Teresa Oppedal enjoyed a twenty-year career as a law librarian and legal information services manager at Morrison & Foerster, a large international law firm in San Francisco. Since retiring and moving to Austin in 2000, she has volunteered for many local non-profits including serving as Board President of the Austin Public Library Friends Foundation, on the advisory board of the Austin Museum of Art, on the grants committee of the Austin Community Foundation’s Women’s Fund, and as Advisory Council Chair of Literacy First. Most recently she built a small business, having developed a bug bite deterring mesh jumpsuit. Her primary interests remain promoting literacy and the free dissemination of information to all.
Carlos Y. Benavides IV is a Texas attorney working in the city of Austin at Ikard Law PC, where he represents clients in matters related to fiduciary law. Carlos received a BA in English from Marymount University and a JD from St. Mary’s University School of Law. He began his legal career in Hidalgo County, Texas as a state prosecutor for the first Domestic Violence Specialty Court in South Texas to rehabilitate domestic violence offenders, reduce potential recidivism and improve upon victim safety. Carlos has served on the non-profit Texas Council on Family Violence’s Prosecutor Leadership Core and went on to help establish and serve as the first labor trafficking specialty state prosecutor in the State of Texas. In 2019, Texas Governor Greg Abbott appointed Carlos to serve a six-year term on the Specialty Courts Advisory Council as a gubernatorial appointee. As a member of the advisory council, Carlos evaluates applications from specialty courts across the state for grant funding from the Governor’s Office and makes recommendations to the office’s criminal justice division regarding best practices for these courts.
Dalton Young is the Co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer of Rank & Style (rankandstyle.com), a lifestyle media site that features data-driven “Top 10” lists promoting best-of products in women’s fashion, beauty, men’s clothing, skincare, kids and home categories. She joined Rank & Style from the legal industry where she previously practiced as an attorney and was the president of a technical and data-driven legal support company. Dalton is passionate about contributing to the Austin community and spearheaded the creation of Hartford Park, a new pocket park in central Austin, through a unique public-private partnership with the City of Austin. In 2020, she co-chaired The Texas Book Festival Virtual Gala and is a former member of the Elizabeth Ann Seton Board. Dalton received her undergraduate degree in English literature from Washington and Lee University and her law degree from The University of Texas at Austin. She lives in Austin with her husband, Victor, and their sons Philip and Elliot.
Andrea Valdez is The 19th’s editor in chief. Previously she served as editor in chief of the Texas Observer, editor of WIRED.com, and editor of Texas Monthly’s website. A native Houstonian, she wrote the book “How to be a Texan: The Manual.” She is also a board member of the Student Press Law Center.
Anna Loewenbaum Hargrove co-chaired the Texas Book Festival Virtual Gala last year and currently serves on the Board of Trustees at Good Shepherd Episcopal School, the Seton Development Board and the UNC Lineberger Board of Visitors. Anna previously served on the Elizabeth Ann Seton Board. Originally from New Orleans, she received her bachelor’s degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and her masters in Special Education from the University of Texas at Austin. Anna previously taught kindergarten in New York and first grade at St. Andrew’s Episcopal School in Austin. She currently lives in Austin with her three boys and her husband Reg.
Born and raised in Austin, Texas, Grant E. Loveless is an AfroQueer award-winning student, social entrepreneur and community strategist in Central Texas. They are currently a student at Austin Community College majoring in Psychology seeking to pursue a career within Journalism and Public Policy. After graduation, Loveless hopes to serve their community as a liaison to youth and their academic or professional needs. Currently, as a spoken-word poet and well-recognized public speaker, they focus on creating dialogues centering: social and economic equity, cultural preservation and representation, youth empowerment and success as well as creative activism / storytelling.
Susannah Auby serves as the Texas Book Festival’s Development Associate. She received her MBA from Columbia University and her bachelor’s degree from the University of California at Berkeley. Prior to joining Texas Book Festival, she was a volunteer in Austin in many roles focused on education fundraising, literacy outreach, libraries, and her greatest passion, introducing children to authors. Her prior professional experience was in New York and included management consulting, strategic planning and financial analysis. She spends her free time keeping up with her four teenagers and the precarious stack of books on her nightstand.
Today we’d like to spotlight The Brown Bookshelf, a group of authors and illustrators dedicated to amplifying awareness of the myriad Black voices writing for young readers. Their flagship initiative, 28 Days Later, is a month-long showcase of the best in Picture Books, Middle Grade, and Young Adult novels written and illustrated by Black creators.
During each day of the twenty-eight days of Black History Month, The Brown Bookshelf profiles a different children’s or young adult author and children’s illustrator. Importantly, though, 28 Days Later emphasizes the necessity of celebrating Black authors, creatives, writers, and artists year-round. Their monthly Generations Book Club continues what 28 Days Later begins by featuring a themed list of books by Black creators for the youngest readers through adults and related links and resources.
We had the fortunate opportunity to speak with Brown Bookshelf Board member Paula Chase-Hyman, author of So Done and the Del Rio Bay series. Find the Q&A below!
Tell us about the origins of The Brown Bookshelf. What inspired you to be a part of the organization?
Back in the early 2000s, there was a writing forum called The Blue Board. I met many of the writers that I still consider friends there. It’s also where I met Varian Johnson, Kelly Starling Lyons, and Carla Sarratt. Varian had just come out with his first YA, My Life as a Rhombus, and my debut YA, So Not The Drama, was on its way. YA was exploding. It was a true renaissance as it gained mainstream popularity beyond teen readers. But Varian and I noticed that YA with and by Black people wasn’t getting the same level of attention. Not current or past works.
