The first time I’d ever heard of the praline ladies was in reading your book. What inspired you to write this story? Do you have a personal connection to it?
I was inspired by the actual praline ladies who sold pralines in New Orleans once upon a time. When I look at the black and white photos of them, I feel a connection that I can’t explain. Sadly, they’re often overlooked in the telling of NOLA praline history. My maternal grandmother was also an inspiration. She owned a shotgun house like the Praline Lady and she also made pralines for me when I was a child.
How long did it take you to write Praline Lady? (Btw, is it PRAY-leen or PRAH-leen?)
In New Orleans we say prah-leen, but in other regions they say pray-leen. I have a friend that calls it pecan candy.
I wrote Praline Lady over a decade ago, but life got in the way and I put it to the side. I would occasionally revisit it and do some edits, but it wasn’t until 2016 I was determined to finish it once and for all.
How difficult was it to distill all your research down into such spare text? What was your process for doing so?
I certainly collected more research than I would ever be able to use, but most importantly, the research helped me to gain a better understanding of what life was like in New Orleans during the 19th century. Once I was able to comfortably inhabit that place, I was confident in telling the story.
You employ literary devices like onomatopoeia masterfully and your text engages all five of the senses throughout the entire story. Would you say this is a hallmark of your writing style?
I do aim to engage all of the senses when writing especially for children so yes, you could say it is a hallmark of my writing style. When the Praline Lady plop, plop, plops the mixture onto the pan, I vividly remember seeing and hearing my Grandmother doing the same, except hers was on wax paper laid out on the counter. That was the best way for me to convey that memory and those sounds. By the way, I still stumble saying “onomatopoeia” sometimes, whereas my fifteen year-old says it effortlessly.
What’s the most surprising thing you learned in your research?
The most surprising thing I learned was that some of these women were able to self-purchase their own freedom or that of their loved ones. That was profound to me. Pralines meant liberty for some of them.
Was there something you had to cut from the text that you really wish you could’ve been able to keep?
I wish we could have included a recipe or some of the black and white photos of the Praline Ladies.
What do you hope readers gain from reading your book?
I hope readers understand that these Black women were entrepreneurs at a time when the odds were stacked against them. They weren’t educated and they didn’t have much, but they’re the reason pralines are interwoven in the fabric of New Orleans food history. This is their legacy and they deserve recognition.
What are you working on next?
I’m revising a middle grade novel and researching a biography picture book topic.
Do you have advice for aspiring authors?
Your talent will make room for you so don’t give up!
Finally—the most important question of the interview: Who makes the best Pralines in New Orleans and how far do they ship?
Well that is a tough question. I always like when friends or colleagues make pralines and share at holiday parties, but for those who aren’t as fortunate I’d recommend Loretta’s Authentic Pralines. Her pralines and especially her beignet pralines are DELICIOUS.
Kirstie resides in the rich cultural city of New Orleans with her family. She enjoys foreign films, visits to the beach, and playing board games. Her debut picture book, PRALINE LADY, was published in November 2020 by Pelican Publishing. Her work has also been featured in Country Roads Magazine.
If you’d like to learn more about Kirstie Myvett please visit her website at kirstiemyvett.com