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Five Questions With Naomi Jackson
While at the Brooklyn Book Festival, Susumba caught up with the bright-eyed and charming Naomi Jackson debut author of The Star Side of Bird Hill (Penguin Press), published in June this year. Listed as a ‘Must-Read’ book by the New York Post, one of the ‘awesome books of summer', by Buzzfeed, and one of Summer 2015’s 'Hottest Must Read Novels’ by Kirkus Reviews, Star Side of Bird Hill has been finding much love among critics.
Born to Caribbean parents, Jackson lays claim to a much of the region’s archipelago, with connections to Barbados, where Star Side is partly set, Antigua and Barbuda and Jamaica, as well as the Caribbean community of Brooklyn.
SUSUMBA: Which Caribbean countries have a claim on you?
NAOMI JACKSON: I claim Barbados because that’s where my mother is from, and my dad is from Antigua. My stepmother is Jamaican, and I’ve spent so much of my growing up years with her that I identify with Jamaica. I could never leave them out, (laughs) plus you know how you all [Jamaicans] love take over.
S: Why did you decide to write this book?
NJ: I felt that it was important to write a new Caribbean American story that dealt with issues people in our community aren’t comfortable dealing with, like homophobia and children of Caribbean heritage who are born here (the United States) and then go back home and realize they don’t fit in as much as they expected to. There are not enough stories about black women who aren’t strong black women.
S: You began writing this book in 2009 and it was published in 2015. While you were writing, did you ever consider giving up on it?
NJ: Absolutely, especially in the middle. I was really excited about this book in the geginning, but the toughest part was in he really long middle. That 2 - 3 years in the middle, because it seems like you’re not doing any thing. My friends who write short stories were getting published, but me ... still writing the novel.
When I got down I, because there are some dark moments in this book, I just kept going because I felt that there was someone else out there who needed to read this.
S: You’ve described yourself as a reader, before you were ever I writer. Who are some of the writers who helped you to write?
NJ: Marlon James, especially John Crow’s Devil - I studied that book while I was writing this. Tiphanie Yanique because her book showed that it can be done. I also read Lauren Francis - Sharma, Jean Jordan - Soldier, and Dorothy Alison - Bastard Out of Carolina.
S: How did you feel when you got your first copy of the book?
NJ: It was exciting and surreal. It’s really silly, but I thought that my initials were only on my copy of the cover and then I realized it was on all the covers. It was really exciting.