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Let's Talk with Kwame Mbalia


Kwame Mbalia is an author. The graphic-novel version of his book Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky came out in August. TFK Kid Reporter Orion Jean spoke with him about books and more.

What message do you hope your books can get across to young, diverse readers?

When I’m writing stories, it’s not my goal to write to increase diversity. I’m just writing the stories I love to tell. There’s always going to be a story first. There’s going to be a fun or terrifying adventure. But I’m always going to include bits and elements of our culture within it. And everyone is welcome to enjoy it.

What role did books play in your childhood?

I was a huge reader. I’m still a huge reader. My office is covered in books. My bookshelves are stacked to the brim. That’s probably because of my mother. She was a writer and an English professor. She was the one who really encouraged my reading.

What is your writing process?

For me, the first draft of my story never makes sense. You know how, when you go to a restaurant, they give you those little mats with a maze on it? And you take a crayon and trace your way through the maze? That’s how I write. I write like I’m trying to find my way through a maze. So if I run into a dead end, I’m like, “Oh, that’s not going to work.” And I try another way.

Which character in your books do you most identify with? Which is most like you?

There’s a little bit of me in all of the characters I write. Tristan’s afraid of heights; I’m afraid of heights. There’s a little grain of me in Granddad, as well­. Just a gruff, no-nonsense type of character. But Eddie is probably the one I identify with the most. That’s the kid who loves his comics and loves to write.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.