Some of the things I’ve been involved with probably stand out in your memory more than others. One of those things worth remembering has to be the Large Fears controversy. I was involved in it, but it wasn’t about me. While we remember it as being about Meg Rosoff, it really wasn’t. It was about the need for queer black boys in children’s literature and it was about Myles Johnson and Kendrick Daye. As all too often happens with marginalized people, the real story was derailed and Myles’ and Kendrick’s voices were lost in the fray.
I’ve kept in touch with Myles and I am beaming when tell you that he has not been, cannot be and will not be derailed. Myles is amazing. He is truly a creative talent with a voice that belongs in children’s literature. I recently asked him if he’d like to catch everyone up on what he’s been up to and he agreed to tell this part of his developing story.
What I learned is that nothing can save you from the lesson. Recently, Edi Campbell asked me to write a type of summary of what I’ve been through since our first
interaction with each other in October. Admittedly, I have had a hard time my whole life with looking back which is one of the reasons why I began writing. Writing has been a tool that I’ve always used to reflect and learn. No matter what I am writing, the purpose is consistent. I am looking for the purpose. In fantasy or essays, I am looking for the design in the chaos.
For those not so aware of whom I am or why it would be necessary for me to write an update on my status, allow me to give you a brief overview of my life in the past year. One day, I was wildly inspired. I was inspired by the cosmos, my identity, and my childhood. This inspiration resulted in a children’s book called Large Fears that centered a character I created named Jeremiah Nebula, who was a black boy that loved pink things. I wanted to create a cosmic story that centered a black boy with a queer identity, so I did just that. The response was beautiful.
The press and professional opportunities I received are those things of a young writer’s dreams. NPR, NBC, Huffington Post, Buzzfeed, and the list goes on. I was invited to talk on panels and was pursued by literary agents. Part of me as a young black queer writer was grateful and excited about the possibilities. Another part of me was thinking ‘it’s about damn time’ and I was excited to move on with this project, and to showcase other ideas that have been swimming in my mind for such a long time.
This lands us into a pretty warm October where accomplished author, Meg Rosoff said some alarming things about my project and questioned the need for queer black representation in children’s literature. This comment by Ms. Rosoff spawned outrage amongst readers, librarians, and other writers alike. The controversy was spearheaded by Edi Campbell and landed us both in “The Guardian” where I was discovered by literary agent, Bethany Buck (representative of Cheryl Kilodavis who wrote, My Princess Boy). The negativity served my intention with creating the book by creating dialogue, creating opportunity, and making the project that much more visible. I was taught when the intention is pure, even something perceived as bad can still do good. Lesson learned.
The relationship between Ms. Buck and myself was growing and flourishing as the relationship between myself and my illustrator Kendrick Daye, was deteriorating for both personal and professional reasons. It was becoming obvious that Mr. Daye and myself had to part, but I was passionate about little Jeremiah Nebula and this project that I knew I had no choice, but to keep going. It felt bigger than myself and my career, it felt like a service I had to do for my community. After a couple of months of talking with some of the biggest publishing houses in the world, Ms. Buck revealed to me her professional passion had never left editing and she was going back to that field and would no longer be representing. Seeing someone stay true to their passion and dedicated to take risk for their happiness, even if it stung me a little, was still quite inspiring. Lesson learned.
We arrive at the present day, and although filled with changes and lessons, I am just as filled with hope. I’m a free agent currently working on releasing a literary project called “Fairytales for Giovanni” that is a digital visual and literary project with fairytales for adults that center queer people of color. I’m grateful for the experiences I’ve had in the past year, and I’m feeling renewed and ready for new adventures. Most importantly, I am ready for new lessons. I believe that the key to true evolution is inside of yourself; to be ready and open to absorb what life offers you at all times. Lesson learned.
~Myles E. Johnson