King with a Crown that be Down…
I had the pleasure of interviewing the accomplished and dedicated children book’s author, Derrick Barnes. Check out what this Kansas City, MO native and current Charlotte resident who wears many hats, including husband and father of four boys has to say.
Starr: Great catching up with you Derrick. First things first. You know I have to know who you’ve been listening to lately.
Derrick Barnes: I’ve fallen in love with H.E.R. Been listening to a lot of a rapper named Kev Brown (check out his classic ‘Albany’) Old school joints like ATCQ, Slum Village, Nas. There’s also an artist named Masego that’s been getting a lot of play lately.
Starr: Ok. Ok. We have some musical taste in common. You also mentioned some new artists I need to check out. So what have you been reading lately?
Derrick Barnes: We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy by Ta-Nehisi Coates, The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander, Only The Strong by Jabari Asim, Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
Starr: All powerful reads. We’ve got to stay woke.
Starr: How did your love for reading begin?
Derrick: I’ve been reading since I was four years old. Just curious about the power of words, stories, characters. I still remember my first-grade teacher giving us a packet of 5-10 books to take home every day. I couldn’t get enough of reading.
Starr: Awesome. I was an early reader too and I definitely see the benefits. What made you decide to write books catered to African-American children?
Derrick: I think was two things. It was all chance. Just being exactly where I needed to be, working as a copywriter for Hallmark Cards, meeting published writers and accomplished painters and illustrators, and landing a literary agent. It all happened at once. And I think, at the time, I was called, it was my turn, to respond to the dearth of books, not only for Black and brown children, but books written by Black men for children as well.
Starr: I absolutely Love it! Thank you for answering the call. So what age ranges do you focus on in your writing?
Derrick: I’ve written for every age group, from early readers to YA (young adult). I really enjoy picture books and books for middle grade readers. That’s such a pivotal age range. Capturing them between the ages of 9- 13, especially giving them content and stories that they can relate to, could potentially create lifelong readers.
Starr: There’s a lot that goes into writing a book and getting it published. You have multiple books. What has been your greatest challenge getting started?
Derrick: I think the toughest part for most would-be published authors is just getting to understand how the business side works. Having to become a marketer and self-promoter is a challenge to, considering most writers are introverts. The most imperative thing an artist can do is to continuously work on your craft, even before you try to land book deals or get put on. At the end of the day, the only thing that will matter is if you’ve created something worth reading.
Starr: That makes a lot of sense as many creatives struggle with turning their art into a profitable business. What is your greatest challenge now?
Derrick: Just becoming more visible. A few of my author friends are everywhere! They’ve mastered this social media thing. They’re also type -A personalities, and that’s a big part of it. I’m a really private person and I spend most of my time with my family. Being in large crowds are on camera is just not my thing.
Starr: Nothing wrong with being a family man. So what has been your greatest reward as an author?
Derrick: Finally having a body of work, that’s still growing, but one that I can currently be proud of.
Starr: No doubt. We definitely have to be able to give ourselves the credit we deserve. What is unique about this dope body of work you’ve amassed?
Derrick: I guess it would be the language. I really work hard in making my words more tangible, more poetic, descriptive. I also work hard on making my characters’ dialogue as real as possible.
Starr: Which of your books is your favorite and why?
Derrick: We Could Be Brothers. It’s my only book based in my hometown of KC. I think it was slept on. I think cinematically. Every time I read over the interactions between the characters in that novel, I see it in scenes. Vivid scenes. The voice of the protagonists. All that. Love that book. And obviously CROWN. This book has really taken my career in a different direction. My first picture book has been received with open arms and I feel so grateful about it.
Starr: We Could Be Brothers is extremely necessary. But speaking of your latest book, CROWN, it’s a really dope book that speaks to an important aspect of the life of little Black and brown boys. How’s it doing?
Derrick: “CROWN: An Ode To The Fresh Cut” has received FOUR starred reviews from Publisher’s Weekly, Kirkus Reviews, The School Library Journal and The Horn Book. It may also be up for some major literary awards coming soon. To learn more about my latest baby’, click this link: https://www.agatepublishing.com/titles/crown
Starr: Congratulations!! This only the beginning. This book is going far. I look forward to introducing CROWN as CCIA’s signature book for our upcoming Razor Sharp Readers Program.
Starr: Do you have any thoughts on how we can improve literacy among African-American children?
Derrick: It’s been said repeatedly for decades, but we just have to give them images and stories that they can relate to. Period.
Starr: Ok! Could you say it louder so the people in the back can hear you???
Starr: How do you and your wife incorporate reading into your children’s lives? Have you seen any positive results?
Derrick: We have four sons and they all approach reading in four different ways. The key is to meet your children where they are, while at the same time insisting that they read on a regular basis. My eldest is 17 and he use to read for sheer enjoyment. He doesn’t read as much now, but when I introduce books to him he’ll add them to his library. My youngest is 6 and we read every day. I read to him and he reads to his mother and me.
Starr: Awesome! Is there anything you would like to say to parents?
Derrick: Again, the key is finding what they are interested in and give them a lot of it. They may not ever read for entertainment, but just as long as they are functional readers and comprehend the information that they consume, they’ll be fine.
Starr: Is there anything you would like to say to our youth? Consume as much information right now as you possibly can. That will allow you to navigate yourself through young adulthood and eventually adult hood. The more you know, the more information you have, the easier it will be for you to communicate to people from different walks of life. And if you plan on being successful, plan on going far in your future career, you’ll need to be equipped with an extensive vocabulary, life skills, stay up on current events, and KNOW YOUR HISTORY!
Starr: What do you hope children get from reading your books?
Derrick: I want them to see themselves, I want them to want to carry my books everywhere that they go, because the stories and the characters just make them feel good about themselves, about life.
Starr: I hope they carry them everywhere they go too. So, where can we find you and your literary gifts?
Derrick: http://www.derrickdbarnes.com Instagram: @authorderrickdbarnes Twitter: @AuthorDDB
Starr: In addition to purchasing your books, what other ways we can support your movement?
Derrick: Please ask any educators, librarians, media specialists or school administrators to invite me in for author visits. I am extremely affordable, and schools can work together to split costs/travel fees/honorarium. You can also work with your local book store as a vendor. Click this link to set up an author visit: https://derrickdbarnes.com/ill-come-to-you/
Starr: Thanks so much for your literary contributions to our beautiful babies. We go back to “Ruby and the Booker Boys” and it’s great to witness the continued growth and momentum of your movement. The community appreciates your work and I hope these books find their way under countless Christmas trees and beside numerous kinaras this holiday season!!