Former Fort Wayne resident and award-winning author Kekla Magoon will return to town to take part in the Literacy Expo from 4 to 6 p.m. Tuesday at the Walb Student Union ballroom at IPFW.
Magoon is the author of the young adult book “The Rock and the River,” which won the 2010 Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe Author Award for New Talent and has been nominated for an NAACP Image Award.
Magoon moved to Fort Wayne at age 4. She graduated in 1997 from Northrop High School, and went to college at Northwestern University. She then earned a master’s degree in writing from the Vermont College of Fine Arts before moving in 2001 to New York City, where she lives now. Her brother, Kobi Libii, is an actor also living in New York City. Her parents still live in Fort Wayne.
We interviewed Magoon by e-mail. Here’s what she said: Q.: How has growing up in Fort Wayne affected how you look at the world or the topics you pursue in your writing?
A.: I believe that my upbringing impacts my work a great deal. As a biracial woman, my work touches on race and gender issues, as well as issues of friendship, community, education, diversity and family values — all topics which reflect my Fort Wayne background.
I’ve lived in NYC for nine years, but I still consider Fort Wayne my “home base” as I approach the world, and it is largely due to the community of supportive individuals who were part of my childhood — my friends from high school, and even my parents’ friends, who have formed sort of an extended family for us over the years. We attended First Presbyterian Church, where my brother and I grew up feeling well-loved and supported by a wide range of people, who continue to take interest in our well-being today. It is easy to move out into the world knowing that practically an entire city has your back!
Q.: How did you get the idea for “The Rock and the River”? What interested you in telling this story?
A.: “The Rock and the River” is set in 1968 Chicago, about a 13-year-old boy who finds himself torn between the ideals of his civil rights-activist father and those of his older brother, who joins the Black Panther Party. I’ve always been intrigued by the civil rights era, and I chose this story because it is a topic that has rarely been explored in fiction.
I love history, but I enjoy pushing beyond the dates and facts to try to understand the lived experience of the past. It’s both compelling and educational for teen readers to imagine what it felt like to live in a different time and place, and to face the decisions young people faced in the time. I spent about a year researching and writing the novel; I relied on books and documentaries to help me create a truthful historical world, and then drew on my creativity and imagination to fill in the rest.
Q.: What awards and nominations has the book received?
A.: “The Rock and the River” won the 2010 Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe Author Award for New Talent, and has been nominated for an NAACP Image Award in the “Outstanding Literary Work for Youth/Teens” category (more info at www.naacpimageawards.net). It was also named an American Library Association Notable Book for Children, a Young Adult Library Services Association Best Book for Young Adults, and a Booklist Top Ten Historical Fiction for Teens.
Q.: What book or books or other type of writing are you working on now?
A.: I’m completing a contemporary middle-grade novel for Simon & Schuster, and I just sold a young adult novel manuscript to Henry Holt. I’m also working on a nonfiction book project on the civil rights era, based on research and expertise I gained in writing “The Rock and the River.”
Q.: Are you able to make a living full time as a writer?
A.: At the moment, I’m working full time as an author, which really involves quite a bit of work beyond writing. I write novels and nonfiction books for children and teens. I also speak to school groups, lead writing workshops, offer manuscript critiques, and present at writing conferences and book events around the country, such as Tuesday’s Literacy Expo at IPFW. I’m also co-editor of children’s and young adult literature for Hunger Mountain, the arts journal of Vermont College of Fine Arts.