Ibi Zoboi stormed into YA with the gorgeous American Street, which went straight onto the 2017 National Book Award longlist. In September, she’ll be releasing her killer sophomore novel, Pride, an urban contemporary Pride & Prejudice remake with an Afro-Latinx heroine who has got a scrutinizing eye on her gentrifying neighborhood of Bushwick. But today we’re talking about her third contribution to YA—as editor of Black Enough: Stories of Being Young & Black in America—and showing off its absolutely perfect cover (and amazing full jacket!), with art by Stephanie Singleton, for the very first time.
One thing you may notice on that cover? The absolutely phenomenal contributor list, including Justina Ireland (Dread Nation), Varian Johnson (The Great Green Heist), Rita Williams-Garcia (One Crazy Summer), Dhonielle Clayton (The Belles), Kekla Magoon (How it Went Down), Leah Henderson (One Shadow on the Wall), Tochi Onyebuchi (Beasts Made of Night), Jason Reynolds (The Long Way Down), Nic Stone (Dear Martin), Liara Tamani (Calling My Name), Renée Watson (Piecing Me Together), Tracey Baptiste (The Jumbies), Coe Booth (Bronxwood), Brandy Colbert (Little & Lion), Jay Coles (Tyler Johnson Was Here), Lamar Giles (Overturned), and Zoboi herself, pulling from both middle grade and young adult’s best of the best.
In addition to allowing us to reveal the cover, Zoboi stopped by to answer some questions about it, the book, and what it means to be Black Enough in YA.
First of all, this cover is fabulous. Can you tell us about the characters represented here? And can you share a little bit about your story in the collection?
Yes, I absolutely love the cover! It’s fresh, colorful, and joyful—exactly how I see black teens. The characters don’t represent anyone specific from the stories, rather, they collectively convey the theme of this anthology. The teens vary in complexion and style of dress and hair, but the one defining thread that connects them to each other is their race. They are all obviously black, but that may be the only thing they have in common. My story, “The (R)Evolution of Nigeria Jones,” features a girl whose father is a the leader of a Black extremist group. Homeschooled and vegan, Nigeria plans a one-night escape from her strict community to follow her dreams and maybe her heart.
Your novels, American Street and the upcoming Pride, also have stunning covers, though all three of these are so different, which is something we don’t often see for books under a single name. How much input do you get in those designs, and how much did you have in this one?
I’m so grateful to have had excellent design teams and artists working on those books. My editor, Alessandra Balzer, has graciously included me in the process, though I prefer not to have much input on the actual art and design. My focus has been and will always be how the black children are portrayed on the cover. I look for accuracy in hair texture and styles, as well as complexion and facial expressions. The media has such a long history with portraying black children as dehumanized caricatures, so it’s important for me to make sure that everyone sees black children, especially dark-skinned girls, as beautiful, even when they’re illustrated.
You have such a strong, telling title in Black Enough; it practically breathes the fact that it’s going to be a necessary read for so many teens. Was there a tipping point in your experience that brought about the title, or was it more of a slower burn that arose through conversation with other participants in the collection?
There were a good number of black authors debuting along with me last year. It felt like a sea change. But comparatively, we were such a very tiny percentage of all the books released in 2017. The recent CCBC statistics confirmed this. Out of that small number of books written by and about black people, many were addressing the issues of the day: police brutality, racism, immigration. But we are so much more than these issues. For the most part, black teens are living out their daily lives not thinking about these things. There are first kisses to be had, family relationships to negotiate, new landscapes to navigate. Most importantly, they are trying to figure out who they are and where they fit in. This has to happen before they can even gain the courage to speak out about any injustices. My hope for this collection is that it’ll be a safe literary space for all young readers to realize that, yes, there are big things happening in the world, but it’s okay to take a minute to figure other things out, too. I think every single one of these stories makes this clear.
There’s such an incredible range of authors in this anthology, from some of the biggest names in YA to brand-new voices we’ve only just heard from this year. How did you select your lineup, and how collaborative was the process?
I had gotten to know a little bit about each author either from personal interactions or through social media. My first priority was to aim for diversity within diversity. I had invited the authors to write from a deep sense of place—rural, suburbs, urban. My goal was to portray black children living in different parts of the country to let readers know that they are indeed everywhere: on farms, tony suburbs, boarding schools, and small, one-traffic-light towns. To that end, I reached out to the authors who I knew could write from these places and from a certain experience. I also wanted to include black immigrants—Caribbean and actual African Americans. Tracey Baptiste gives us a poignant story about the intersections of sexual assault, culture, immigration. I knew that Leah Henderson had attended an elite New England boarding school. What’s it like to be a black teen rubbing elbows with the children of world leaders and diplomats? Tochi Onyebuchi introduces us to an endearing Nigerian American teen whose high-brow British accent is his overbearing mother’s pride and joy, until a new girl moves in next door. Varian Johnson, Lamar Giles, and Jason Reynolds give us plenty #blackboyjoy. Nic Stone, Liara Tamani, and Renée Watson place teen girls in a rollerskating rink in Atlanta, at a Gulf Coast beach, and in an Oregon sleep-away camp, respectively. I could go on. I asked for small things, and each of the authors delivered and exceeded my expectations.
What kind of rep can readers look forward to in this book, and is there any you wish it had that just didn’t pan out?
I gotta say, there’s a little bit of everything in this anthology. It’s not exhaustive by far, but I’m truly proud of what the authors were willing and able to bring to the table. There could easily be a second volume of Black Enough. I would love to see a black transgender intraracial love story. I really wanted to include Afro-Latinx representation—black teens who speak Spanish or French and must navigate two cultures. I initially had some cities and states in mind as settings for some stories—the deep south, Chicago, Compton, and rural Florida. What are black teens’ lives like in these places?
What was your favorite part of putting together the book? What was the most unexpected challenge?
My absolute favorite part was receiving the stories from the authors. As soon as one would come in, I’d drop everything to read the first few lines. Many of these stories are just laugh-out-loud funny. And I truly enjoyed talking back to the characters. One of the authors shared with me that it was refreshing to have that kind of feedback—someone who understood and could speak to all the cultural references. This was the skill I brought to this project. I’m black. I get it. Well, most of it. I approached each of the stories not really as an editor, but as a critique partner or a workshop participant. I’ve been to lots of workshops, including completing an MFA, so my feedback was along those lines. I wrote an editorial letter and asked big-picture questions. Whatever was challenging about the process, Alessandra was extremely helpful in filling in the gaps. So I leaned heavily on her. It was a lot of work behind the scenes, as any anthologist would know, but I truly had a great time working with Alessandra and all the authors.
Black Enough releases on January 8, 2019, and is available for preorder now.