Publishers' Preview: Fall 2023: Five Questions for Gwendolyn Wallace

This interview originally appeared in the September/October 2023 Horn Book Magazine as part of the Publishers’ Previews: Fall 2023, 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 The Light She Feels Inside, Gwendolyn Wallace and illustrator Olivia Duchess portray the power of books (and librarians!) to boost a young girl’s sense of self-worth.

1. What writer can you rely upon to make you glow?

Jamaica Kincaid. Every time she writes something new, I drop everything to read it. She writes about Black girlhood and about nature with a tender and incisive love. I have not yet encountered an author who can write the transition from childhood to adolescence to adulthood with more deftness and honesty than she can.

2. Were you Maya? Are you still?

I am absolutely still Maya! Sometimes I am Maya in the middle of the book, filled with pessimism about the future of the world. However, I spend more and more time in the same emotional space as Maya at the end of the book: feeling held by revolutionary Black women past and present, love for the many communities I am a part of, and confidence in our collective capacity to change this world for the better.

3. Who was your first heroine?

My mom! She is the most inventive person I know and found ways to help me explore all my creative urges as a child. When I was younger, she would go to appliance store dumpsters and bring home huge boxes that we would draw on and make into castles.

4. What makes your favorite library your favorite?

My home library because I was raised by it. I visited recently and immediately walked up to the children’s and YA floor. I was hit with a wave of love and nostalgia. The library was one of the first places I felt independent.

5. What is your first go-to for comforting a child?

During college, I worked in a kindergarten classroom. One day, a girl was having a hard time separating from her dad at drop-off. He eventually left her, screaming and crying, to go to work. Her teacher asked if she wanted to write a letter to her dad about how she felt. After angrily scribbling out a message, she continued with her day. I think about this moment weekly. While I do not have a go-to method — every child is different — I always try to find a way to give them the space to express the full range of their feelings.

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Photo: Mimi Kostoka.

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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