By Sarah Murphy Traylor
Today we’re pleased to welcome Taye Diggs to the WNDB blog to discuss Why?, illustrated by Shane W. Evans.
I’d love to start with a question about your journey as an individual reader. What books were formative for you as a child? As a teenager? An adult?
I remember a book called Corduroy about a little stuffed animal. I am awful with authors. He had a little corduroy jumpsuit on and a button missing and this little Black girl came to a department store and bought it. And I remember loving the fact that the little girl was Black and that she was kind of taking this bear who was who had a button missing and giving him value for that.
We Need Diverse Books exists to advocate essential changes in the publishing industry to produce and promote literature that reflects and honors the lives of all young people. In what book did you first see your life reflected?
I think that Corduroy was one of the very first books where I saw a little girl with brown skin that was like mine. Then, after that, I believe that Eric Carle wrote a book called The Snowy Day and it was about another chocolate-skinned boy who went out in his yard during the first big snow and experienced that for the first time and it left an indelible impression on me seeing these characters that looked and acted just like me.
What does your reading life look like right now?
I am trying to be proud of it but I am listening to everything since I am in LA and constantly in my car, I can kill four birds with one stone. These days I am listening to a book by Sadhguru and to a lot of C.S. Lewis.
What has writing looked like for you at different points in your life?
It is pretty simple. I have the luxury of like I don’t have people breathing down my throat. I have the luxury of just writing what I feel and of not feeling so forced. When that happens, it just the words just tumble out. I am big on rhythms and big on the way words sound. When I am in the zone, it comes. When not in that zone, I will come away.
Describe your writing craft for this book. How do you typically approach writing your books? Did anything change when you began work on this book? What influences—music, books, others—inspired you during this process?
It is all for me. I liken it to a language with different dialects. With different dialects but it is all the same language.
What do you hope young readers take away from this book?
That is a tough question for me because I remember as a young person everyone would ask me. For me, reading a book is a very personal experience, I want the readers to take away whatever they take from it. When I write books, I am not writing to be an evangelist. It is something that resonates with me and I am hoping that it resonates with other people in whatever way it serves the most. I don’t want to be one of those people who wag my finger and say this happened to me and how I dealt and how you should deal with it. I say, “This is what happened to me. Period.” After that, if you want to talk, that is cool. Or, if you want to liken this to similar experiences of yours, that is cool. But I am just putting my stuff out there in hopes that people can relate.
What do you hope adults, caregivers, teachers, and parents take away from this book?
For parents and adults, more discussion. The more that we talk about these things, the better, as uncomfortable as it may be, the more that we can discuss and share why we feel the way we feel. I think that that will help lead us in the right direction.
What action do you hope that young readers take as a result of reading Why? What action do you hope that adults take as a result of reading Why?
Actions to take: To go within themselves and see how it makes them feel inside; how does that make you feel and how will is that going to manifest.
Reading recommendations: What books do you recommend adults read with young readers or those young readers read on their own? What books do you recommend readers add to their reading list?
I like Eric Carle’s books, Jason Reynolds’s books, the books of C.S. Lewis, A Wrinkle in Time, my son enjoyed Captain Underpants. These were good books for me.
What else would you like to share with the readers of We Need Diverse Books?
Keep moving forward. I would encourage authors to not only make sure that their books include diverse characters but I think it is important that they go another step further and talk about that diversity and what it means to that character. Is that character half-Black and Jewish? And get to specifics and not just a general casting choice just to make a rainbow but to actually make characters real and link them to their culture so that we can learn more about these people that look different from us and are walking amongst us. I think that is being lost. You can turn on the TV and see two Black guys or two Asian guys or a light-skinned Black girl but if you take people and put them in a room, how much would they know about each other? I think that is what we need to focus on.
Taye Diggs is an actor whose credits include motion pictures (How Stella Got Her Groove Back, Chicago), stage, (Rent, Wicked), and television (Private Practice, Murder in the First, Empire, and All American). He is also the author of Mixed Me!, Chocolate Me!, I Love You More Than. . . , and My Friend!, published by Feiwel and Friends. He lives in Los Angeles and New York City with his son.
Sarah Murphy Traylor is a Blog Volunteer with We Need Diverse Books. Sarah works as an educator in Houston, Texas, supporting teachers across multiple school districts and is driven by the belief that all students deserve access to an excellent education. A lifelong reader and former English teacher, Sarah is thrilled to join the We Need Diverse Books Volunteer Team and can be found sharing books on Instagram at @smtlovestoread. Sarah enjoys delicious restaurants, participating in competitive trivia events, creating awful puns, and taking walks with her husband and daughter.