I’m pretty excited by this question, because I’m been thinking a lot about writers and characters of color, and what they mean to me, a white writer. I’m very conflicted about writing characters of color myself, which I rant about here and here (a bit). But that’s my own stupid problem. I’ll save that for some hapless psychiatrist’s couch.
I don’t check the color of authors before I read them, and I’m sometimes surprised when people start talking about characters as being this race or that. I guess maybe my eyes just drift over those details. So maybe I might be more widely read in terms of African American authors and characters than I think I am. I’ve read Toni Morrison of course; who hasn’t? I think BELOVED did permanent damage to my brain. Possibly Ms. Morrison is the reason I gave up trying to read literary fiction for adults. She’s too darn smart for me. I don’t feel worthy.
That’s not to belittle the author I AM going to choose – Walter Dean Myers. I was thrilled when he was chosen as an ambassador for young people’s literature. I admire his body of work (such prolific authors scare me) and I love that he uses multi-modal formats. I was a screenwriter, so MONSTER was particularly appealing to me. The protagonist STEVE is great.
I’m going to cheat a little bit though, when it comes to my favorite African American character, because he’s not African American, he’s Jamaican Canadian. Yes, I have to choose Harry Ambrose, the protagonist from my upcoming book WICKET SEASON. After all that angsting, I still wrote a book with a black protagonist. I wrote this book on contract so my choice to make Harry Jamaican Canadian was driven as much by the needs of the publisher and the subject matter (in Canada, cricket is played almost exclusively by people of color) and my own stylistic choices. Also, since this is a hi/lo book there was a requirement to keep the plot and language simple. This eliminated the need to get into the Jamaican culture in detail, or to use more than a smattering of Jamaican Patois. Nevertheless, I tried to do my research and make it seem real, for the love of cricket. I hope readers love Harry as much as I do.