Creating a narrative for a young black queer children wasn’t hard for freelance writer turned author Myles Johnson.
Pulling from his own life experiences, the Atlanta based writer along with illustrator Kendrick Daye helped bring to life the story of young Jeremiah Nebula — a kid getting ready for his trip to Mars — in the children’s book, Large Fears.
Speaking with NewsOne, the visionaries give new insight into the LGBT world and share what they hope to accomplish with the upcoming release of the children’s book.
Johnson, 24 and Daye, 27, come from different worlds but couldn’t be more alike. After meeting in Atlanta, Georgia’s vibrant art scene, Johnson worked with Daye’s former magazine and collaborated on several projects before cultivating the idea of a children’s book.
“Us at first, creating Jeremiah Nebula was a very just natural process because that’s who we are,” Johnson said. “We’re queer black men who used to be queer black children, and we’re writing a children’s books so who else would it be if not that. We wanted to be very honest because you don’t see the intersection of what happens when you take up space as a black person and as a queer person and a lot of times when you do see work happening for the queer community its for a white person.”
“When he told me he wanted to do it, it was a challenge for me creatively,” Daye said. “I think [it was] for him as well because we’re adults, we make adult work so to make something that was geared towards kids was a challenge for both of us. But the idea was there so I was like, ‘Yeah lets do it.’”
Over the years, children’s books about the LGBT community have been overwhelmingly white. One of the first books to target gay and lesbian parents was the 1981 Danish photo-book release of Jenny Lives with Eric and Martin by Susanne Bösche. To be divided in a community where the outside world places gays and lesbians of all ethnicities in one group is rather ironic, but sadly troubling.
In today’s world, protagonists have been a mix of black and white and topics have been about marriage and even gay and lesbian interracial adoptions. Case in point, Maurice Sendak’s 1993 book We Are All in the Dumps with Jack and Guy. Although the characters sexuality is never revealed, it plays an underling tone. Jack and Guy are apart of the group of homeless children who witness the kidnapping of a another homeless black child by giant rats. After going through many challenges with the rats (believed to be a symbol of the rapid AIDS epidemic of the 90’s) the children are victorious in saving the young black boy and chasing the giant rats away.
Johnson and Daye give a similar narrative in their story. Jeremiah’s sexual behavior isn’t thrown in the face of the reader. Instead, it’s simply a part of who he is. His journey in traveling to an unknown world and facing his insecurities is something the creatives want readers to understand.
“I think that Jeremiah Nebula–even though the book is a children’s book and it’s light-hearted and it’s inspiring,– will show more,” Johnson said. “I think the politics and the philosophy inside of it is really kind of radical and hard because he’s taking up space and he’s going to have to struggle in a way that a lot of people are never going to know. It’s going to be an internal one and an external one.”
Johnson and Daye are also hoping to inspire queer black children to live their lives freely and believe that any dream is possible.
“I think that that’s so necessary for people of color, specifically queer people of color to be able to get an affirmation that their stories and their dreams are valid and an early age,” Johnson said. “I don’t understand why that would be stripped from us. Why not know that we can do anything or that we can go to Mars or just be happy, like why can’t we know that at an early age? That was very on purpose, you know cause we could’ve made him quirky and black and said the same story and it would just be like ‘Oh he’s just an outcast,’ but no he’s a black boy who loves pink things and we all know what that inclination means. It means he’s probably going to have a queer life narrative and that was really important for us.”
After raising money to create their book through a crowd funding site, the friends are taking Jeremiah Nebula on the road. The guys are currently preparing for a workshop seminar where they’ll read Large Fears to children all over the country. Their first workshop is set to kick off July 25 in Atlanta.
“We’ll be doing like Large Fears workshops with the kids, which includes like a reading of the book and self-confidence building exercises with kids,” Daye said.
“You never see narratives like this we really wanted to make sure that this book wasn’t just another book that kind of collects dust next to queer books, but to say like ‘well we have a black one’ so that’s what we do, we wanted to make it a complete experience and we wanted it to be something that kids can really engage with and adults can really engage with and understand what its like to have a child that’s different even though this child is queer,” Johnson added. “Parents of color all over the world that I’ve engaged with since we started this, have children who they see don’t fit the box that culture tells them to be. You know, the man has to be hyper-masculine, the woman has to be hyper-feminine and submissive and if you at an early age show a want for anything outside of that you feel ostracized at an early age and there’s so happy that there’s a character that kind of, is still adventurous, still has dreams and still wants to conquer the world and do what I think every kid should want to do but doesn’t necessarily align with playing with GI Joes and the color blue.”
Johnson and Daye are also extending their workshops to community centers, camps and organizations from all over the country.
PHOTO CREDIT: Kendrick Daye