Here is the second in my series of Black History Month interviews. Outstanding quilter and meticulous historical writer, Kyra E. Hicks, stopped through recently to share her tips on how to tackle historical nonfiction writing.
Kyra is the author of, This I Accomplish: Harriet Powers’ Bible Quilt and Other Pieces. Be sure to check out my review, called Made to Last: A Harriet Powers Quilt, on YA Books Central.
Now…on to the interview!
RitaL: Tell us a little about yourself. Where are you from? What’s your profession?
Kyra: I was born and raised in Los Angeles, California. I attended Los Angeles High School, then went to Howard University in Washington, DC, where I studied marketing. I now live in Arlington, Virginia and work in ecommerce marketing at Marriott International.
RitaL: How long have you been writing? Was writing one of your dreams? When did you become interested in writing?
Kyra: When I was in high school, I wrote for the school newspaper. I used to want to publish Black romance novels way back before Harlequin Romance even published its first book with African American main characters. I started quilting in 1991 after seeing a museum exhibit on African American story quilts – I was very inspired to learn how to quilt from that show. I have always been interested in how things get documented. My first book on African American quilt history, Black Threads, was published in 2003 and looks at two hundred years of black quilting,
RitaL: Do you write other genres, or is historical nonfiction your “baby?”
Kyra: I love it – “my baby”! I love historical, investigative research about African American quilt history. There is a real thrill to rediscovering information about quilters from decades or a century ago. I love following the trail of bits on information, even if the trail leads to a dead-end.
RitaL: What was your biggest challenge when researching the story of a fairly obscure African American quilter?
Kyra: Challenge or thrill? I try to start with finding documents or people as close to the quilter as possible. Are there family members to speak with? Are there newspaper or magazine articles? Are there church records or even funeral programs to read? Are there letters from the quilter? The biggest challenge is finding the primary documents to confirm information.
RitaL: Tell us about your writing day; what is your writing space like? What do you need to write (i.e., a good cup of coffee, absolute quiet, etc.). How do you get yourself psychologically and physically geared up to write and research? Hey, inquiring minds want to know!
Kyra: I don’t have a typical writing day. I have a full-time job I love at Marriott International. My historical research and writing, as a result, happens on the weekend or very late at night. One of the best tools I have for writing is simple curiosity. I want to “know” something from as close to the original sources or people as possible. I am grateful for the ability to search within books via Google and Amazon. This helps me to know what specifically to look for at the Library of Congress, which is less than ten miles from my home.
I do enjoy having coffee or chi tea when writing. I don’t like absolute quiet when working, so I’ll pop a video or CD in the background to have some background noise.
RitaL: Got any children’s books in mind?
Kyra: Martha Ann’s Quilt for Queen Victoria, is the one children’s picture book I’ve written. This book is the true story of Martha Ann Ricks, a young Tennessee slave. Her father purchased the entire family out of slavery and moved to Liberia, in West Africa. She watches the British navy patrolling the Liberian coast to stop slave catchers from kidnapping family and neighbors and forcing them back into slavery. Martha Ann decides to thank Queen Victoria in person for sending the navy. But first, she has to save money for the 3,500-mile voyage, find a suitable gift for the queen, and withstand the ridicule of those who learn of her impossible dream to meet the Queen of England.
I don’t have any immediate plans to write another children’s book, although I have one or two ideas about other historical African American quilters I’d like to write a picture book about.
RitaL: How long did it take you to write This I Accomplish: Harriet Powers’ Bible Quilt and Other Pieces?
Kyra: I started the research for what would become “This I Accomplish” in early 2007. The book was available for sale in early July 2009. So, in total, the process took about 24 months to write the 180 pages for the book and secure the 20 or so photographs in the book.
RitaL: How did you organize your notes, newspaper clippings, interviews, etc?
Kyra: Given that I write non-fiction, I’ve had to be fairly organized with my notes so that at any point I can review notes and verify references. I use old fashion hanging files and a milk crate to organize my notes. I have a file for every person or item that I write about. I usually file things in the order they appear in the manuscript or book so it’s easy to grab references.
RitaL: Can you recommend any books that helped you as a writer?
Kyra: The most-used book I have is, A Manual for Writers of Term Papers, Theses, and Dissertations, by Kate L. Turabian. This was a required text when I was at Howard University and I’ve referenced it since then.
For those who are interested in self-publishing, I recommend, Aiming at Amazon, by Aaron Shepherd.
RitaL: Any advice for aspiring writers?
Kyra: Since I write non-fiction, I’ve found that compiling an annotative bibliography on the topic I’m interested in is the first best step for me. By writing the annotations, I become familiar with who has written on the topic. I’m reminded about specific theories an author may have. I can see the evolution of thought about the topic. I also have a clearer picture of potential gaps on the topic. Then, as I researcher, I can find a unique way to approach the topic.
RitaL: Where can writers reach you if they want to ask questions about historical research or the intricacies of quilting?
RitaL: Anything you’d like to add?
Kyra: Rita, thank you for all the fabulous work you do to keep us updated on the latest in Young Adult and historical works!
YOU’RE VERY WELCOME, KYRA, and thanks so much for stopping by and sharing your skills and expertise. I’m sure this interview will encourage all the many aspiring writers out there who are pounding away at their own projects.
Thanks again, Kyra, and best wishes for a wonderful year!