Linda Trice is the author of KENYA’S WORD (Charlesbridge Publishers).
Briefly describe the impact racism had on you as a young person.
Great grandfather Trice was a slave who escaped and made his way to Brooklyn, NY which then was the fourth largest city in the United States. He and his wife had children who had children. When I was a child every Trice in the phone book was a relative.
It was assumed that I would go to college. I had my eye on Howard University because many of friends and relatives were there. It is where my parents met. The remaining big question was what would I do when I graduated? I wanted to be a writer but there were no classes or books on how to become a writer back then.
I realized I’d have to get a job. The “help wanted” ads in the New York newspapers were divided into four columns: men, women, colored, white. The only jobs listed under colored women were as domestics, cleaning people’s homes.
I knew that a few people had good contacts and got jobs teaching in the public schools but there had to be more than cleaning or teaching. I didn’t know what that could be.
Throughout this period I had my usual problems with racism- applying for a scholarship and being told that only white children could get it. Winning an award and being told that although my entry was the best, the award could only go to a white child. Later, I applied for jobs, apartments, etc. and was told they were only for whites.
There were other incidents, not as polite and equally as painful but my goal was to be a writer. I put up with whatever blows came my way so that I could reach my goal. I’m an adult now but the blows still come and it still hurts To quote from the landmark 1954 Brown v Board of Education Supreme Court case, it is a “scar that never heals”.
Has your personal experience of racism impacted your professional work as a writer?
My new book, Kenya’s Word (Charlesbridge, 2006) is about a child who discovers all the beautiful things in the world that are the color black. I ask my audience to think of more. Children list black velvet dresses, black patent leather shoes, a favorite teddy bear, a pet cat as some of the wonderful things that are black. Then I suggest they consider wonderful things that are brown. Usually these include chocolate ice cream, fudge and chocolate chip cookies with brown nuts in them.
My professor, John O. Killens taught us to write of our people with love. Kenya’s Word is about a child who is supported by her family. I show the family eating together at the dinner table. There is a day with Mom at a healthy farmers market and a day with Dad visiting a black painter. It is subtle but I think the message gets across that the people in my book reflect the way many black families l live. I am writing with love about my people
In what way can literature be used to combat the effects of racism and promote tolerance?
I was grumpy one day because I’d been getting small things published but I wanted something bigger that would truly be a blow against racism. My former professor, John O. Killens looked at my latest publication, an article about successful black women. He said that if that article convinced just one person not to join the KKK, my work as an artist was a success.