Joy Interviews Brandy Colbert, author of THE ONLY BLACK GIRLS IN TOWN

We are so thrilled that our postponed event from March with Brandy Colbert, author of numerous of our YA favorites, has been rescheduled for July 20, at 2 pm CT on the Brazos IG Live!  Brandy will be discussing her debut middle grade novel, THE ONLY BLACK GIRLS IN TOWN, in conversation with friend of store and phenomenal Houston author, Liara Tamani, whose much buzzed about new YA novel, ALL THE THINGS WE NEVER KNEW is out now as well. So mark your calendars and enjoy this interview! 


Joy Preble: THE ONLY BLACK GIRLS IN TOWN is your debut middle grade. What inspired you to write MG after establishing yourself with young adult novels? Was the writing process different, writing for younger readers? What about this particular story spoke to you enough that it became your first middle grade?


Brandy Colbert: I've always been in love with middle grade books; they are the books I remember seeking out from an early age and reading on my own for the first time. I stopped reading them as I got older, moving on to adult fiction and the few young adult books that were around when I was a teenager. After I'd been writing YA for a while, I rediscovered MG and have never looked back! I've probably read more MG than YA in the past couple of years, but I wasn't sure I could write it myself. Once I gave it a try, it was so much fun getting into that voice and age group, and I'm happy to write for both children and young adults now.


JP: We are all glad you decided to give middle grade a try! You do such a great job creating engaging, real characters with Alberta and Edie! Did the story idea come first for you with this project, or did the characters? How did you know that these were the right characters for this particular story?


BC: Most of my stories come to me as a mix of character and a loose plot idea, but with this one the idea was definitely stronger: What would happen if you were the only Black girl your age in your town and another Black girl your age moved in across the street? It was something I desperately wished for growing up. I felt Alberta in my bones as soon as I started writing: a sweet, slightly insecure surfer who is loved but often feels alone in her nearly all-white beach town. I don't share much with Alberta besides the demographics of where we grew up, but she felt like exactly the right person to tell this story. Edie came to me pretty easily; I knew I wanted to write about a girl from Brooklyn who had more life experience than Alberta, and I wanted to write a Black goth girl because that's not something we see often enough in fiction, especially in that age group—though Black goth girls very much exist.


JP: I certainly agree that Alberta is the right character to tell this particular story, and that Edie is the perfect counterpart! Following up a bit, THE ONLY BLACK GIRLS IN TOWN navigates past and present once Edie finds the 1950s journals of a woman named Constance. Without giving away any crucial plot points, could you talk a bit about how race factors into the story and into Alberta and Edie’s experiences both in present and in the past they see through the journals? 


BC: I wanted to show Alberta and Edie exploring Black history organically, which was something lacking in my childhood. What I knew, I either learned from my parents or at church, and I am still finding out so much buried history as an adult. In my experience, Black history in school was very surface-level, with our textbooks devoting a few paragraphs to slavery and the civil rights movements, as if that was a satisfactory recap of the vast history of Black Americans. The journals cover some important moments in Black history, but also the dynamics between Black and white people in the 1950s and 1960s. I'm never trying to teach a lesson in my novels, but I am interested in shining a light on the lives of Black Americans from the past and how that influences the present.


JP: The idea of how our past influences our present really speaks to me. Nothing happens in a vacuum, and it was so interesting to see that reflected here through the girls’ story. The novel also explores middle school friendship in general, certainly a very fraught subject! (Does anyone survive 7th grade unscathed?) Were the relationships between Alberta and Edie and Laramie influenced by any of your own real life experiences?


BC: Truer words have never been spoken! I didn't base their relationships on real-life experiences, but fraught is exactly the word to describe my summer between sixth and seventh grades, when I was involved in a multi-friend argument for months. I don't remember what it was about, but there was lots of 1980s phone drama and hurt feelings. I'm pretty sure we all made up as soon as we got to junior high in the fall.


JP: Hah! Phone drama for sure. We had a land line with a long cord when I was in 7th grade, and I remember twisting that cord around my finger while I talked to whichever friend I was spilling my drama to! But as it seems we have both survived middle school, what’s next for Brandy Colbert? 


BC: More books! My next YA, THE VOTING BOOTH, will be out from Disney-Hyperion on July 7. And then there are a few more projects, both MG and YA, that haven't yet been announced, but I hope to be able to talk about soon!


JP: Oh yay! We can hardly wait! We hope to see you in store for one of those amazing books! That would be so fabulous!


For more on Brandy Colbert, please visit her website.


This interview has been edited for clarity.

The Only Black Girls in Town Cover Image
ISBN: 9780316456388
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually Arrives in 4-7 Business Days
Published: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers - March 10th, 2020

The Voting Booth Cover Image
ISBN: 9781368053297
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually Arrives in 4-7 Business Days
Published: Disney-Hyperion - July 7th, 2020

Article Type Terms: