY, AND LOVE IN BLACK GOLD—AND THEIR IMPACT
I think for a while there was not that much visibility for books that affirmed and celebrated children of color. Over the last few years, things appear to be changing. Black Gold is adding to the growing number of children’s books and picture books that seek to uplift and remind all children that they are worthy. I am very fortunate to get to share Black Gold with a talented illustrator—London Ladd—who believes in this message of empowering children through art and used his skills and creativity to add a deeper layer of tenderness and joy to the text, and effectively made Black Gold more powerful. The impact of the art and the text working together to elevate the theme of celebration and joy is that any reader—adult or child, regardless of background—can feel affirmed and can feel seen.
I think that children need to hear repeatedly, and in many ways, that they are unique and loved and were born with something important within, that they can stand and feel rooted or grounded in. And as they become rooted in their unique identity established by unconditional love, they can pass that unconditional love forward as they live out their truths in a manner that allows others to stand firm in their identity and uniqueness as well. I also think that repeated messages of unconditional love, once they become embedded, can form a foundation of healthy self-assuredness and confidence that might be crucial in their adult years as they navigate social circles of all kinds.
ON HER UPCOMING PICTURE BOOK PUBLICATIONS
I am very excited about the next two upcoming books: What Love Looks Like illustrated by Anna Cunha and Becoming a Ballerina: The Story of Michaela DePrince (illustrator TBD). The former is a poetic picture book about the love between a father and his daughter as they travel through and experience nature. The latter is a picture book biography about world renowned ballerina Michaela DePrince. Both of them are currently being illustrated or are soon to find an illustrator. Even more exciting for me to share with you is that each of these books were actually seen in their very stages by two VCFA faculty members that I got the honor and privilege to learn from—one by the incredible Mary Quattlebaum and the other by the equally wonderful Linda Urban. The final version might be different from what they saw while I was under their guidance, however it was their feedback that helped me get the first few drafts from terrible to strong.
ON HELPING TO CREATE THE WCYA BIPOC WRITERS GROUP IN 2021 & HOW TO JOIN TODAY
We wanted to create a space for writers of color in the program to come together, create community, and support one another, since there weren’t very many of us, and because we were so spread out among cohorts. For now, there is a Slack group where BIPOC students and alumnx can begin to connect with and support one another, as well as a monthly newsletter meant to fuel and rejuvenate everyone’s writing life. Interested writers can email [email protected] to get started on joining the community!
CONNECT WITH LAURA OBUOBI
Read more stories about our Alumnx through our Alumnx Stories series. Interested in an MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults? Visit our program page for more information on our VCFA graduate degrees.