An Interview with Children’s author AMA KUMA
(Reprinted with permission from Black Pearls Magazine)
Ama Kuma was born Alexia J. Hogan in Orlando, FL. The pen name “Ama Kuma” was adopted after a trip to Ghana in 2007. As a child, she loved to read, sing, dance, and climb trees. Her passion for language and art continued to grow as she grew older, and she loved to learn about people from all walks of life. She studied English at Howard University in Washington, D.C., and African Studies at New York University before returning to Polk County to teach elementary school. Ama currently resides in her hometown of Orlando where she enjoys writing, painting, singing, playing the piano, and going wherever the wind takes her. Nandi’s Unexpected Gift is her first published book.
BPM: What made you want to become a writer? How long have you been writing?
I’ve always had a healthy appetite for literature. I got an award for being the outstanding English student of my 12th grade class, and I majored in English at Howard University. I’ve written poetry and short stories here and there since middle school, but the urgency of writing never hit me until I taught elementary school and saw firsthand the need for diverse books for our children.
BPM: How do you think you’ve evolved creatively?
I’m not afraid to be candid and honest anymore. I don’t place pressure on myself to impress anyone. My goal is to simply speak from my heart. Because of that, my creative process has become organic, cathartic, and very rewarding on a personal level.
BPM: Do you view writing as a kind of spiritual practice?
Absolutely. The written word is extremely powerful, and with the right intent, writing has the power to transform, heal, and empower both the writer and the reader.
BPM: How has writing impacted your life?
Writing has actually saved my life on a few occasions. Whether it be journaling my feelings, writing poetry, or writing stories, writing has always helped me to stay balanced emotionally and mentally. I’m able to process my feelings about the world and myself in a healthy way.
BPM: What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your books?
It sounds strange, but the most surprising thing I learned was that there was absolutely no limit for my ideas. One idea just flowed right after the next, and the story seemed to write itself after a certain point. It was like the book became its own living, breathing organism. It felt like I had created an alternate reality rather than just a book. I didn’t know I could come up with so many ideas.
BPM: Where do you see yourself as a writer in five years?
I’d love to see myself on the New York Times Bestseller list. Not because I want the title, but because I have this burning in me to write meaningful, relatable stories that people can enjoy.
BPM: How do you find or make time to write? Are you a plotter or a pantster?
I’ll answer this question with some wise words from Octavia Butler: First forget inspiration. Habit is more dependable. Habit will sustain you whether you’re inspired or not. Habit will help you finish and polish your stories. Inspiration won’t. Habit is persistence in practice. To be a solid writer, you have to be inspired to be inspired, if that makes sense.
BPM: How did you choose the genre you write in? Have you considered writing in another genre?
I chose to write exclusively for children and young adults because I’m an activist and I want to contribute to closing the diversity gap in the publishing industry. I think it would be cool to write for adults, but I don’t feel it’s urgent right now.
BPM: Tell us about your most recent work. Available on Nook and Kindle?
Nandi’s Unexpected Gift is my pride and joy. It’s a down-home Florida story, filled with motherhood, sisterhood, and overall girl power! It’s a book that’s great for all children as its primary themes deal with cultivating inner beauty, humility, and personal power -things no child should live without. It’s currently available on Amazon in hardcover, paperback, and Kindle. I also have signed copies available through my website, www.amakuma.net
BPM: Give us some insight into your main characters or the speakers. What makes each one so special?
Nandi is the star of the show and she has a lot of spunk. She’s an extremely lovable child who has a natural wonder about the world around her. She’s the definition of a free spirit, but not even she can escape society’s obsession with physical beauty. In the story, she learns to how to hold on to herself with the help of her friends (who are more focused than she is) and her family. Her older sister Vanessa is the cool teen she aspires to be like, and her mother and grandmother offer sage wisdom and love. And each character is a reflection of Southern beauty.
BPM: What was your hardest scene to write, the opening or the close?
I revised the closing scene about a trillion times! It was difficult to write the close because I wanted to be sure the story was good to the last drop. It was also my final opportunity to hammer out the moral of the story.
BPM: Share one specific point in your book that resonated with your present situation or journey.
As a woman, I constantly have to remind myself that I am beautiful inside and out. I have to accept my flaws and uniqueness and live out loud. That’s what Nandi had to learn, and it’s what I have to re-learn over and over again in my own life.
BPM: Is there a specific place/space/state that you find inspiration in?
Florida, baby! I’m a 5th generation Floridian on both sides. I was born near Eatonville in Orlando, FL., and I feel at home in this state, from Miami to Tallahassee. Like Zora Neale Hurston, I see so much beauty here and there’s so much to write about.
BPM: Are there certain characters you would like to go back to, or is there a theme or idea you’d love to work with?
I’d like to flesh out Nandi’s father more in the next book. I want to explore the beauty of the father/daughter relationship because I didn’t do that in Nandi’s Unexpected Gift. That’s an entirely new terrain that I think readers will enjoy.
BPM: Do you want each book to stand on its own or do you prefer to write series?
I know I want to have a Nandi series, but I’m also outlining for my first YA novel which will stand on its own. I guess each project has a different demand.
BPM: Does writing energize you?
Writing is life itself. I need to write like I need to drink water.
BPM: Do you believe in writer’s block?
No way! I think there are times when ideas flow more freely, but for a passionate writer, the ideas flow even if it’s at a faucet drip pace.
BPM: Do you try to deliver to readers what they want or let the characters guide your writing?
I completely let the characters guide the writing. I write from a place of empathy, so I try to develop very intricate characters that readers can naturally resonate with.
BPM: Is there one subject you would never write about as an author? What is it?
For children, I’ll never write about death. I think there are some skilled children’s writers that can approach that subject with skill and sensitivity, but I don’t think I’ll ever do it. For teenagers, I could do it, but I wouldn’t even write about the death of a goldfish for children.
BPM: Is there a certain type of scene that’s harder for you to write than others?
Not really. Once the story takes a hold of me, my emotions just flow and sway with wherever the story goes. It’s a very natural experience.
BPM: What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?
I’d say the best money I ever spent as a writer was on illustrations. To see an idea come out so beautifully in color is an amazing feeling.
BPM: Have you written any other books that are not published?
I’ve written a few chapters for an adult novel, but I haven’t taken the time to develop it. I also have another children’s manuscript laying around, and my computer is loaded with unpublished poetry. I have every intention on developing all of it in the future, but I can’t overwhelm myself. I can only hone one project at a time.
BPM: What projects are you working on at the present?
I’m currently outlining for my first YA novel. It’s still in the fetal stages, so I can’t reveal the plot, as its most likely going to change. I’m really excited about it though. I can’t wait to bring it into fruition. It’s going to be very raw and candid.
BPM: What is your preferred method to have readers get in touch with or follow you?
I love interacting with readers on Facebook. It’s a great way for readers to get to know me as a person and vice-versa. I have a page for my book (@NandiUGift), but I also encourage people to follow my personal page and friend me. Just search for Ama Kuma and I’ll be your friend for life!
BPM: How can readers discover more about you and your work?
Readers can discover more about me on my website, www.amakuma.net , as well as on Twitter (@ama_kuma1), Instagram (amakuma_author), and Facebook (@NandiUGift)