|photo: CCP Photos
Jamar J. Perry's debut novel is Cameron Battle and the Hidden Kingdoms (Bloomsbury Children's Books). Perry taught middle school Language Arts for four years before pursuing his Ph.D. Like Cameron, he hopes that one day all Black boys can understand how magical and joyful they really are, no matter how different they may feel.
On your nightstand now:
Me (Moth) by Amber McBride. When I first read this novel in verse a few years ago before it was published, I bawled for days because there is so much in it with which anybody can empathize and sympathize. There are several scenes in it that are raw, to the point and tears-inducing. As I read it now, I am reminded that there is so much beauty after life is over, that there are those who watch over us and provide us with energy. Also Amari and the Night Brothers by B.B. Alston, one of the best middle-grade novels I've ever read. It is inventive with great worldbuilding and mythology.
Favorite book when you were a child:
The first book that made me fall in love with reading was Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor. There are few books that can capture a life, a decade, a moment in time, a cultural experience of a group of people... I found myself transported to the time of the Logans. I remember being able to feel the dust and mud on my toes as Cassie walked to and from school, most days in drenching rain as a school bus full of white children drove past her. I remember feeling the horror she felt when a kid she knew was accused of something he didn't do and was about to be lynched. What a novel!
Your top five authors:
Octavia Butler will always be my number one author, the woman who explained the Black existence, distilling our histories and culture through fantasy and science fiction. Mildred D. Taylor and the Logan Family Saga gave me a course in Black history that connects to what Black people are still going through. Scott Westerfeld's inventive storytelling and worldbuilding left me breathless as a teenager. Erin Entrada Kelly is another favorite of mine, specifically because her middle-grade voice is so authentic--I always teach and recommend Hello, Universe. Finally, I absolutely love Christopher Paul Curtis; his novel The Watsons Go to Birmingham--1963 captures northern Black American life. His work is funny, relatable and it's no wonder that it has endured for decades.
Book you've faked reading:
When I was a senior in college, I was assigned Great Expectations by Charles Dickens in my capstone graduation English course. Although it's a classic, it never spoke to me. Most days during class I would read the first few pages of the assigned chapters and then use those few lines to fuel conversation. I still don't know how I was able to fake read that book, capture my professor's attention when we had one-on-one conversations and receive an A in the class.
Book you're an evangelist for:
Raybearer by Jordan Ifueko is truly magnificent. When I bought a copy of it, I was in a reading funk, and needed something to bring back my love for literature. It's brilliant--I love it because it is so different from other books out there. I make sure to talk about it to anyone and everyone.
Book you've bought for the cover:
When the cover for Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi was released, my jaw dropped. Nothing could prepare me for the illustration that rocked the Internet for days after it was released. I preordered about five copies on the spot and then gave them away to family and friends. And I must say, the reading experience was just as beautiful as the cover!
Book that changed your life:
Octavia E. Butler's Kindred changed my life while I was an undergraduate and Dawn changed my life as an adult. Kindred was an awakening for me, especially when it came to my writing. It was the first time I had ever seen Black people at the center of a science fiction novel. I found myself rooting for Dana, even when she made poor decisions, but I also started to understand the double consciousness of the Black person during slavery. After reading, I picked up my laptop and started taking my writing seriously. Dawn thrust Black people into the future, in a world where aliens have taken over the Earth. This novel showed me that even in the future, the Black presence is precarious, but we also possess the strength to create a new humanity.
Favorite line from a book:
"Sometimes I wrote things because I couldn't say them, couldn't sort out my feelings about them, couldn't keep them bottled inside me." --Dana from Octavia E. Butler's Kindred.
Five books you'll never part with:
Raybearer by Jordan Ifueko because of how transformative it was for young adult fantasy; Kindred by Octavia Butler because it opened me up to writing and seeing Black main characters in fantasy and science fiction; Invisible Life by E. Lynn Harris because he was one of the first to explore Black queer characters as main characters in their own stories; Family by J. California Cooper because of how epic it was, spanning Black history in America in a way that left me breathless; and Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston, a novel that celebrates the struggles one must go through to achieve the purest form of love.
Book you most want to read again for the first time:
In Search of Satisfaction by J. California Cooper. I think that this author is underrated in American consciousness, especially because of how epic her work is, spanning centuries of history through the Black lens. My friend from college gave me this novel to read when I was taking a course called African American Literature. I remember being swept away by it, awash in its majesty; the book was so good and impactful on my life that I haven't picked it back up in 11 years. I've thought about it every once in a while and I pass it on my bookshelf almost every day. Soon, it will be like I'm reading it for the first time because it has been so long, and I want to make sure I can experience her words the same way I did when I was in college.