SHE RAISED HER VOICE: A Cover Reveal and Interview with Jordannah Elizabeth
The art of the middle grade anthology will undoubtedly be worth seminars and long-winded papers in children’s literary academic circles in the near future. For now, however, it’s just a rather popular medium for getting the best voices and tales out there (trust me, I know). Recently, I heard that there was an anthology coming out of Black women who all had a hand in our musical history. Now I have often said that 90% of the factual information I have accrued over the years comes from the nonfiction children’s books I read. SHE RAISED HER VOICE: 50 BLACK WOMEN WHO SANG THEIR WAY INTO MUSIC HISTORY simply could not be a better example of this. Today, we are premiering the cover of this title (out December 28th!!!) as well as an interview with author Jordannah Elizabeth. Because when you go about creating such a sweeping collection, you have to make some hard choices. I wanted to ask Ms. Elizabeth what those choices might be. Hope you like process, because today we’re taking a deep dive in.
Betsy Bird: Ms. Elizabeth (just LOVE your name!) thank you so much for joining me today. I’m always fascinated by the process that comes with selection. In SHE RAISED HER VOICE your limit in terms of inclusions was 50, which couldn’t have been easy. How did you decide whom to keep? And did other people make suggestions of people to include to you that you followed up on?
Jordannah Elizabeth: The selection went pretty smoothly. When Running Press Kids approached me about writing the book they already had a sample list of women. I went through the list and made some changes, focusing on having a diverse group of women from all different ages, backgrounds, and genres. I took me about a week to make the augmentation, but in the end, the list turned out to be great. We are all very happy with the final selections.
BB: Did you find it necessary to concentrate primarily on Black American women? Was there any thought of going international with some of the inclusions?
JE: Well, there are so few books on Black women in music in the kid lit world. Our goal is to fill parts of the market that are virtually untapped. In my journalism career, I have been focused on highlighting unsung Black women, POC and women musicians from the very beginning. This book would have been very handy when I was growing up. While discovering music has become easier, there’s so much access, it’s important for us to make sure that Black women artists of the past and present are documented in a manner where their legacies can continue by introducing them to young readers from the new generation.
BB: What ended up on the cutting room floor? When you’re cutting a life down to fit on a page, particularly for a young audience, there’s going to be some things you just can’t say. Was there anything you lost that you wish you could have kept?
JE: There’s nothing that I lost that I wish I could have kept (thanks to my amazing editor, Julie Matysik who really let me be myself). Regarding drug use and some of the women’s sex lives, we tried to be thoughtful about which details to include. We made sure the book is kid friendly and appropriate, and I think parents can learn a lot from this book as well. I personally hope families will read it and explore it together and talk about the women’s histories as a unit, with honesty and openness.
BB: If this book had included 51 women, who would you have selected for that very last slot?
JE: I would have included Alice Coltrane. She is one of my favorite musicians of all time. Although she sang, she was more of a composer and instrumentalist. I am hoping we can follow up this book with a collection of composers. I saved a few women I’d like to write about for the possibility of that book. Right now, we are really focused on making sure SRHV is the best book it can possibly be. No matter what happens, I think it has come along really well. I am excited for people to read it.
BB: This would make a heck of a Spotify playlist. What are some songs in particular that you would most like to include on a SHE RAISED HER VOICE playlist for young readers?
Nina Simone – Four Women
Queen Latifah – Ladies First (feat. Monie Love)
Janet Jackson – Got Til It’s Gone
Erykah Badu – On & On
The Slits – Typical Girl
Aretha Franklin – Bridge Over Troubled Water
BB: I just listened to the Aretha Franklin on your suggestion. I’m a little ashamed I hadn’t heard it before. That’s an amazing list. So, finally, what are you working on next?
JE: I’m working on a couple of books for my publisher Running Press Kids and their imprint, Black Dog & Leventhal. I’m always working on new articles and essays and a few different projects. I really care about the books we are working on. It’s been my life’s work to write about different topics that are informative, educational and a little outside of the box.
I’d like to give a great big thank you to Jordannah Elizabeth, Valerie Howlett, and the folks at Running Press for connecting us for this interview. SHE RAISED HER VOICE is out on bookstore shelves December 28th so reserve your copies now.
Filed under: Interviews
About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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