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Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Repost: Hanging with the Big Girls in My Traveling Shoes by Patricia Spears Jones

This is a repost from award winning poet and author Patricia Spears Jones Check out her blog published at The Poetry Foundation!

Patricia Spears Jones

Hanging with the Big Girls in My Traveling Shoes by Patricia Spears Jones

Last year when I was invited to receive an award from the Black Students Association at Rhodes College as part of my 40th College Reunion, I was freaked out. I had a few weeks earlier been to Arkansas to bury my mother and what little money I had was gone. But to be honored as a Distinguished Alumni for a group I helped to organize decades before was an important opportunity I could not say no to. A very good friend, a wonderful novelist and elder heard about my honor and knew my predicament. She took me to a shoe store on Broadway and let me choose a pair of beautiful, well made dress shoes. I would not look like a poor poet at such a gathering. They are in a way my “traveling shoes,” the ones for readings and special events: memorials, weddings, high teas. They are the shoes I wore to A Celebration of Dr. Maya Angelou at Riverside Church on September 12.  Continue reading the rest of Patricia Spears Jones' blog here at The Poetry Foundation!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

My new teen novel, DEANNE IN THE MIDDLE!

After working with teens and pre-teens for many years, I wanted to craft an engaging story that would peak the interest of young readers!  My new novel and offering for young readers is DEANNE IN THE MIDDLE

Check out my new book - DEANNE IN THE MIDDLE - a great summer read for teens!

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Children's Book Panel at 2014 Harlem Book Fair Featuring Middle Grade & Young Adult Authors

2014 Harlem Book Fair
Saturday, July 12, 2014    2:10pm - 3:15pm  
Countee Cullen Library - Conference Room B
104 W 136th
New York, NY 10030

The Next Chapter: Black Geeks, Heroes, Heroines & Bullies in Middle Grade & Young Adult Books

Panel Discussion Featuring: Zetta Elliot (The Deep, Bird) Jerry Craft (The Offenders, Mama’s Boyz) and DuEwa Frazier (Deanne in the Middle, Ten Marbles and a Bag to Put Them)

Moderated By: Nina Angela Mercer (Gutta Beautiful, Gypsy & The Bully Door)

Today's young adult and middle grade market is saturated with stories of vampires, girl cliques, coming of age stories, and teenage redemption. But how do these stories include diverse characters written by authors of color who present themes for "alternate" groups of young readers, ie. Geeks, punks, nerds, sci-fi fans and the like? These diverse, award-winning authors write on a variety of themes which speak to the interests and backgrounds of today's young readers. The authors will discuss issues in diversity within the children's book market, how to reach struggling readers, including boy readers, and ways in which librarians and educators can develop programs of high interests for teen readers.

Walter Dean Myers: Master Children's Writer (1937 - 2014)

There are few writers who have contributed countless stories and books for the benefit of children's literacy.  Walter Dean Myers, one of my favorite children's writers passed on July 1, 2014.  I was overcome with sadness upon hearing of his passing.  I immediately felt the sense of loss for his family, and also for the many children, librarians, teachers and literacy advocates who have read, taught and participated in book clubs and conferences surrounding Walter Dean Myers notable and award winning books.  Walter Dean Myers wrote with "us" in mind.  There is currently a great discussion and debate, asking why aren't there more diverse children's books? 

Writers have argued that the great publishing companies in America do not widely publish children's writers of color or books that are about diverse children and ethnic groups.  Others believe there aren't enough writers who write to present diverse characters and themes for students of all backgrounds.  I am of the belief that is the job of all of us to share books featuring diverse characters and content for all children.  The writers cannot be the only ones to do it.  Walter Dean Myers achieved the purpose of writing and sharing high quality, diverse books for all children. 


Walter Dean Myers set his mind to write for children, many years ago and never swayed from his commitment.  We have benefited from his care, dedication and genius creativity.  As a literacy specialist, I have always included Walter Dean Myers books in book orders for classrooms and school librarians.  When you teach children of diverse backgrounds, you have to provide them with book choices that are high interest and ones in which they can "see themselves" within the books. 


