Publishers' Preview: Books in the Middle: Five Questions for Willie Mae Brown

This interview originally appeared in the January/February 2023 Horn Book Magazine as part of the Publishers’ Previews: Books in the Middle, 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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Willie Mae Brown’s memoir, My Selma, is an intimate account of a momentous time in a landmark place.

1. What do you miss most from your childhood?

My parents and my family. The food we ate freely because we knew the soil was natural. Drive-in movies — there was just one and “colored only,” but it still was something we had. My teachers and friends. Everyone shared, and I thought they would live forever. Now we are older; some friends have passed on and some are here. Still. There are friends living who can’t remember much and repeat their words over and over.

2. I sometimes find it easier to remember sixty years ago than what happened last week. You?

People remember things that mean so much to them and think of those things often. I know I do. That’s where My Selma comes in.

3. What makes My Selma your Selma?

When the movie Selma was made in my hometown, someone asked if I would see it. No. They were trying to reenact what the people of Selma were forced to live. There was no popcorn, and “coloreds” were the chocolate-covered raisins trapped in the net. I have a movie that plays in my head every day, a lifetime movie ticket.

4. You are also a (beautiful!) painter. What skills learned there served you here?

I paint in the abstract, allowing the audience to dig deeper. Whether we paint in the abstract or arrange collages to express ourselves, it is all good. What is even better is to tell our stories.

5. How can we teach children that they are living in what will be history?

Teach children to devour the libraries’ books. In Selma I couldn’t use the library. Teach them to tell other children about the stories they’ve read or heard. Teach them to listen to adults even if they must eavesdrop. Write the unfolding stories of your own. Spend time with older people. They are often left alone, and some tell stories because they want to talk to someone — why not a child? Children should learn to take account of their moments in this lifetime and share with others going forward. History truly repeats itself.

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Photo: Joseph Anastasi.

Roger Sutton
Roger Sutton

Editor Emeritus Roger Sutton was editor in chief of The Horn Book, Inc., from 1996-2021. 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 MA in library science from the University of Chicago in 1982 and a BA from Pitzer College in 1978.

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