My Inspiration for Writing Fly
By: Brittany J. Thurman
My great-grandparents lived in a two-room white house on a hill. I still hear tires against the gravel of their driveway. I still feel the tremor of the mesh screen door slamming, then bouncing, then slamming shut as I stepped inside. This was a home full to the ceiling with memoires. Thick with phantom laughs and steamy cheese pudding on top an oven half open to cool off.
My great-grandmother, Grandmommy, sat in the back room, which was really the front room. This- adjacent to the front porch, which I always assumed was the back. A porch swing with rusty metal chains clanked against the rail. This was the sound of homestead.
“Come ere, give me some sugar,” Grandmommy said. As I scooted up to her orange recliner, Grandmommy’s lips sailed into a smile. The closer I got, the more I smelled snuff. The metal tin she kept beside her recliner for (if ya know, ya know) had my stomach churned. Grandmommy always pulled me into a hug and kissed my cheek, then my forehead. It was as if she wanted to imbed her love, adoration and might (all of it) into me. And I always, always, always stiffened, then pulled away because…snuff.
One of my favorite spreads in Fly is that of Africa looking up to her grandmother, Nana, who is surrounded by a flight of birds. Look closely, one of them has flown away, off on its own. We don’t know if Africa’s Nana is still with her, or if Nana has been gone as long as my own great-grandmother. Now a memory full to the ceiling.
What we do know on this spread of purple is that Africa and Nana, no matter how far apart, have a bond. It is one comprised of love. It is a bond composed of giving up a little of ourselves for those rising up in the next generation.
While writing Fly, there were so many aspects of my own life that inspired me. I thought through and cried over my struggle with identity and anxiety. Fought to show a Black girl cool, confident, collected - on her quest to fulfill her goal. I delved into the communities that surrounded me growing up as a Black girl from Louisville’s West End. For me, community has and was always about showing up for your neighbor. Giving, even when you don’t have much to lend.
But, what I thought about as much as these other themes are my ancestors and my elders. Those whose love seeps deep. Whose eyes told stories without saying words. And those words, “Come ere, give me some sugar,” and “I have a gift for you.’ echo through my head to this day.
Even though I always, always, always pulled away from Grandmommy’s kisses, I understood at seven how lucky I was to know my great-grandmother. Now older, I understand. My Grandmommy recognized how special it was that she had a relationship with her great-granddaughter.
I envision that at some point, Africa and her Nana also had a moment like that. And in that moment, Nana knew how quick time slides, how vital it was to impart what we know onto the generation next. What we love onto those who are rising up, so those gifts are not lost forever. Equally as important, I wanted to emphasize that sometimes, from one generation to the next, to the next, to the next…things do get lost. Recipes, Songs. Photos, Memories. Double Dutch and the feeling of flying, gone. At some point, we have to reclaim what has seeped through the cracks from one generation to the next.
This is what Africa recognizes in Fly. This is what she does. She reclaims. She rediscovers. She reimagines, through the help and memory and strength of her Nana (ala my great-grandmother). She can, she is, fly.
I have always had an affinity for stories told by my grandmother. Those same stories hold space in my writing today. My love of writing comes from my love of reading. As a kid, I could not get enough of going to bookstores and libraries.
I am a former children’s specialist, and I am dedicated to ensuring children’s literature truthfully reflects the world in which we live. I hold an MFA from Carnegie Mellon University, where I studied Dramatic Writing. I hold a BA from Kingston University, London, England, where I studied theater.
I’m not sure how many books I’ve read as a children’s specialist, but I estimate hundreds of stories to thousands of kids across the City of Bridges. Currently, I reside in my hometown of Louisville, KY. You may find me biking along the waterfront, enjoying a musical or play, hanging out with my family, grilling in the backyard or snuggled up with a good book.
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Twitter - @janeebrittany