Kekla Magoon is the author of eight young adult novels, including The Rock and the River, How It Went Down, X: A Novel, and the Robyn Hoodlum Adventures series. She has received an NAACP Image Award, the John Steptoe New Talent Award, two Coretta Scott King Honors, The Walter Award Honor, and been long listed for the National Book Award. She also writes non-fiction on historical topics. Kekla conducts school and library visits nationwide and serves on the Writers’ Council for the National Writing Project. Kekla holds a B.A. from Northwestern University and an M.F.A. in Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts, where she now serves on faculty. Visit her online at www.keklamagoon.com.
Most people prefer to begin their bios at the beginning, but Kekla has never been like most people. Besides, what she is doing now is much more interesting than what she was doing as an infant. (Her mother is very proud of the early age at which Kekla learned to read, but beyond that, who really cares to go back so far?)
Today, Kekla lives and writes in Vermont. She is a full time author, writing teacher and speaker. She travels to schools and libraries around the country to talk about her books, which is pretty awesomely fun. She teaches at Vermont College of Fine Arts, where she mentors other writers who also want to create books for young readers.
Before Vermont, Kekla lived in New York City for many years. Before she became a professional writer, she worked for non-profit organizations around the city. She was a recruiter for the Girl Scouts (not as sinister as it sounds) a grant writer for The Salvation Army (exactly as sinister as it sounds) and a fundraising coordinator for The Brotherhood/Sister Sol, a grassroots youth empowerment agency in Harlem (nothing sinister there). These jobs taught her how to raise money (a very useful skill) and how to deal with people of all ages in all circumstances (even more useful a skill) and that she is not cut out to work in a traditional office setting.
While working these jobs in the city, Kekla earned a master of fine arts in writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts, via a low-residency program specifically designed for children’s writers. Even though writing is very hard work, especially when you have another full-time job to do at the same time, Kekla loved every minute of the program because she had finally figured out what she wanted to do with her life! It also gave her a chance to connect with a community of fellow writers—people who are huge book-dorks like she is, who care about storytelling and kids and reading as much as she does, and who completely understand why sometimes you just have to whip out a pen on the subway and start writing a story on the backs of your Trader Joe’s receipts, even if it makes bystanders regard you as weird. It is a relief to have people like this in your life.
Before moving to New York, Kekla graduated from Northwestern University, where she majored in History, with a concentration in the History of Africa and the Middle East. (Despite owning a piece of paper that implies otherwise, she still understands very little about what is going on in the Middle East.) Kekla likes studying history because many amazing, talented, brave and creative people have gone before us, and hearing their stories helps her understand how the world got to be the way it is today.
Kekla grew up in Fort Wayne, Indiana. She wrote her first novel when she was in high school. She should have known then that she was destined to be an author, but it actually took her a while longer to figure out what she wanted to do with her life. Kekla always loved books, though. Her mom read lots of books to her, and took her to the library every week so she could read and read and read. Kekla made a habit of checking out as many paperbacks as she could carry!
Kekla is biracial – her mom is white and her dad is black. Her mom grew up in the U.S., but her ancestors came from Holland, Scotland, and maybe elsewhere in Europe. Her dad grew up in Cameroon, a country in western Africa. When Kekla was very young, she lived with her parents in Cameroon for several years. Getting to have experiences like that makes it great to be biracial.
Kekla was born in Michigan, in the summer of 1980. She learned to read at the age of two.
How did you get your name?
“Kekla” is a Bassa word meaning “sunrise” or “morning star.” Bassa is a language spoken in rural Cameroon, West Africa, where Kekla’s dad was born and raised. Kekla is the only “Kekla” she knows. Well, the only human “Kekla.” There is a gorilla in the Atlanta Zoo named after her (literally).
Where do you get your inspiration?
How much time do you have? The short answer: Everything inspires me. The real answer: This is a hard question to answer directly. I don’t always know what my inspiration is for writing a certain book or creating a certain character—that’s what makes inspiration different from facts or ideas. Sometimes inspiration just comes out of nowhere! I carefully observe the world around me, then I translate the most compelling things I’ve seen and experienced into stories. This does not mean I write about things that really happen. I use my imagination A LOT. My imagination is my best tool for being creative, and it works best when I feel inspired. I am inspired by people I meet, things I’ve seen and done in the past, my own feelings and fantasies about things that could happen, and much, much more.
Will you visit my school?
I love visiting schools and meeting my readers. Please stop by my Appearances page. There, I list the various programs I offer to schools and libraries, and you can see how to contact me with a more detailed request. I hope to see you soon!
Will you read some of my writing?
That depends on whether you are an adult or a teenager. I do provide manuscript critiques for adult writers, for a fee that is based on the length and type of work you would like me to read. Please email me with a description of your project, and we’ll go from there.
If you are a teen, my best advice to you is to keep writing. Receiving feedback is a really important part of becoming a published author, but before you start getting notes on your work, it is even more important that you practice and practice until you are very comfortable with your voice and your stories. Even if you are destined to become the greatest writer in the world someday (this could happen—don’t sell yourself short!), the very first things you ever write will not be your best work. And even if you are destined to become the greatest writer in the world someday, nothing you write will be perfect from the first draft. When you start showing your work to other writers, even if they love it, they will always offer suggestions for how to make it better. They might say things like “I don’t understand what you meant in this sentence,” or “this character is not believable,” or “you should delete this entire chapter.” The things they say may hurt your feelings a little. Or a lot. You need to be ready for that. And you need to understand that anyone who takes the time to critique your work is doing so because they care, and because they want to help you learn. This can be hard to accept, no matter how old you are. You need to be ready, and you need to believe that, no matter what anyone says about your writing, what you have to say is important. Becoming a better writer simply means learning to communicate your point of view in the best way possible. When you feel ready to share your work, consider taking writing classes if you can, or join a writing club if you have access to one in your community. If you can’t do these things, do not fret. Just keep writing on your own. Practice is how you get better. So, keep writing!