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A Conversation with Picture Book Writer Tiffany Golden




by Kathleen Driskell



Tiffany Golden, an MFA graduate in Writing for Children and Young Adults at the Naslund-Mann Graduate School of Writing at Spalding University, talks with School Chair Kathleen Driskell about the launch of her publishing career—and what’s next for her. In 2023, Golden celebrated her first and second picture book publications. I Want to Be Big! was published last April by Page Kids. This October, her picture book Wash Day is out from May Clinic Press Kids.



Tiffany Golden is the winner of the 2021 New Visions Award by Lee & Low Books and the inaugural Judith Tannenbaum Teaching Artist Fellowship. In addition to receiving her MFA in Writing from Spalding’s Naslund-Mann, she also holds the Certificate in Children’s Illustration from Hollins University. Golden is based in Oakland, California, and tells us nothing brings her more joy than spoiling her nieces and nephew.

Kathleen Driskell: Congratulations, Tiffany, on publishing not one but two picture books in 2023! Your first book I Want to Be Big! was published last spring and your second book Wash Day is just out now this October. As a debut author, I wonder if there are things about the publication process that surprised you? I noticed that your books are from two different presses, Page Street Kids and May Clinic Press Kids. Were your experiences with each similar? Different?


Tiffany Golden: Thank you so much, Kathleen. Spalding has been such a big part of my journey to trade publication. A good deal of my confidence was gained there. I think the thing that surprised me the most is how slow the process can be. Before you’re agented and under contract, there’s this notion to hurry up and get your stuff together—time’s of the essence! But after—woo-wee! You can hear the clock tick so slowly. It takes time to negotiate the contract, get the contract signed, get the manuscript right, get everything approved, get the illustrations back, check the text placement, etc. The good thing is that everyone is really good at their job and is thorough. So, it’s just good to have other projects.


My experience with Page Street may be more comparable to most experiences—a two-year process from acquisition, not considering unforeseen changes in the marketplace (i.e., a global pandemic, significant changes in readers’ taste, etc.) With May Clinic Press Kids, it was surprisingly fast tracked. The book was slated to release within a matter of months of onboarding me. I think both experiences are good to have.

KD: What are the origin stories of your picture books? Where did your ideas come from? Have you thought about writing these two particular books for a long time or did the story ideas just pop into your head more recently?


TG: With these two picture books, they both came from family—most of my work does. I Want to Be Big! was written after the murder of George Floyd in 2020. I had written another picture book around that issue, and wanted to also have work that embodied the importance and revolutionary act of Black Joy, especially with boys. I wanted my then four-year-old nephew to have a story of joy and whimsy grounded in an innocent experience.


With Wash Day, I was approached by Dani Valladares, an editor at May Clinic Kids Press. She had read a different picture book manuscript I had dealing with Black hair, and offered the opportunity to write a book on a little girl’s ritual of wash day. I was more than happy to, as I have so many memories—both good and hilariously horrible of wash days in my early childhood. I made it about two sisters, as I love writing about the sister dynamic.


KD: Tell me more about the wash days of your childhood!


TG: My sisters and I always got our hair washed in one fell swoop. We sat around with towels waiting to have our hair braided or put in 4-6 ponytails with ballies and barrettes. I think the memory that stands out the most was the time my grandmother washed my cousin’s hair with me and my sister’s. She didn’t have a blow-dryer, so to dry our hair, she had us stick our heads in the oven! How many folks do you think have that story?!

KD: Wow. That is a story! You've had the opportunity to work with two illustrators now. What was that like? Are these artists whose work you were familiar with or were you paired up with an illustrator by your presses?


TG: In both instances, I was given a short list of artists that the publishers had in their budget range. They allowed me to rank my preferences and pursued them in that order. Both artists are amazing and show such visual stories to the narratives.


KD: How did each illustrator help you tell the story you wanted to tell?


TG: With I Want to Be Big!, Sawyer Cloud really brought to life the fun and whimsy of the story. I was very happy with the illustrations. With Wash Day, Lhaiza Morena has such a great use of hair and cuteness, it's so wonderful! I was also happy that both books were illustrated by Black women from Madagascar and Brazil!

KD: That’s kind of amazing to have two illustrators from different countries, isn’t it?


TG: It is! I feel so international, lol.


KD: Can you speculate how their approaches might be different from an illustrator who’s from the US?


TG: I think what happens when there’s a difference in culture, you get a different color palette, different symbolism, and a wider world view.


From I Want to Be Big! Illustration by Sawyer Cloud.
From Wash Day. Illustrations by Lhaiza Morena.

KD: What has it been like to share your “children” with a world of readers?


TG: This has absolutely been a lifelong dream of mine. To have it come true is so affirming after having many health setbacks. I was diagnosed with Lupus and Rheumatoid Arthritis at sixteen years old. So for most of my life I have had long passes of debilitating flares, which have caused me to stop working and drop out of school on many occasions. I’ve had to have two joints replaced, a corrective hand surgery, and my eyesight restored after losing eighty percent of it. It’s been quite the ride. It’s made me embrace doing what I can when I can.


KD: Are there any reactions from readers that told you things about either book that you hadn’t realized before?


TG: I love interacting with kids around I Want to Be Big! They already have such great imaginations, and they get SO surprised when the character becomes a giant that it’s fun to watch their reactions. I didn’t think they’d be shocked by it.

KD: What are you working on now?


TG: I’m currently working on a middle-grade novel-in-stories for Lee & Low that won the New Vision Award in 2021. I’m also working on a chapter book series aimed at six- to eight-year-old readers. Annnnnnnd, I started illustrating! I always knew I wanted to be a writer—but one of my secret desires was to also be an illustrator. With the pandemic, so many people began doing what they really wanted, so I did too! I’m working on a few projects, so that and writing keeps me pretty busy.


Thank you so much, Kathleen, for thinking of me. You and Spalding are forever in my heart.


KD: Thanks to you, Tiffany. It’s been great to have this connection with you.


 

Kathleen Driskell, Chair of Spalding University’s Naslund-Mann Graduate School of Writing and Professor of Creative Writing, is an award-winning poet and essayist. Her work has recently appeared in The New Yorker, River Teeth, Appalachian Review, and Water-Stone Review. She is the author of four poetry collections, most recently Next Door to the Dead, winner of the Judy Gaines Young Book Award (University Press of Kentucky), and Blue Etiquette (Red Hen Press). Her chapbook The Vine Temple was published by Carnegie-Mellon University Press in 2023. She served as Chair of the Board of Directors to the Association of Writers and Writing Programs from 2019 to 2022.





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