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“As a writer and a publisher, I know good books – books that spotlight our diversity in all its fullness and richness – make a difference. They have certainly made a difference in my life.”

I was born to write.

My career as a writer took root when I was a boy growing in the small town of Mansfield, Louisiana.


I would sit on my porch, with a pad of paper and a pencil. Whatever my young mind could imagine I tried to capture on paper. Sometimes it was a rambling poem about not much in particular. Sometimes I tried to relate a story I had heard from an elder. Then, other times, I created my own characters, my own story with a plot that included would be twists that built to a want-to-be climax and a not quite fulfilling ending.


By the ninth grade, I had written a play that my class performed. I continued writing poetry, short stories, and plays through high school and college, and later had several plays, including “Sam Carter Belongs Here,” “A House Divided” and “A Black Love Story,” performed on the professional stage.


In 1988, my love of writing helped serve as the foundation for Just Us Books, a company I founded with his wife Cheryl, to publish children’s books that reflect the fullness of Black stories, history, culture and experiences. Some of our company’s first published titles were ones I wrote, including Book of Black Heroes from A to Z and Jamal's Busy Day, illustrated by George Ford. I also co-edited with Cheryl books that Just Us Books produced in partnership with other publishers, including How Sweet the Sound in collaboration with Scholastic; and three anthologies with Crown Books for Young Readers: We Rise, We Resist, We Raise Our Voices; The Talk: Conversations About Race, Love & Truth and Recognize! An Anthology Honoring and Amplifying Black Life.


I have also written books published by other presses, such as Pass It On, African American Poetry for Children illustrated by Floyd Cooper and Powerful Words: More than Two Hundred Years of Extraordinary Writing by African Americans, illustrated by Sean Qualls (Scholastic); Journey, a collection of poetry published by Third World Press; and Defiant: Growing up in the Jim Crow South (Crown). Kirkus Reviews called the coming-of-age memoir a “powerful testimony from a children’s literature legend,” and it won the 2022 Malka Penn Award for Human Rights in Children’s Literature.  

My most recent titles are The Reckoning, a middle grade novel, and Invincible: Fathers and Mothers of Black America, a picture book illustrated by E.B. Lewis, that celebrates courageous Black forefathers and foremothers who helped to shape Black America. This is history that deserves a bigger spotlight, and which is often the biggest inspiration for my writing.


So much of Black history and Black experiences is not explored in the books we read, especially in books for children. The Black experience in this country is so rich and nuanced, its reservoir of interesting stories, characters and history is essentially inexhaustible.


I write to tell stories about marginalized people and unknown places. I write about people who have been kicked to the curb yet have been able to soar in unimaginable ways. I write about the seemingly insurmountable challenges that they conquered none-the-less. I write about love and joy, the sense of community and well-placed encouragement. I write about life…. Black life in all its variety and complexities.


In addition to writing and serving as CEO of Just Us Books, I speak at schools, libraries, and industry conferences across the nation, and for a number of years my wife Cheryl and I conducted workshops for Freedom Schools, operated nationwide by the Children’s Defense. I especially enjoy speaking with young readers. As I told a group of teens I shared with at an event in Harlem, “I have a lot of hope and faith in the future. The reason I do is because of you.

I have been honored to receive many awards for my contributions, including the Stephen Crane Literary Award, induction into the International Literary Hall of Fame for Writers of African Descent, the Harlem Book Fair Phillis Wheatley Award (2007), the Ida B. Wells Institutional Leadership Award (2008) presented by the Center for Black Literature, the Madame C. J. Walker Legacy Award (2012) given by the Zora Neale Hurston-Richard Wright Foundation, and the 2022 Carle Honors award from The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, a recognition I share with his wife Cheryl.


Community and faith are very important to me. I’m active in my local community and I’m proud to serve as a Deacon at Imani Baptist Church of Christ in East Orange. 


This leg of my journey began with my wife Cheryl, and our two children more than 35 years ago. What a journey it has been! I look forward to what’s next. 

Just Us Books INC - Jane Addams Children's Book Ceremony (UN Plaza, New York City, NY) 10-
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