I had the pleasure to meet Leah Henderson at the WOW Retreat in Atlanta, July 2016. Once I heard the good news of her debut middle-grade novel coming out, I could do nothing more than spreading the word. Leah has always loved stories—short ones, long ones, sad ones, funny ones, and all those in between. When she is not frantically scribbling down the adventures of the characters jabbering in her head, she is off on her own adventures. Traipsing around the globe, venturing down meandering paths, soaking up the vibrancy of tantalizing souks and making lasting friendships. Many of the hopes, struggles, and traditions she witnesses on her travels find a home in her stories and color her and her characters’ lives.Enjoy the interview with Leah and get inspired for writing more exciting stories that speak to the heart!
- When did you first know that you wanted to be a writer?
I have always loved stories, but actually writing them and wanting to create them FOREVER didn’t happen until I got older. I truly didn’t understand this bug until right after college. Up until then, I’d enjoyed creating adventures across the page, but I also loved so many other things (soccer, crew, photography, travel, design) that it was just another fun thing I loved filling my time with.
- What inspired you to write?
Besides the stories that banged around in my head demanding to be let out? Probably my amazingly supportive dad. He encouraged me to explore stories about preconscious black boys like him because he didn’t see enough of them to share with sons of friends and family.
- Tell us about your journey in becoming a writer?
So, as I said before, I have always loved writing and telling stories, but I didn’t truly start to take it seriously until an idea for a novel filled my head. Before that, it was basically short stories and just snippets of scenes. And with that longer idea, I dove in head first to write this light-hearted story set in an Italian nightclub.
I surprised myself by waking early to write and by turning down outings with friends to spend time with my characters instead, who were by that point friends too. Once I finished, although my friends cheered me on, I realized I craved feedback from people who understood the craft of writing. I had always loved school and thought long and hard about going back for an MFA. So I did, and from that moment, I have never looked back. Every part of me is happy when I write, and hopefully, I will be blessed to continue doing it for a long, long time.
- What was the greatest obstacle you had to overcome in writing ‘One Shadow on the Wall’?
Believing in myself, and that I would be able to tell this story with care.
- Why is it important for school children to familiarize with books on Diversity?
We live in a diverse world, and for children not to see that represented in books, movies, tv, and in so many other things gives a false sense of the communities we live in or that are around us. Learning about other cultures and people not only fosters empathy, it also expands a child’s worldview helping to make them more compassionate and fully rounded people.
”St. Louis, Senegal, here is a photo of the boy who would inspire Mor’s story.”
- What challenges do PB & MG writers face (that those writing for adults might not experience)?
Writing for children is EXTREMELY hard and comes with a great level of responsibility to get stories right. Making sure they are accurate in every way possible because many times, these books might be the first encounter some of its readers have with a particular experience. Adult writers rarely have to worry about the impact of possibly helping to inform and shape a young mind.
”I went back and asked if I could take his photo. He wanted to stand—tall.”
- What’s one thing that you hope young readers take away from your book?
First of all, I want them to find a friend in my characters, but I also want them to come away understanding that although people maybe different in various ways whether it be geographically, socially, or ethnically, we all laugh and we all cry. We each know what it is like to try and make a new friend, or to lose one, wanting to fit in, or fearing being excluded. These are the things that bring us together, and I hope young readers realize this and are comforted by it when reading my books.
Thanks so much for having me, Agatha, I really enjoyed this!
One Shadow on the Wall will be published June 6th with Atheneum/Simon & Schuster and is currently available to pre-order. In the meantime, you can find Leah on Twitter @LeahsMark or on her website: leahhendersonbooks.com.