August 26

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Cover Reveal of The Only Black Girls in Town by Brandy Colbert

I wasn’t the only Black girl in my hometown, but growing up, I was used to being “the only one” in my class. And maybe one of less than a handful in the entire school. I spent time with other Black girls at church when I was young, but as they moved away or we became closer to our school friends, those friendships grew apart.

 

As I became older, I started to meet more Black people, and especially women, who’d grown up like me in nearly all-white environments. Suddenly, I realized that even if I’d been the only one, I wasn’t truly the only one. Finally, I was able to discuss instances and situations with people who knew exactly what it had felt like to experience them. I had the language to express how I was feeling, but most importantly, I no longer felt alone.

 

People have often asked if I’ll set a book or short story in my hometown of Springfield, Missouri, and my answer is always “probably not.” I was born and raised there, and went to college there, too, but I haven’t lived there for nearly 18 years. And though I had a wonderful childhood with loving, supportive, and attentive parents, even thinking of writing about a fictionalized version of my hometown makes me nervous. We don’t always see the beauty of the places we lived in our most formative years, and I’m not sure I’d be able to divorce my memories from a fictional perspective.

 

I didn’t realize I wanted to write about my childhood experience of feeling like “the only one” until one day, out of the blue, I texted a writer friend and asked, “Has anyone recently written a middle grade about being the only Black girl in town for your whole life until another one suddenly moves in?” My well-read friend quickly said no, and I immediately got to work on what would be my middle grade debut, The Only Black Girls in Town.

 

I briefly considered setting the story in the Midwest, because it’s a region not often associated with Black people outside of urban areas like St. Louis and Chicago. But then I thought about all the Black people I’ve met who, like me, were “the only ones,” and they were from all over the country. I had to remind myself that just because people don’t expect any Black Americans to live somewhere, that doesn’t mean they aren’t there.

 

I think growing up in a predominantly white area has made me especially curious about the marginalized groups that live in similar spaces around the country. As many people have asked my parents: What drew them there? Did they like it? Why did they stay? So I decided to place my characters in one of my favorite areas of California, the Central Coast. I love the quaint little beach towns that line the region, but it isn’t lost on me that during my visits, I’ve rarely seen faces that look like mine.

 

OnlyBlackGirlsInTown

 

I loved writing about twelve-year-old Alberta Freeman-Price, the only Black girl her age in the fictional town of Ewing Beach, and Edie Whitman, her new neighbor who moves in across the street all the way from Brooklyn and, essentially, becomes Alberta’s first real Black friend. Although she and Edie are quite different, finally, Alberta has someone to talk to about the things she couldn’t discuss with her friends for fear of being misunderstood. Alberta, Edie, and their parents have several conversations about what it means to be “the only one” and how that affects each of them—especially since the feeling is new for Edie and her mom, and it’s simply a way of life for Alberta and her two fathers.

 

I teared up when I first saw this cover. When I was Alberta and Edie’s age, I was reading more voraciously than ever, and it would’ve meant so much to see these sweet, happy Black girls and know the pages inside were all about them. I would’ve realized that Black girls can be surfers and goths or whoever they wanted to be and that didn’t make them any less Black than anyone else. I would have realized that they could have nothing in common at all, but still share the special bond of Black sisterhood. I hope this book will let kids who are growing up like I did understand they’re not alone, or that it will help validate the experience of those who’ve been known at some point as “the only one.”

 

I now know that being “the only one” isn’t completely accurate. It may have taken me years to find the others, but they’re out there. We’re never truly alone.

 

Brandy Colbert is the award-winning author of Little & Lion, The Revolution of Birdie Randolph, Finding Yvonne, and Pointe. Her debut middle grade novel, The Only Black Girls in Town, will be available on March 24, 2020, from Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. Her short fiction and essays have been published in several critically acclaimed anthologies for young people. She is on faculty at Hamline University’s MFA program in writing for children, and lives in Los Angeles.