Monday, December 12, 2011

Interview with Sharon G. Flake

Have you ever read a book that made you feel like the story was all about a crazy, dramatic, life-changing or even cool, hip, all-the-way-LIVE event that happened in YOUR life? I have! These kinds of stories are in books by the award-winning novelist, Sharon G. Flake. She is the author of seven books: You Don’t Even Know Me: Short Stories and Poems About Boys, The Broken Bike Boy and the Queen of 33rd Street, Bang!, Who Am I Without Him, Money Hungry, Begging for Change and The Skin I’m In.

Ms. Sharon Flake writes with passion and familiarity in a world where multicultural young adult fiction is scarce. Spewing life lessons and inspiring messages as easy as Kanye spits ten lines in a rap song, her stories are entertaining and REAL. She uses simple stylistic devices that make reading her books enjoyable like a first date and likeable characters that will make you wonder if they are people you have met before. Her stories are engaging and inspirational and will leave you believing that nothing is impossible. Similar to the slogan found on Lay’s brand potato chips, when it comes to Sharon G. Flake books, “Bet you can’t READ just one!”

I chose to spotlight her literary masterpiece, Who am I without Him? This book houses ten short, page-turning stories about girls and the experiences they face in life and love. The characters are authentic and speak in voices teens can relate to.  The stories range from one girl’s fascination with the ‘bad boy’ to another girl’s admiration of her boy cousin in love. This book will make you smile, smirk and shout out your bedroom window all at the same time.

Today, where pop culture is influenced by the hottest music, fashion and literature, Ms. Sharon G. Flake is definitely amongst the trend-setting icons. We've honored Michael Jackson as the King of Pop, Mary J. Blige as the Queen of Hip-Hop Soul; now let’s crown, Ms. Sharon G. Flake as the Queen of Young Adult Fiction. She reigns in an element of her own and delivers the truth about the realities in our lives as sophisticated as Beyonce belts out pop tunes. Please enjoy my interview with literary icon, Sharon G. Flake.

When and why did you begin writing?

I began taking English and writing courses in college, which led to an interest in writing, although I hardly ever wrote outside of class. After graduation, I wrote off and on with a writing group and for local publications, while working my day job.  

In your novel, Who am I without him? What inspired you to write this book? 

My daughter.  When she entered high school I saw how her interest in guys was different than it was in middle school. The guys weren't "all ugly anymore." She lit up when she talked about them. It made me think about my own youth. I dated late, according to today’s standards. And didn't always make the best choices nor was I always the best partner. I wanted young people to do better. I wanted them to have open, honest communication about relationships.  And I wanted them to have some of those discussions in the company of the opposite sex.  This book has definitely had an impact.  Many girls say they have reexamined their relationships, or gotten out of bad ones, after reading this book.  Moms and Dads tell me the book is a bridge allowing them to have conversations with their children they weren’t always sure how to have before. Guys love the book too.  They feel like they learn some things about girls, and don’t get bashed in the book in the process. 

Is there a message in this book that you want young girls to grasp?  

I wasn’t trying to write a message book.  I was trying to give young men and women the opportunity to seriously think about and discuss relationships.  They want to have the conversation.  They want to have good, healthy relationships.  Adults want that for them too when they think the time is right. That’s why this novel is so important.  It brings up situations that cause young people to ponder, pause and examine themselves in relationship to the guys and girls they like, love or dream about.  It helps them to also take a real hard look at what they want in a partner, who they want to be (or not be) in a relationship, and how they want to conduct themselves or be treated.  
Books can be very useful in helping us understand both ourselves and the world better.  Who Am I Without Him is one of those books.  It just happens to be a fun read as well.

Many of your novels have African American characters from urban and or low-income communities.  What inspires you to write from this vantage point?

