Growing Up Black, Christian and Female in White America
From Austin Channing Brown, a powerful new narrative nonfiction voice on racial justice, comes I’M STILL HERE: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness, published by Convergent today, May 15. This book is an eye-opening account of growing up Black, Christian, and female in middle-class white America. Ms. Brown’s first encounter with a racialized America came at age 7, when she discovered her parents named her Austin to deceive future employers into thinking she was a white man.
Growing up in majority-white schools, organizations, and churches, Ms. Brown writes, “I had to learn what it means to love blackness,” a journey that led to a lifetime spent navigating America’s racial divide as a writer, speaker and expert who helps organizations practice genuine inclusion.
In this “Meet Our Author” interview, Ms. Brown discusses her path to becoming a published author, the process of chronicling her experiences in book form, why Convergent was the best publishing home for I’M STILL HERE, and what she hopes readers will recognize, consider and take to heart.
I have always loved reading and admired authors, but I never imagined I could be one! The experience of blogging gave me the first taste of possibility. I am so grateful for the ways technology has opened doors of opportunity. Once I started blogging, then I had friends and mentors who really encouraged me to take writing to a new level by writing articles and then a book.
How would you describe the genesis of this book and the process of deciding what experiences to chronicle and which points to emphasize?
The genesis of this book was hard won. It took me quite a bit of time to figure out who I am as an author. It felt so big – writing a book. I thought I had to pretend to be a historian or theologian or academic of some kind. Eventually I had to realize that what I am an expert in is my life experience. I can bring in some of those other elements, but I had to embrace me first. I was very inspired by two works of art: BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME by Ta-Nehisi Coates and For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow is Enuff by Ntozake Shange. I really wondered what it would like to have a book that sort of lived at the intersection of those two works – really addressing race in America like Coates, but focusing intentionally on the experiences of black women like Shange. Once I had that mission in mind, it became much easier to organize the content around those two ideas.
Why is Convergent the best publishing home for I’M STILL HERE?
There are a few reasons why Convergent was the best place for I’M STILL HERE. It was really important to me that my voice remain true. I didn’t want to be tampered down, from being able to use four-letter words when appropriate to not making my voice softer or more palatable. As a black woman, talking about race I knew many publishers would be tempted to smooth over my rough edges to make the book as universal as possible. I liked that Convergent seemed to appreciate my edges rather than desire to erase them. Also when I talked to the Convergent team about my proposal, they just seemed to “get it.” We had a really rich conversation building on one another’s ideas. I knew they understood what I was trying to do, and I trusted they could make the project better.
What elements of your book do you hope will resonate most strongly with readers?
I hope that readers will begin to give greater consideration to the inherent dignity of black bodies, black culture, and all that black history has given to America.