Interview with Christopher Myers from TTBF 2019

Hello everyone! I know it has been a while. I’m in the midst of both college application season and book festival season so I have lots of content coming up for you guys once it is written up. This past Saturday was the annual Texas Teen Book Festival, a festival that is always my favorite day of the year. This year it was a chill, fun festival and I have a few posts about it to share with you. This is the first one: an interview with Christopher Myers conducted at TTBF 2019.

Christopher Myers is known for being an award-winning author and illustrator, Walter Dean Myers’ son, and recently started the Make Me a World imprint at Random House. He was at TTBF presenting Akwaeke Emezi and their new novel, Pet. Unfortunately, Akwaeke couldn’t make it to the festival but Christopher gave some insight into his new imprint and talked about his passion for books. Enjoy, and if you’ve read Akwaeke’s new book, let me know what you thought about it!

Xander Christou: Hello, I’m here with Christopher Myers. Welcome.

Christopher Myers: Hey, glad to be here.

XC: Can you tell me about the Make Me a World imprint and its goals?

CM: There are a lot of books in the world that need to be written, that need to be read, that people are writing, but no one’s publishing. There are so many communities that just end up being invisible if you look at the landscape of young people’s literature. My job, part of what I want to do, is to change that demographic, change that reality. I want to make books for the communities that aren’t being talked about, not only for those people to read about themselves but for all of us to live in the real world that we live in, in which not everybody’s just like us. I’m from New York, super central to who I am is my New York-ness. And New York is one of these places where you can’t ignore the fact that there are lots of communities that are like you and that are not like you at the same time. So, Make Me a World seeks to publish books that create the world as it is and not as people want it to be, as people imagine it. People imagine the world to be monolithic. They imagine the world to be narrow. My world isn’t that, your world isn’t that, and we publish books to be as wide as we are.

XC: Have you always been involved in the book world ever since you were young?

CM: So my father is Walter Dean Meyers; he wrote books for teens and picture books. I published my first book when I was 19, so I’ve been making books for a good long time now. Books are a language I speak, more than anything you talked about, like what communities I’m a part of, one of my main communities is book people. And I love book people and I love books. And it’s how I work out ideas, it’s how I think about things is thinking through books, using books themselves as a language that I use to talk to myself and talk to others. So books are one of my main languages. I speak book fluently.

XC: Do you think you would be so involved in books if you hadn’t grown up with a father who was such a prolific writer? 

CM: To be very honest, I can’t even imagine it. I don’t know what my life would be like if I hadn’t grown up in book world. My father worked at home, he wandered down the hall and typed every day, that was his life. And that was what I saw as a good life and what I continue to see as a good life. So I work at home and I wander down the hall and I type every day or I draw, I do all those kinds of things.

XC: Who are some authors you can’t get enough of recently?

CM: Absolutely Akwaeke Emezi. I’m so excited to be involved in the publishing of this book.

And I’m excited to be publishing this book, I’m excited to amplify their voice. I think they are an amazing writer in every respect. And I can’t wait for what more books that they will be publishing. But I really do speak and love books. So there are countless writers that I respect; I’m enjoying Yuyi Morales and Jason Reynolds, of course. Then there’s a bunch of obscure people that I really love. Anne Carson, my favorite teen romance is an Anne Carson book, which was an experimental poetry book called Autobiography of Red. I often talk to the writers that I’m working with and I say, you should look at that to see what kind of books we could publish in this industry. There are very few books that I’m not excited by. Paul Beatty, I’ve always loved, Colson Whitehead. Jackie Woodson, of course, the list of writers I love never gets thinner.

XC: Do you have a favorite Jason Reynolds book?

I love Long Way Down. I also love a book that he’s told me about that that he hasn’t published yet.

XC: Do you prefer hardcovers or paperbacks?

CM: Real talk, I prefer books. I just like books. The first time I was ever invited to lecture about books I was 20 years old, they flew me out to San Francisco to talk about the future of books. And someone asked me about ebooks and these sorts of things. And there are people who panic about the format of the books and they say, if we’re reading on a Kindle, what have we lost. I just love stories to such an extent that whether I’m getting them sitting at a fireside, or getting them from Netflix or getting them from, you know, a paper and glue book, I love the story more than I love the format. So that’s just the truth for me.

XC: What do you see as the future of the Make Me a World imprint?

CM: One of the things that I’ve noticed is that there is an endless amount of communities that are not being spoken to. And I feel like as long as there are worlds that are as yet unexplored by mainstream publishing, I’ll have work to do in that respect. I’m interested in acknowledging the truths of American kids, which is that every kid I know is international somehow. Every kid I know, whether it’s three generations ago, or last week, every kid I know is struggling with a conversation with themselves and they need words for it. And that’s what Makes Me a World does is that we think about the worlds that kids are building within themselves and we tried to give them words with which to speak about them.

XC: Do you have a favorite bookstore?

CM: Again, I have a lot of favorite bookstores. First one would be Strand, which I’ve been going to since I was six or seven. My father and I, when I was growing up would go to Forbidden Planet, which is a comic book store. It used to be on the corner of 11th and Broadway and now it’s moved further up Broadway. Then we’d go to Strand, then we go to Barnes and Noble when there was only one Barnes and Noble, before it was a big chain. And so that was our weekend ritual as a child. But I’ve always loved The Strand. I really love the one in LA, The Last Bookstore, I like that store very much. One of the things that I know for myself is if you put me down in a strange city, if I can find the bookstore, I will be safe and I will be good. And that’s usual for me. There’s a library bookshop in Jakarta, Indonesia called Cemeti, I love that place. In Beijing, there’s a bookstore called The Bookworm, But, you know, I traveled quite a lot, And in my travels, the way I orient myself, the way that I know where I am, is I know where the bookstores are. I can navigate from there.

XC: Does travel impact your writing at all? 

Absolutely. I think that there are two kinds of people who are thinking about literature, there are people who are building literature so as to build fences around people’s imaginations, so as to build fences around our sense of self. And then there are those who are trying to expand imagination. There are those who are trying to break down those fences. Travel is one way of breaking down those fences and I want more kids, especially in the United States, to be aware of the rest of the world, because the gift of the United States is that it’s connected to the rest of the world. When you go to some of these old European countries, you go to a place like Luxembourg, I have cousins in Germany that live in a tiny town and the world doesn’t touch their town. The world touches the United States, and that’s part of the gift of this place. I want to expand boundaries and break down fences.

XC: Thank you so much.

Stay tuned for more book festival coverage!

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