It’s been so long now that I don’t know which of us came up with the idea first. But we decided that an outlet was needed to amplify Black children’s literature, specifically those creatives that 1) weren’t the publisher’s pick, what we consider under-the-radar, and 2) those creatives that had blazed the trail for the rest of us. Unsurprisingly, nothing like it existed. We knew it would be a lot of logistics, so we each identified people to come in to help round out the concept. He asked Don Tate and I asked Kelly Starling Lyons and Carla Sarratt, who no longer works with the group but is still very much a book advocate as the Director of Libraries at the University of Mount Union.
For the first few years, Don created these wonderful posters with headshots of all 28 featured creatives. Our hope was that librarians would display it. Over time, we phased that out due to the amount of work both on Don’s part and the libraries – because to display it, in all its glory, would have really required a larger printout. Still, I’d like to think that Don’s posters are collector’s items that one day someone can feature as part of the movement to showcase the depth and breadth of excellence in the Black children’s literature community.
We’ve been fortunate to maintain a board of seven to nine creatives on The Brown Bookshelf since its inception in 2007. And this is no easy feat. Every one of us is an actively working author and/or illustrator. We do this work because we believe in it. We’re a family and team:
Tameka Fryer Brown
Why is it important to amplify Black voices and storytellers, especially for young readers?
Representation matters. There is no reason to perpetuate dulling our voices. Make no mistake, Black voices/storytellers have been and continue to be out there. But they’re dulled again and again. It’s not true that our stories aren’t out there. It’s not true that our stories won’t resonate with readers. It’s certainly not true that our stories won’t sell – especially if they were actually given the same consistent lift as books by white creatives.
I’ve always been a history buff. And there was a time when I liked watching shows like CNN’s The ’70s, ’80s, etc… But whenever you look at shows that purport to show you a slice of life from an era, Black people, if shown at all, tend to be given a few seconds almost always for their contributions in sports or entertainment. If one were to look at those shows, the simple assumption is either we didn’t exist at all or we had no part in crafting the era beyond the one Black artist they’re highlighting. Obviously false on both accounts. When media and books lack multiple, well-rounded portrayals of the role Black people played in America’s culture and development, the narrative is that we weren’t playing any role. So then it becomes easier to keep parroting falsehoods and pushing single narratives of the Black experience.
Young readers represent hope. You’ll notice that rather than specialize in a single genre, many Black creatives have worked across the children’s lit sphere. It’s because we understand the importance of having Black readers see themselves from picture book through Young adult literature. It’s also a chance for non-Black readers to see, hear and touch Black experiences. The earlier a reader is exposed to those stories the greater the chance we have of stamping out single narratives and falsehoods.
What sparked 28 Days Later and how do you celebrate Black History beyond Black History Month?
28 Days Later came out of the same discussions as our creation of The Brown Bookshelf. They were simultaneous creations. When we decided we needed to amplify Black works, 28 Days Later became the how. I still remember Varian questioning using the title of a zombie movie for our initiative. It was a bold, if not odd move. But my rationale was that 28 days later educators, parents, and librarians would walk away loaded with a long list of books for the young readers in their lives and with increased knowledge of the creatives behind those books. Emphasis on knowledge of the creatives.
I’ve always had a personal mission to make sure Black children’s lit creatives get the chance to become as well known as Ezra Jack Keats, Beverly Cleary, or Judy Blume – those authors whose work is in front of generations of readers. If names like Carole Boston Weatherford, Floyd Cooper, Sherri L. Smith, Derrick Barnes, Pat Cummings, Coe Booth, or Denene Millner aren’t familiar to you, despite their many contributions, that’s a problem for me.
Building on amplification opportunities, we began the Generations Book Club, last June. The initiative was conceived by Kelly Starling Lyons as a way to highlight books by Black creatives, boost book sales, help families nurture literacy skills, and bridge the social distancing divide by offering a shared reading experience within families and groups. Throughout the summer, we highlighted a single picture book, middle grade, young adult, and adult books across specific themes like Music, Culture, Community, and Heritage. In September, we decided to go beyond summer, stopping only for the 28 Days window. Using themes to curate books for the entire family has been a great way to build on exposing just how much work is out there.
Do you have a favorite author/artist who has inspired you in your storytelling?
Mildred L. Taylor for sure. I’ve always been a fan, but it wasn’t until a few years ago that I realized how growing up reading her books about the Logan family impacted me as an author. Being exposed to books that told stories of pain and triumph with an honesty that empowered the reader, making it easy for me to write books that revolved around tough topics. Taylor’s work showcased a certain historical era, but the themes of her work are as relevant today when it comes to the duality of the dangers of one’s Blackness while celebrating the many joys of our culture.
What’s next for The Brown Bookshelf?
We find ourselves in an interesting place since Kwame Alexander asked us to host the 2020 Kid Lit 4 Black Lives rally. It was an incredible event to be part of and it increased our exposure greatly. The more viewers to our 28 Days Later spotlight, the better. However, it also lit a flame for broader advocacy for Black creatives. In August, we worked with Renee Watson and Cheryl and Wade Hudson on A Call To Action, essentially outlining elements of the publishing system we believe needs to be overhauled to better support Black creatives.
In March, we’ll be announcing new partnerships and initiatives that were borne directly of both the rally and our Call to Action. Mindful that there’s only so much bandwidth an individual has, we’re excited to be working with organizations like Highlights Foundation and We Need Diverse Books to build on our efforts to amplify and empower Black creatives in children’s literature. As long as there’s a place to find our voices, that’s one less excuse available for anyone pretending not to understand the importance of representation.
Be sure to follow The Brown Bookshelf on Facebook (@thebrownbookshelf), Instagram (@BrownBookshelfTeam), and Twitter (@brownbookshelf).