Publishers' Preview: Debut Authors: Five Questions for Kim Johnson

This interview originally appeared in the July/August 2020 Horn Book Magazine as part of the Publishers’ Previews: Debut Authors, an advertising supplement that allows participating publishers a chance to each highlight a book from its current list. They choose the books; we ask the questions.

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In This Is My America, Tracy is already working persistently to free her father from death row when her brother Jamal is accused of murdering a classmate.

1. Along with its themes of racial injustice, your book is a mystery story. Do you have some favorite mystery writers?

So many. Stephanie Kuehn, Kara Thomas, Monica Hesse, and E. Lockhart. In adult, Megan Miranda, Simone St. James, Steph Cha, and Attica Locke. I also can’t forget that the Nancy Drew series started my mystery journey! It’s the classic I would love to remake.

2. Ruby Bridges is a heroine of Tracy’s. Who was one of yours as a teen?

Sojourner Truth. She was an abolitionist and former slave who escaped with her infant daughter. The first Black woman to win a lawsuit in the U.S., to free her son illegally sold into slavery. She went on to become a prominent speaker for freedom and justice, most known for her speech “Ain’t I a Woman?”

3. This is your first novel. What has it taught you for your second one?

Complex themes are my brand of writing, but I have learned that I should pace myself in covering topics and ask myself if something is a theme to tackle in another book. Also, to use an outline for a more efficient revision process.

4. How do you keep up with the ways teens talk and text?

Essentially, I never left school. Right after graduating college I went for my master’s degree, and I’ve worked at colleges and universities ever since. I’m always surrounded by young people in my advising centers, along with my roles as mentor and advisor to various student organizations. I also read a ton of YA and watch teen shows to keep up. I tell my husband it’s “research.”

5. Are you as persistent as Tracy?

She is braver and bolder than I am. As a teen I was an activist and a leader in social justice organizations, so we have the same dogged determination, but her life experiences are very different from mine, which affected how important the issues were to her. She is my fictional hero. I wrote Tracy in honor of the student leaders I work with. Activists and student leaders pave their own way, often making the impossible possible. I wanted my students to feel seen, and young people to feel inspired.

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Roger Sutton
Roger Sutton
Roger Sutton has been the editor in chief of The Horn Book, Inc, since 1996. He was previously editor of The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books and a children's and young adult librarian. He received his M.A. in library science from the University of Chicago in 1982 and a B.A. from Pitzer College in 1978. Follow him on Twitter: @RogerReads.

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