Walter Dean Myers beautiful and inspiring books include Hoops, Monster, Slam, Bad Boy, 145th Street Stories, and Blues Journey.  I recently added Blues Journey to my book collection.  Walter Dean Myers son Christopher created striking illustrations for this book filled with poetic language.


I have shared Walter Dean Myers books with countless middle and high school students.  His books have high interest themes and characters that students can relate to.  I used Walter Dean Myers books when I was faced with boy readers who were not excited about reading.  But when I gave the students Slam, Hoops or Monster, they boys would always get into the books and slowly become motivated to read.  145th Street Stories is another book my boy readers loved and I could equally engage male and female students in activities and discussion around the book.

Thank you Walter Dean Myers for your contributions.  We will continue to cherish and share your works.

- DuEwa

A Task for All of Us: Championing Young Readers with Diverse Books

Through the years I've had great discussions about books with middle and high school students.  I've read novels such as Catcher in the Rye and Their Eyes Were Watching God with my students.  I've read memoirs such as Black, White and Jewish and Down These Mean Streets with my students.  I've read essays by Zora Neale Hurston and James Baldwin with my students.  I've also read short stories from 145th Street Stories by Walter Dean Myers and "Girl" by Jamaica Kincaid with them.  This was literature that was within our curriculum.  When it came to books that students were to self select, or read at home for more practice and endurance I received many comments that spoke to student frustration and apprehension. 

Students often told me is that, "You [the school] don't have enough books for kids like us..." or "I don't read alot because I can't find books that really interest me, about subjects I like..." or "I really want to read books about teens and drama...Where are those books?" To solve the problem and answer to their frustration, I became one of those teachers who often spent $100 or more on books each month at Borders, and Barnes & Noble buying books by authors who write novels and stories for and/or about diverse children and teens. And I could never buy enough, because each student reader had different interests and needs from the next student.  But I tried as best I could to provide a mix of diverse books they would like.  I generally received positive feedback from my students for my efforts to provide the books.  And when I couldn't spend money, I used my own library card to check out books for my students from the library.

I have always taught in urban environments, where many of the students report that they do not have books in the house, nor does their family's economic situation allow for them to take trips to local bookstore or order online from Amazon.  Additionally, schools do not always have a large budget for classroom libraries and book purchases for students to take a book home to read. Few schools have an initiative to have all students and their parents apply for library cards.  With school budget cuts, state test scores, teacher turnover, safety issues and other challenges schools face, oftentimes helping to issue library cards is the last thing on a school leaders' mind.  Unfortunately many of our struggling youth, do not own library cards.  But the charge is for educators, children's writers, librarians and others to help make books accessible and of high interest for students of all backgrounds.


When I was a little girl I read many books, some with characters who looked like me and other books which focused upon characters from other lands and cultures.  Kimako's Story by June Jordan was one of my favorite books as a child. I also read and loved Rikki-Tkki-Tavi by Rudyard Kipling, Marvel Comics, books by Ezra Jack Keats, Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People's Ears, The Runaway Bunny and many more! My parents supported me to read everything, ranging from poetry, to short stories, fiction and non-fiction.  I grew from a young reader who loved books to an adult reader and writer who cares about boosting the literacy, self value and global awareness in young people.

There has been a great discussion that there are not enough diverse books for children and teens.  In a country where there are so many children of diverse backgrounds, how can that be?  It's not for lack of story content written by writers who write for and/or about children of diverse backgrounds.  Children of all backgrounds need diverse books because we can no longer turn a blind eye to the inevitable need for us to learn from one anothers' stories and truths.  This means supporting the diversity in children's books and wherever possible, sharing books with children who are under served, who struggle with literacy and whose self esteem could greatly benefit from reading books where the characters "look" like them and share similar backgrounds and/or experiences.

I believe the charge is for us all to buy and share books with young people that are diverse in content.  You don't have to be a teacher or have children to buy books written for or about children with diverse backgrounds.  All you have to do is know that children are suffering because they do not read enough high interest books and because they are not exposed to an abundant of diverse books.  This is the problem.  If we want children to truly be global citizens, be empathetic and tolerant toward others and have high self value, they have to read more diverse books, about themselves and the people around them.

