Kirstie: I was looking through old emails and saw that we started our group at the end of December last year. Wow. I can't believe that much time has passed. Initially we were called Diverse Debuts and we were more focused on marketing and promotion.
Would you like to share why you wanted to start this group?
Aya: I really wanted to connect with authors who had similar experiences in the publishing world and understand how it's extra difficult to break into the publishing world as a BIPOC. We had similar feelings about issues we faced and agreed that having like-minded individuals share their experiences and support each other would be helpful!
Kirstie: We have such talented authors in our group. I give you credit for that because you made many of those connections and you're on Twitter promoting our group every day.
What do you think the members bring to our group that makes it unique?
Aya: I love our group! You do an incredible job on Instagram and create the best content and graphics! The members are awesome and so supportive. I remember feeling comfortable sharing and asking how much advances they made because that helps us grow and ask for more advances in the future! The authors are beyond talented and many of them have critiqued my manuscripts and I am truly grateful for their support! We are like one big family!
Kirstie: I remember the book advance discussion. That was such an eye-opener and really helps those of us that are new to this moving forward. It wasn't long after our discussion that this topic was trending on Twitter and we saw the poorly paid advances BIPOC authors received, even those who had sold quite well and had big followers.
What are your goals for our group moving into 2021 and beyond?
Aya: Continue supporting each other. I love that we can ask for advice and people are genuine and truly we want each other to succeed. I hope we can do more Instagram Lives together and Instagram Take-overs because that's always fun!
Kirstie: Yes, that is fun. My biggest goal for the group is we do a retreat or conference once it's safe. I think connecting in person is our next step.
What are some things you have learned while in KidLit In Color?
Kirstie: I learned firsthand how supportive the writing community is. I can call or email any of our members and ask for help and they make themselves available to me. My book was last to debut in November 2020, and I remember reading that authors who debut last are oftentimes cheated out of support from their fellow members because the year is nearly over and people are over it, but that wasn’t the case with our group. I felt very supported by our members. Everyone went above and beyond to promote me and my book.
What are some of your favorite moments in 2020 from our group?
Kirstie: I have several favorite moments. I enjoyed attending member virtual events and our NYE Zoom party was big fun!
One favorite or special moment that really stands out is also a painful moment. The protests were happening in response to George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and other victims of police brutality, and our group was a safe space where we could openly share our pain. I remember we were scheduled to do a panel and collectively our spirits were so heavy that we couldn’t do it. I remember you sending a text just checking in on me and that meant the world to me in case you didn’t know.
KidLit in Color is a group of traditionally published BIPOC creatives. We nurture one another, amplify diverse voices, and advocate for equitable representation in the industry.
Today we feature Aya Khalil, author of The Arabic Quilt illustrated by Anait Semirdzhyan. The Arabic Quilt recently debuted and is a great book about embracing differences. I especially took note of the important role supportive adults like teachers and parents play in bridging cultural gaps between children.
What inspired you to write The Arabic Quilt?
There's not a lot of immigrant picture books that are authentic, #OwnVoices. I have so many experiences, good and bad, growing up as an Egyptian-American and I thought kids and even adults may relate to The Arabic Quilt, which is based on several true events.
Have you had a chance to tell your teacher how important she was in helping you acclimate into the classroom and new environment?
I actually just did a couple of days ago! My childhood best friend connected me with her and I am sending her a book in the next couple of days. It's so nice to reconnect with her and we are catching up.
What message would you like for immigrant children to get from The Arabic Quilt?
That it is OK to stand out from others and there's really no need to assimilate, as many parents try to make their children do. Clothes, food, and language are all part of who we are and we should embrace them all with confidence.
What message would you like for children who were born and raised here to get from The Arabic Quilt?
Acknowledge your classmate's differences (don't be colorblind), but also find similarities when it comes to hobbies, etc.
How long did it take you to write The Arabic Quilt?
I wrote it all in one sitting with my kids near me. Then I revised for weeks. I submitted to agents and I received some great feedback (although rejections) so I revised some more and attended local and online critique groups. So a couple of months total.
Did you have critique partners? If so how instrumental were they in writing your story?
Yes! My local SCBWI was so supportive when I attended my first meeting with them. They wrote down some encouraging comments and I remember one person told me that this is a great story and to "go get it published."
I also asked writer friends to critique it, who were really helpful, particularly a group of awesome women called Muslim Writers and Publishers.
As an #ownvoices writer, what's your message to the industry about your work and your voice?
Our stories matter and I hope more publishers believe in our stories and amplify them. I'm thankful for Tilbury House and Brent Taylor of Triada US for believing in The Arabic Quilt. There's been so much positive feedback since it's debuted and I've been getting tons of messages from parents, teachers, and librarians telling me their kids or students could relate to Kanzi (the main character). And adults my age who remember similar events from their own childhood growing up as a third culture kid.
Tell us about your illustrations and talented illustrator?
She's been so incredible throughout the whole journey. Anait's illustrations are so lovely and I'm so happy and honored she illustrated the book. She also related to the book as an immigrant herself and her kids faced some of the experiences mentioned in the book.
Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?
Read recently published books from your genre, spend a lot of time at the library and talk to the librarians to see what kids are checking out!
What are you working on next?
I'm working on two more picture books! Fingers crossed that we hear good news soon.