I was born in the inner city and I still live there; but in another part of the state.  I love it.  I love African-American youth--how they think and move, their wit and wisdom; how the planet so often emulates them.  We do not honor them nearly enough. They are tenacious, juggling numerous responsibilities at once; persevering.  I believe my work honors them; at the same time it doesn't coddle them; or any of my characters.  My characters love, make mistakes, solve problems, hope for tomorrow, run from danger.   Students from China, Vietnam, Ireland, the Caribbean, South America, Australia, and Thailand, write to me complimenting me on my books, the characters--the young people I write about.  Caucasian, African American, Asian, Latinos and other youth in the US do the same.  They tell me they see themselves in the stories.  I believe good literature does that, makes a seat at the table for everyone, even people who look or live differently from the ones in the novel.

Are these characters familiar people that you know or from familiar situations that you've seen? 

Because I write about an urban environment mainly, people think that I have lived all of the experiences in my books.  I haven't lived nearly any of them. I am an author, using my imagination is how I do my job so well.  

Can you share with us a challenge that you've had to face in accomplishing your dreams and how you've overcame it? 

Fear has been my biggest challenge.  You cannot see it on a person like a bump or a bruise.  You cannot step out of it as easily as a skirt or a pair of socks.  You have to work through it, day by day.  It has been with me since I was young.  But so has courage.  For every step I've taken in fear, I've taken two more in courage I suppose, even if I didn't know it at the time.  My ability to be present in a situation--to sort of disappear in a moment; or many moments, helps me a great deal.  So when I write I am very present.  Not thinking about what will happen next.  Or how many pages I need to write.  That has always been too scary a thought to think on.  So I just sit at the computer and go take the ride.  And when I am done for the day I do not much think about the journey.  I just get on the train the next day and have myself a blast.  Anxiety, fear has loosened its grip on me over the years.   But it is still a companion, I hate to say.  I think I will take it to the grave.   That said I am a hard worker.  I write.  I rewrite. I let my imagination soar.  Being an author is the most fun job in the world.  After my first novel was published, I knew for sure that this was what I was born to do.

What aspects of the current teen culture do you enjoy? What can we catch you listening to or wearing or doing? Can you do the dance called the dougie? :)

Can't do the dougie.  You wouldn't want me to try.   I love Nicki Minaj, Rhianna, Kanye West, Katy Perry, The Band Perry, Bruno Mars, Joy Ike, Juanita Bynum, Taylor Swift and Rascal Flatts.  I enjoy young people’s creative expression and belief that they can do anything.

Do you have any advice and or words of wisdom for young teens who are trying to accomplish their dreams?

This is the best of times and the worst of times.  You all have access to almost anyone and anything via technology.  Use it to your advantage.  Read about people who are doing what you want to do.  Twitter those folks or facebook, or email them your questions and thoughts.  Learn about more than just what directly interests you, or impacts your life.  You may think you want to be an author, but then discover another aspect of yourself that is your true calling. Don't spaz out if you hit a wall one day.  That is a part of life.  Keep moving, fighting through it.  You will make it.  Tough times pass, and often builds strength and endurance in us if we do not quit. 

What are you working on now?  

I have a new novel coming out in Fall 2012 by Scholastic, my first book with them.  It is untitled as of yet.    The novel is about a female wrestler named Autumn, who struggles with reading, and a young brilliant disabled boy named Adonis, who struggles with accepting the limitations of others.  Wrestling to escape Autumn's attention and affections, Adonis is unaware of how much he needs her.  Autumn is unaware of how capable she is of changing her own academic destiny.  Together they help one another to become their best selves.

 My favorite quote from this interview, “Books can be very useful in helping us understand both ourselves and the world better.  Who Am I Without Him is one of those books.  It just happens to be a fun read as well.”

 Visit her website at to learn more about her and her work. There is so much to see and do, with useful information about other great reads, contest etc. Just like her books, her website would keep you entertained.



  1. luv the interview. i agree, sharon flake is the da bomb. my class reads her every year. even the teachers dont trip when we reading her books. i wish she made some for every grade level. maybe then kids would all know how to read. #realtalk

  2. Hi!
    I just found your blog through a RT on Twitter. My students really enjoy reading Ms. Flakes books! She provides an authentic African American voice in her writing and something that is so well written is something that anyone can enjoy. Thanks for the interview!