Check out Wattpad, a site where young readers can read their favorite books!

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

2014 Teen Writing Contest at Brooklyn Public Library

 Teen Writing Contest Winners with Guest Authors

I had the honor of being a guest author this past Monday for the 2014 Teen Writing Contest Reception at the Brooklyn Public Library.  The program honored the winning teen writers who submitted to the Brooklyn Public Library’s annual contest.  The young writers submitted both prose writing and poetry.  The reception was lovely.  The students and their families arrived and mingled with the guest authors: me, Matt de La Pena, Jason Reynolds and Una LaMarche.  It was great to talk with the teen writers and fellow young adult and children’s authors.

I was blown away by the writing talent of the young people.  The photo above shows all of the contest winners and guest authors.  Each student read their work at the podium.  After the reading, I participated in a panel discussion about writing and publishing with the other authors.  The teens and the program coordinator asked us some pretty good questions such as:
  • What is the best writing advice you’ve received?
  • When did you start writing?
  • When did you decide to pursue publishing?
  • What do you do when you have writers block?
The students also asked us questions about how we feel about putting ourselves into characters.  I had flashbacks to my time as an M.F.A. in writing grad student workshopping my stories.  The teens also asked, “What advice would you give?”  My reply was, “Never let anyone invalidate your voice, your perspective.  Know that your voice is valuable, you are of value.”

Monday, April 14, 2014

4/6 Event: Art. Love. Music. in Brooklyn!

On Sunday, April 6th I hosted Word Canvas presents Art. Love. Music. at Brooklyn's Rustik Tavern.  The event featured myself (poet/performer), Rakiem Walker Project, Cheryl Boyce Taylor, Qurrat Kadwani, Radha MUSprime and Tai Allen.

I was so excited about this event!  I have been performing, writing poetry and hosting my own signature events since 2002.  I founded Word Canvas in 2005, as a brand of performance events featuring musicians, poets and actors.  I take great pride and pleasure in curating events, bringing artists together and watching them come off without a hitch!   It was great to have a spring show with talented artists.
DuEwa & Rakiem Walker @ Art. Love. Music.

Cheryl Boyce Taylor is a notable poet and author who I've come to know and cherish, through her event series the Glitter Poemegranate Series.  I love when she performs with her Trini accent.  Her poems are smooth and bring back memories you wish you had about living in the Caribbean.  Cheryl is the mother of Tribe Called Quest member Phife Dawg, so she is truly a legend and has influenced hip hop in a major way.  And one day I will take her Zuhitsu Writing Workshop in Brooklyn! 

 Poet, Cheryl Boyce Taylor

I met Qurrat Kadwani some years ago when we worked for the same company; I had no idea she was an award winning actress until we connected recently on Facebook!  She is quite talented!  Qurrat has received much acclaim for her one woman show "The Call Me Q!" She is raw, beautiful and oh so talented.  The monologues she performed at Art. Love. Music. were awe inspiring.  Just watching her transform was a real treat.  Tai Allen is such a soulful singer and poet.  He really conjured the spirit of Gil Scott Heron during his performance. 

Rakiem Walker is so versatile as a sax player and he brought his trio, and they brought us jazz, funk and hip hop! I have known Rakiem for years and it's always a blast working with him.  Last time we collaborated in 2010 for Word Canvas Soul, I sang Jill's Scotts "A Long Walk" and we really had a good time with it.  It was so much fun for me to collaborate with Rakiem and his band again.  They backed me for my brief rendition of Prince's "She's Always in My Hair" and an even shorter piece of me singing Taylor Swift's "Trouble" that I paired with a poem I wrote titled, "Trouble."  My set was pretty cathartic for me as an artist.  I had the pleasure of seeing Radha MUSprime perform at Imagenation's Belletrix Exhibit in Harlem last month.  She is an MC, lyricist and truly a creative genuis as a writer. This sister is fire!! She gave us a whole set of her new performance show "The 40-year old Version" and I can't wait to check her out on April 22nd when she features at Joe's Pub. 

I wanted to have an open mic segment, but we started a bit late so there was no time for it.  But next time for sure!