Brynne Barnes, English professor at Schoolcraft College, is a prolific author of children’s books, with a focus on celebrating living in a diverse world. Her latest work is “Black Girl Rising,” available everywhere books are sold. In this interview, Schoolcraft’s Professor Barnes provides insight into her books, her creative process and what’s next.
Q: Please tell us a little about your latest work, “Black Girl Rising.” What’s it about, what inspired you to write it, when did you start and when did you finish?
Professor Barnes: This is a love letter to Black girls, to Black girlhood, to women everywhere. It’s the book I needed, wanted to read as a girl. This is a tribute to our younger selves and our present selves. Children’s literature has a way of reminding us of all the most important things — to listen to ourselves, our inner voices about what we can do, who we are, and who we can be. It’s not up to the world to tell us who we are; it’s our job to tell the world. I first started this book in 2015, if you can believe it, and completed it by 2016. It sold in 2017.
Q: Can you give us some insight into your creative process? How do you connect with your “muse”?
Professor Barnes: For me, it all starts with a verse and a voice. When I hear something that catches my ear, I write it down; it keeps playing in my mind over and over again like a record spinning round and round. Then, I hear something else — another verse, and so on and so forth. The more I write, the more I hear. This voice actually took me by surprise, and it intrigued me because it sounds like someone doubting herself, playing back the voices that tell her she can’t, she shouldn’t, she won’t, she’s not enough, or she’s too much.
These are all things that we’ve heard before in some way, shape, or form. When we internalize doubt like that — what others tell us — we cannot hear the truth about how magically wonderful we truly are. That’s the thing, the light is always there. We just have to let it shine and get to know ourselves for who we truly are.
Q: What sort of relationship do you have with the illustrators of your books? Do you communicate or how does that work?
Professor Barnes: Great question! In most cases, we do not communicate until after the book is done. However, with my last two titles — “Books Do Not Have Wings” and now, “Black Girl Rising” — I was very involved. My editor, the art director, the illustrator, and I discussed our concepts for the illustrations and how they might come to life on the page along with the words. I actually ended up making a mock-up of the book with the words on the page and photographs that depicted certain ideas I had about conceptualizing the visual story.
Q: Can you give us any update on other books that are on the way?
Professor Barnes: Yes, I’m happy to say that Chronicle will be releasing the sequel to “Black Girl Rising,” which is “Black Boy Rising,” in 2025. The book that Simon & Schuster picked up, “When I See You,” will be released in September of 2023.
Q: You’ve been an English professor at Schoolcraft College since 2014. As it appears we’ve finally emerged from the pandemic, what are some of the lessons you’ll take away as a teacher moving forward?
Professor Barnes: I’ve learned that nothing compares to the human connection; this is the cornerstone of everything that we do as professors. The more invested you are in reaching your students, the more you’ll find yourself inspired.
Q: Thank you, Professor Barnes. Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Professor Barnes: Writing and teaching are great acts of love, and it is my greatest joy to share my greatest loves with the Schoolcraft family and children around the world.