All Member Spotlights
Member Spotlights

Member Spotlight: Dinah Johnson

author Dinah Johnson and an image of her book Ida B Wells Marches for the Vote

Why is writing important to you and why do you think it’s an important medium for the world? Why is writing important to me? The best I can offer in response is that I was born a writer. It is the way I process what I see and feel and dream and care about. I love the magic–magic that requires a lot of hard work–of starting with a blank page and ending up with a piece of art that can elicit joy or understanding or any number of reactions for readers and listeners.

What are your tried and tested remedies to cure writer’s block? Writer’s block might be a real phenomenon for some people. But it doesn’t exist for me. Of course, I let ideas dance around in my head. I think about family, about the people and places and things that I love, about anything that I am curious about or that I dream about. But at some point I have to put something on paper and then revise and polish, and revise and polish some more, until I’ve created a piece of art I’m proud to sign my name to.

What is your favorite time to write? I don’t have a favorite time to write. Because I don’t rely on income from my books to pay the bills, I have to write in the hours when I’m not preparing for the classes I teach or reading my students’ work. What I try to do is to make everything I write as beautiful as possible–whether it’s an email, or a note in a birthday card, a letter of recommendation, or even a quick text message.

What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever received and would like to impart to other writers? Read, read, read! When young writers come to get advice from me, I always ask them who their favorite writers are. Sometimes they tell me that they haven’t been reading lately. When I hear this, it’s hard for me to take them seriously. I remind them that musicians listen to all kinds of music. Artists visit museums and look at the illustrations in children’s books. Scientists read about the experiments that others have conducted. Most writers don’t live in a vacuum. We live in the world and we grow in community. So I advise writers to join the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) or a writers’ group in their home towns. But most importantly, read, write, and read and write more.

What excites you most about being a writer in today’s age? In addition to being a writer of children’s books, as Dianne Johnson-Feelings, I’m a scholar of African American Children’s Literature. It’s exciting to have contributed to reconstructing the history of this field, dating back even before and beyond the January 1920 through December 1921 run of The Brownies’ Book, a magazine designed especially for young Black readers. As Dinah, I’m always excited to do school visits. The energy of young people is palpable and energizing. A little girl once wrote a note to me saying, “Dear Dinah Johnson, You had made my heart sing.” I can imagine no better reward.

Dinah Johnson’s Ida B. Wells Marches for the Vote, illustrated by Jerry Jordan, is out now with Christy Ottaviano Books.