Words are important, whether presented as songs, spoken words or text, they have a way of making us feel something. Words can be so powerful like the heat from the fierce sun, jolting us on a whirlwind journey and in the process sometimes changing us. That is why writing for children is the best job in the world!
As a writer passionate about improving the diversity of books in the global market, I wanted to write the stories that I longed to read as a child, stories that I could see myself in, and I could connect with. Growing up as a child, I was mesmerized by the stories I read; from cookbooks to comics; my favorites were the mysteries and adventure stories which greatly sharpened my mind and provoked me to think deeply. Yet 99% of the books I was reading had no characters like myself, and the setting was also very much different. So although I enjoyed reading them I wondered whether they were children like me in books until one day my dad brought home Kwajo and the Bassman’s Secret written by Meshack Asare which had won the Noma Award for Publishing in Africa in 1982. What a pure delight it was to see the cover page and when I dove right in, everything felt very familiar. From then I knew why I wanted to write; with the deep love I had for reading I gradually began writing. I started reading/writing workshops called The funky readwrite clinics for school children.
Like everything else, starting a writing career is not a walk in the park, you have to better your craft; read more, be resilient and stay positive. However, it is even more challenging for underrepresented writers to get our stories published, because the stories may not seem a ‘good fit' to editors or publishers if they are not specifically looking for more diverse stories other than those they are familiar with. On another hand, the people in charge of making the decisions would also have to be diverse. For example, is there a person living with a disability working as a literary agent, an editor or a publisher? Such a person might appreciate more stories from that perspective.
There are now 8 billion people in the world; that’s a lot of diversity; different languages, shapes, sizes, cultures, and different stories. What is clear is that it takes a whole community to improve the diversity of stories for children. There would have to be a conscious effort. We can do this!
Portia Dery is a writer, a development worker, and a social entrepreneur from Ghana. In 2013 she dared to turn her passion for reading and writing into an innovative social venture called the African youth writers organization(AYWO) which helps school children from low-income communities improve their literacy skills via a bespoke literacy mentorship program called the 'funky readwrite clinic'. As a writer, Portia is tackling the lack of diverse African stories for children in the global market. Grandma's List, her debut book, has won the prestigious Children's Africana Book Award in 2018, the Ghana Association of Writers (GAW) literature prize for children book in 2019, and the Golden Baobab Picture Book Prize in 2014.