AUTHOR INTERVIEW:

Nicole Bailey-Williams Writes to Make You Think

by Alice Cherbonnier

“I want to write with some kind of social conscience, to make people at least think—and preferably act,” says author Nicole Bailey-Williams.
Her name’s not yet a household word, but Nicole Bailey-Williams, 30, is already racking up a reputation as a writer.

She wasn’t given her start by a publisher; she made it all happen by self-publishing her first book, A Little Piece of Sky, printing 7,000 copies in 2000 and distributing it through Ingraham and Baker & Taylor, two major book distributors.

Of her self-start in publishing, she said during a recent interview in Baltimore. “I didn’t shop the book to any publishers, I just did it.” It was selling briskly through determined self-promotion, including an able assistant: “My Mom flashed the book in church,” she recalled with a laugh.

Her cottage publishing industry mushroomed all of a sudden after she happened to meet a Random House editor. “I sent her a press kit on June 22, and by June 26 she had an offer,” she said.Now the book has been contracted by Harlem Moon of Broadway Books, a division of Random House, and its initial press run of 20,000 paperbacks is selling well at $9.95 a copy.

“It’s the story of a little girl with so many odds stacked against her, and she ends up whole. It’s a story about hope, about how people see with their hearts,” explained the author. “A lot of schools picked it up—high schools and colleges. There’s no sex, not a lot of violence, nothing graphic. It’s an internal story, about a metamorphosis. I look at Song [the heroine] as someone we all can love.”

Song has it rough. As one of four siblings, each with a different father, she struggles to find stability in a confusing world. Though grandparents can help, one message Ms. Bailey-Williams puts forward is that there are conflicts inherent in having a grandmother step in when a mother or father cannot care for a child.

“Often there’s an unresolved conflict between a grandmother and her child that may be visited on the third generation,” she pointed out. “And how can you expect kids to be stable when the only stability they have known is with an extended family?’

The overall message Bailey-Williams wants to put out through this book is: “Kids are gifts. When we don’t raise them well or prepare them well and give them the security they need—who’s going to care for us?”

The book, not surprisingly, is included in an English elective course and is on the library shelves of Ewing High School near Trenton, New Jersey, where Bailey-Williams, who holds a bachelor’s from Hampton University and a master’s from Temple University, teaches English. “I want my students to see writing as a viable career option,” she said.

Bailey-Williams, married but not yet a mother, is not quite ready to quit her day job, but she’s already finished her second book. Between Black and White, to be released next fall, and she’s at work on another. She also does an hour-long radio talk show, “The Literary Review,” once a month.

“Toni Morrison is my idol,” she said. “I want to write with some kind of social conscience, to make people at least think—and preferably act.”


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This story was published on December 4, 2002.