Joyce V. Hansen On Writing Successfully For The African-American Children’s and Teen Market

Joyce Hansen

Name: Joyce V. Hansen

Hometown: New York

Based In: New York

Favorite Read: My favorite recent read is The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson. This book is a masterpiece. She recounts the history of the great migration of African Americans out of the South searching for a better life in the northern and western states. Her book is nonfiction, but reads like a novel. I also recently read The Farming of Bones by Edwidge Danticat and I was so moved by the skillful and poetic way she told her story.

Author Crush: My author crush is Langston Hughes. I wrote a lot of awful poetry when I was in high school, trying to imitate him. Reading his work though, helped me to find my own writer’s voice and influenced me as I tried to tell an African American story.

Ideal Writing Space: I have a tiny sunroom that I enjoy writing in.

First Book-Related Memory: When I think back on my childhood the first book-related memory is my mother reading to me.

Up Next: I hope another book or two.

What did you enjoy reading as a young adult?

When I was a young adult (1960’s), I don’t think there was a young adult market. You went from reading children’s books to adult books. I remember though reading Marjorie Morningstar by Herman Wouk and I think this was a book that came close to being what we consider now a young adult novel. I also read a lot of Daphne Du Maurier and Charles Dickens. But I longed for books about my own people and by the 1960’s the Black Arts movement was beginning to explode and I read everything I could find about African and African American history. I also read James Baldwin and other fiction and nonfiction by African American writers.

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A lot has changed in the industry since your first book was published.

Because of the changes in the publishing

industry and the difficulty of having your work published if you’re just starting out and do not have a track record, self- publishing might be the option for many writers. I think that writers who self-publish have to be really savvy about using social media to market their books. Also, the growing popularity of ebooks and all things electronic might be quite a boon for people who publish their own books. Marketing is where you will expend a lot of energy and money so that people know that your book exists. This is where the traditional publishers have the advantage. They have so much more money and access to various markets than most individual writers do.

I was reading your novel Homeboy and I was shocked to read the initial publishing date. To me, that story may as well have happened today, with its themes of juvenile delinquency and assimilation of new immigrants in U.S. Culture. What inspired you to write this book?

Thank you so much for your kind comments about Home Boy, and thank you for reading it. I was inspired by the students I taught who were from the Caribbean and other parts of the world and by the stories my father told me of his life in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands. He often talked about his struggles as a young immigrant adjusting to life in New York City. I was also trying to show in that book that no matter whether we’re from the American South, the Caribbean, Africa or Central and South America we’re cut from the same Black cloth. I saw how these young people were trying to fit into a new culture and how sometimes they made the wrong choices.

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What’s your advice to aspiring authors?

My advice to aspiring authors is to find your own voice and to dig deep into your own heart and soul to create the characters and stories that are important to you. There are stories all around you—your past, your present, the people you know, the situations you find yourself in are all material that can be turned into a story. Just remember to change the names. Try to write everyday even if it’s just keeping a journal writing down ideas. Making notes. And, read as much as you can. Read the kind of stories you would like to write. Read older works as well as contemporary novels and stories. Read solid literature. Pay attention to craft—I’m still working on that. Developing characters, plot structure, setting, theme are all elements of fiction that a writer needs to attend to. Joining a writing workshop can be helpful to for aspiring writers. Taking a creative writing course can be helpful as well.

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