Dear Black Girls (Metonymy) is a gorgeous picture book offering love and reassurance to Black girls the world over. Writer Shanice Nicole has collaborated with artist Kezna Dalz to create a work that’s empowering and timely. This week, Shanice is our guest on The Chat.
Shanice Nicole is a Black feminist educator, facilitator, writer, and (out)spoken word artist. She believes that everyone has the power to make change and dreams of a freer world for us all. Learn more about her work at shanicenicole.com.
Kezna Dalz is a multidisciplinary Black artist from Montreal. She cares about representation, and portrays the beauty of womanhood, teen/adult angst, and the worst of pop culture using vibrant colours. You can find more of her work at www.teenadultt.com.
Trevor Corkum: Dear Black Girls, a picture book, is a love letter to Black girls around the world. Why was this project important to you?
Shanice Nicole: Dear Black Girls is a book that I would have wanted to read as a young Black girl and it's a book that I still want to read as an adult. There's something so important about seeing and feeling yourself not only represented but understood. That experience is something I wanted to offer through the poem and Kezna has beautifully translated that same experience through her illustrations. It was also incredibly important to me that this book would be written and illustrated by two Black girls considering the severe lack of publishing opportunities for Black people. The feedback so far has been overwhelmingly positive and although it's not surprising, it still warms my heart every single time someone shares with us how this book has touched them. That to me is the power of art and creation.
TC: I understand that the book first came into being as a poem. Can you talk about that, and how the idea for a book came together?
SN: I wrote Dear Black Girls as a spoken word piece in the summer of 2015 at a time when I really felt like Black girls and women in particular needed to receive a message of love and appreciation. So I wrote this poem from a place of both pain but also love. However, when I was writing the poem I had no intention or plan for it to transform into a children's book one day. At the time it was just a poem and I wish I could remember the exact moment when I thought of or decided that I wanted it to become a book; however, I do know that I performed the poem at a show and while on stage I said to the audience that I wanted to turn it into a children's book one day.
Metonymy Press happened to be tabling in the back of the room and a friend in the audience introduced us and now here we are a few years later with this beautiful book in our hands. So the poem itself has existed for quite a few years but the illustration and publishing process has been the focus of this past year or so. It has been such a learning experience for all of us and especially for Kezna and I as this is our first publishing experience.
TC: You worked with illustrator Kezna Dalz, who has illustrated the book in bold, warm, vibrant colours. What was it like to work in such close collaboration?
SN: Working with Kezna has been such a blessing. Bold, warm, and vibrant are the perfect descriptors of her illustrations but also of Kezna's unique style as an artist. I knew that I wanted to collaborate with a young Black illustrator and I am so happy that I was able to choose the artist which is not always the case when working with a publisher. I fully trusted Kezna to lead the illustration process and my role was to give feedback whenever possible and ensure that she understood my vision but also had space to be creative. Because we were both new to the process, it required a lot of communication and patience but the end result has been so beautiful. The way that she has brought this poem and story to life through her illustrations is something that I will always be deeply grateful for.
TC: Whom do you most hope the book reaches?
SN: I of course hope this book primarily reaches Black girls and women because that is the intended audience and who the poem was written for. But this book, like many, is to be read by all. I want everyone to experience the magic of Black girlhood even if it's only through the pages. I want to disrupt the false narrative that Black girls are not loved and not special. I want to normalize the depiction of Black girls in all of their beauty and also all of their normalcy. That was an incredibly important part of the illustrations. Kezna and I wanted people to open up the book and see Black girls and children who looked like them or people they knew. The representation that we are often "allowed" is so limiting and we wanted to shift that by including a wide range of characters that were reflective of who we actually are or can be.
I want everyone to experience the magic of Black girlhood even if it's only through the pages. I want to disrupt the false narrative that Black girls are not loved and not special."
TC: The book comes out in the midst of a global pandemic, and in a year where calls for racial justice have entered the mainstream discourse. What is it like to launch the book at this particular moment in time?
SN: It's so interesting because there were a few delays with the book which resulted in a later publication date than originally expected. However, I believe that in many ways, things happen as they are destined to. This process—especially navigating within the context of a global pandemic—has forced us to be creative and flexible. We had plans that had to be paused or cancelled or completely reimagined. A part of me is sad that I can't offer hugs along with signed copies of the book but this past year has taught me how to adapt and how to accept change.
It has been challenging but not impossible and I feel grateful that I've had the incredible support of so many including the Metonymy Press team who has skilfully guided us from the beginning. It is also special to be launching the book during Black History Month so there has been an extra boost of energy and support because of people's heightened attention. Similar to the calls for racial justice in mainstream discourse, it is my hope that the attention and interest not only for this book but for Black people and Black communities and Black freedom continues beyond February and beyond any singular moment. The work is always ongoing and Dear Black Girls is a small but mighty contribution to that fight.
Excerpt from Dear Black Girls, licensed under Creative Commons, 2021 Shanice Nicole (text), Kezna Dalz (images) published with permission of Metonymy Press.