Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Round: An Interview with Debut Author Interview with Kathlyn J. Kirkwood
We’re starting this year out with an interviewing bang! And what better way than with a smidgen of nonfiction? Not just any nonfiction either. A debut memoir for kids!
When Kathlyn J. Kirkwood reached out to me about interviewing her about her brand new book (out today!) I couldn’t help but be intrigued. Coming at us from the Versify imprint of Harper Collins, this is probably the best way to describe it:
“This brilliant memoir-in-verse tells the moving story of how a nation learned to celebrate a hero. Through years of protests and petition, Kathlyn’s story highlights the foot soldiers who fought to make Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday a national holiday.
Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me ’Round is a deeply moving middle grade memoir about what it means to be an everyday activist and foot solider for racial justice, as Kathlyn recounts how, drawn to activism from childhood, she went from attending protests as a teenager to fighting for Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday to become a national holiday as an adult. A blueprint for kids starting down their own paths to civic awareness, it shows life beyond protests and details the sustained time, passion, and energy it takes to turn an idea into a law.
Deftly weaving together monumental historical events with a heartfelt coming-of-age story and in-depth information on law making, Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me ’Round is the perfect engaging example of how history can help inform the present.”
Curious? So was I. And so . . .
Betsy Bird: First off, thank you so much for joining us here today. Tell me a little bit about why you chose this moment, right now, to write Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me ‘Round.
Kathlyn J. Kirkwood: The book has actually been in the works in one form or another for at least 10 years. It started as an oral history-a presentation I gave to young adults and teens titled “How Dr. King’s Day Came to Be.” Upon the suggestion of one of my church members, Jeanne Arradondo, I started thinking about turning that presentation into a book. It was still a number of years before I was ready to settle down and actually write the book that would become “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me ‘Round.”
BB: There were probably any number of different ways you could have told your story. You could have written about it in the third person and kept your perspective in the periphery, but instead you give it a first person accounting. The middle grade memoir as a genre has been doing particularly well in the last year or so. Did you ever consider writing the book a different way, or did you always see it as a first person account?
KJK: I always saw it written in the first person, but when I first started, it was written in prose. After a lot of back and forth, it just wasn’t landing in the way I knew the story needed to land. Eventually, after attending numerous conferences and workshops, one of my Highlights Foundations editors, Deborah Hopkinson, recommended that write I write it in verse. It was like a magical moment – everything clicked into place from that point forward.
BB: Your book seems particularly well timed, what with the newfound surge in youth activism we’ve seen over the last 5 years. Are there particular lessons that kids can take from your own years as a teenage activist and apply to today?
KJK: I would like for burgeoning activists to heed to the title: Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me ‘Round – that no matter what challenges they face, it’s imperative that they stay determined, remain persistent, continue to stay on the path, and not let anyone deter them from reaching their goal(s).
BB: I think there will be a lot of kids (and probably more than a few adults) that find themselves surprised to discover that Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday wasn’t always a National Holiday and that it had to be fought for. What do you hope they’ll take away from this story?
KJK: I love this question. And my answer is really simple: I want them to remember patience, time, and unwavering commitment are key elements to change, because it took MANY many years, really over a decade of fiercely advocating for this National Holiday to make it a reality. Change does not happen overnight.
BB: Was there anything you wanted to include but ultimately decided to cut out?
KJK: The book went through several iterations, from ideas being cut or added, to minor word changes, with each revision feeling like I was getting closer to uncovering the story I knew I wanted to tell. Ultimately, all of the changes were intended to make the book better, cleaner, clearer so by the final version, nothing felt excluded. I really fought for the things that I thought were important.
BB: Who are some of the other activists that young people should know about that you admire?
KJK: The very first activist that comes to mind is Claudette Colvin. At the tender age of 15, if I’m not mistaken, she made the bold decision that she was not going to give up her seat. And, this took place nine months prior to Rosa Parks’ more well-known protest. I want to really emphasize just how critical her contribution was (and is) to the Movement. If it was not for her, we would not have had bus desegregation! I talk about nameless and faceless foot soldiers in the book, and Claudette Colvin, for so many, remains a nameless and faceless foot soldier, although in recent years she’s started receiving the recognition she deserves. Another activist is Ella Baker who worked side by side with Dr. King. And though they didn’t always agree, their work was rooted in collective liberation. Two other young activists today are Greta Thunberg and Marley Dias, whose activist imprints on climate change and literacy, respectively, are deeply inspiring to me!
BB: Finally, is there any chance that you’ll be working on more books for youth in the future?
KJK: I have a few ideas bouncing around, but I can share that I recently completed a really fun book about chickens – it’s fiction but based on a true story. The other books I can’t really go into detail but I hope to have more updates to share in the next year or so.
A great big thank you to Kathlyn for taking the time to answer my questions today. Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Round is on shelves right now wherever fine books are sold. You can read more about Kathlyn and the book at Black Children’s Books and Authors or visit her at her website www.kathlynjkirkwood.com.
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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