|photo: Bryan Jones
Kwame Mbalia is a husband, father, writer, bestselling author and a former pharmaceutical metrologist, in that order. He is a Howard University graduate and a Midwesterner now living in North Carolina. Mbalia's debut middle-grade novel, Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky, received a Coretta Scott King Author Honor. It, and the sequels Tristan Strong Destroys the World and an untitled third book, are all published by Rick Riordan Presents. Mbalia is the co-author with Prince Joel Makonnen of Ethiopia of Last Gate of the Emperor, an Afrofuturist adventure about a mythical Ethiopian empire, just published by Scholastic.
On your nightstand now:
Dracula by Bram Stoker. I actually have no idea why this is on my nightstand. Maybe I was running out of space on my bookshelves in my office? I am a big fan of the epistolary novel and the many variations it can take, so maybe I was trying to gain some insight into how to pull it off.
Favorite book when you were a child:
Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien. The whole omnibus, not just one of the individual books, because that's how I read it in the sixth grade--all of them in one cover. I won tickets to see Michael Jordan because of that page count in that book, so of course it's my favorite.
Your top five authors:
Toni Morrison, James Baldwin, Octavia Butler, Zora Neale Hurston, Doreatha Mbalia. I'm not sure I ever told that last author this, so maybe I should take the time now to give her the flowers she's due.
Book you've faked reading:
The Great Gatsby by (...takes a moment to Google the author's name) F. Scott Fitzgerald. It was (one of many such books) assigned for class and it didn't hold my interest. No shade to Mr. Fitzgerald.
Book you're an evangelist for:
Legendborn by Tracy Deonn. This one should be assigned to every class and it did hold my interest. Tracy is a phenomenal writer and blends the historical, the mythical and the fantastical in a superb manner. And that ending... (explosion sounds reverberate inside my skull).
Book you've bought for the cover:
Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse. Maggie (the main character) standing on the hood of the pickup truck with lightning zigzagging through the sky behind her is absolutely iconic.
Book you hid from your parents:
Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean M. Auel. Should I say why? Do I have to? Really? Fine. It's not meant for children. There aren't any bears, at least not in the way I expected. I thought I'd find Yogi or Winnie the Pooh. Instead, I found [memory repressed].
Book that changed your life:
Slam! by Walter Dean Myers. I played basketball (not very well, but I made the team at least) in high school, and Slam! captured the dynamics of high school competition, friendships devolving and being caught between your old life and a new one.
Favorite line from a book:
"Did you just shush Gum Baby?" from Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky by some dude. That line was epic.
Five books you'll never part with:
Beloved (Toni Morrison), Kindred (Octavia Butler), The Belles (Dhonielle Clayton), Dread Nation (Justina Ireland), Trail of Lightning (Rebecca Roanhorse). The first two continue to teach me about writing and the latter three were the books I constantly referred to when figuring out how to write my first book.
Book you most want to read again for the first time:
Legendborn by Tracy Deonn. READ THE BOOK. I'LL WAIT.
What's your favorite part of answering questions about books?
How I immediately forget every book I ever read, even when they're sitting on the bookshelf in front of me. Never fails. "What's your favorite book, Kwame?" I don't know, I've never read a book before apparently, at least that's what my goldfish brain thinks.