Sunday, October 13, 2019

An Interview With Junauda Petrus, Sharing Her Special New Book, The Stars & The Blackness Between Them

I love reading all of the amazing books that come out every year, especially those that capture not only my attention, but my heart and desire to share them with others. 

One that did this fall was The Stars and the Blackness Between Them, by Junauda Petrus and published by Penguin Random House.  This is her debut novel and one that everyone will want to put on their list to read and on their library shelves. 

I was lucky enough to talk to Junauda and ask her a few questions about The Stars and the Blackness Between Them, her life as a writer and film maker and what is next.  It ends with a very special message to my students and others.
This is your first book!  Congratulations. Tell us about The Stars and the Blackness Between Them?  

Thank you for the congratulations!

It’s about two Black girls falling in love, Mabel a 16 year-old, poetic, nerdy, deep-thinking, Whitney Houston-obsessed teenager who befriends Audre, a wild chile from Trinidad who studies ancient African healing and spirituality with her grandmother/best friend, Queenie. After falling out with her mother over being in love with another girl, Audre is sent up from Trinidad to live with her American dad and befriends Mabel. Shortly after they meet, Mabel is diagnosed with a devastating illness and begins a journey of existential crisis in the midst of her young life while falling in love with Audre. The book uses intergenerational healing, time travel, magical realism, astrology and music to tell this love and coming of age story.

2. Share a little about the two main characters of the book, Audre and Mabel? 

Audre is a very complex and loving person who is figuring out who she is in the midst of a lot of change. She has lived in Trinidad most of her life and all of a sudden has to navigate Minneapolis and living with her father who she really doesn’t know. She also is an Aquarian and a healer in her own blossoming way and this becomes important in her friendship with Mabel. Mabel is very sweet and has a bit of a dry humor, and tender spirit. She is a Scorpio a bit of an introvert, but also is very warm and a bit of a romantic at heart and loves everything Basketball and Whitney Houston.

3. Where did you get the inspiration to write this story?  

I got it from a lot of places, I feel. The initial storyline came to me and then the characters started to emerge to tell the story. I feel like Audre and Mabel are both parts of me, and parts of my heart. I was a very tender, romantic and awkward Black girl, and didn’t see or read that in art and culture I was consuming when I was growing up. In writing this book, I really channeled my young queer and questioning self, to flesh out these characters and make them real. I was inspired by Whitney Houston and her beautiful spirit and complicated life and the ways she had a close and tender female
friendship for most of her life that was very important to her. As a young girl, I was obsessed with Whitney and explored re-imagining her existence in this book.

Along the way of writing it, I reflected on the elements of life growing up that really inspired me. At around the age of 16, I started reading books by Black activists, thinkers and mystics who were contemplating Blackness in ways that were new and healing for me at that age. I wanted to include spirituality and social justice in the lives of these young women, because that was so important to me at that age as well. Astrology was also a huge inspiration for me in structuring the book and imagining the characters.

4. The two places that the young women come from…..are these connected to places
you are from?  

Yes! My mother is Trinidadian (my father is from St. Croix, Virgin Islands) and I was born and raised in Minneapolis. In writing and researching for this book, I had a great opportunity to connect with my mom’s country, my Trinidadian ancestors and with the beautiful and dynamic LGBTQIA community who live in Trinidad and Tobago. I grew up in Minneapolis, Minnesota and feel very grateful to know this place as well. I appreciated getting to highlight my city and its green and magical setting for the love story of these two Black girls.

5. Have you always wanted be an author? 

I think I have always wanted to be an artist and a free spirit and writing has afforded me that existence in so many ways. I’ve always loved books and am still in awe of the genius minds who healed me through words on a page. I loved the worlds that opened up for me when I opened up books. Books inspired me deeply as an activist and youth worker in my teens and early twenties as well as my work as an artist. I have always loved writing and the way that words work and have appreciated devoting my life to writing recently. I feel like being a published author is still a shock to me. I love talking to people who have read my book and have been touched by it. It's surreal and amazing.

6. With your background in film making, can you see your book becoming a movie?  That
is always a big question for my teen readers. 


In writing this book, I was inspired by my work as a filmmaker in how to tell the story, its pacing and arch for sure. I think the young mind is so quick and visual these days, I wanted to find that cadence in the book. I loved writing the dialogue in the book and fleshing out the characters through the way they speak and think. The concept for this book was initially for a screenplay idea I had, and then I decided to write it as a book since, I’m still maturing as a screenwriter. I even wrote a couple of
scenes for it, before I decided to make it a book and then I began writing it as chapters instead. I think the story and the imagery are very rich and cinematic and would lend itself smoothly to the screen. I would love to have it filmed in Minneapolis and Trinidad and reflect the beauty of these two places, too. I love filmmaking as an artistic media, because it combines so many artistic elements: writing, performance, visuals, soundscape. In short, I would LOVE for this book to be a movie!

7. What is next for you as an author? 

Right now, I have a couple of projects in mind. Two other books, a memoir and poetry book. I have ideas for other fiction pieces as well. I also have been imagining a one woman performance piece, that I have already started writing but would like to put more time and research into. I also want to spend time reading and being in the world with my book. I think, The Stars and The Blackness Between Them, is a very important work for this time and this world and I want to share it with as many people as I can. Especially folks who are LGBTQIA and BIPOC, as well as folks who are incarcerated. And of course my Caribbean people! Right now, I’m focused on that the most.

8. Is there a special message that you would like me to share with my students and others? 

Yes! I would tell them to take this time in their lives to get quiet and grounded with themselves everyday. Away from people, technology and noise. Find places in nature that help them be still and listen to their own hearts. I would tell them to take time for themselves and love themselves. I would like for them to find ways to ground in their own limitless magic and healing power, despite all that is happening in the world. Young people are my heroes and inspirations, and I want them to feel empowered to continue to heal and lead in this complex and beautiful world.
You can find Junauda on Twitter at @junaudaalma too. 

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