There is no denying the number of Black authors within Canada is vast and great. Just one of those authors is Yolanda T. Marshall. Yolanda has written several pieces of literature, including My Soca Birthday Party, A Piece of Black Cake for Santa, Miles Across the Caribbean, “C” is for Carnival and her recent production Hot Cross Buns. We sat down with Yolanda so that we and get to know her.
When did you first realize that you wanted to be an author?
"As a child, I enjoyed writing poetry. In my early 20s, while in university, I had accumulated hundreds of poems I wanted to share with other poetry lovers. Ion 2008, I self-published my first book called “Obayifo: A Poetic Journey into the mind of Miss Marshall.” To date, I have two poetry books. My focus these past seven years has been on children’s books, which I started writing in 2015 after the birth of my child."
How long have you been writing or when did you start?
"I started writing literature at the age of eight years old."
How many books have you written?
"I currently have nine published books, most traditionally published and over two upcoming releases."
What is your most recent title? And what inspired you to write it?
“Hot Cross Buns For Everyone” - I grew up eating cross buns and spice buns for Easter, yet I never saw myself represented in an Easter book. I wanted a book to highlight the holiday, about celebrations and community. My books include recipes because food is an integral part of culture and inclusion. We can learn about and embrace our differences while realizing we share many similarities. My stories represent my Caribbean and African culture, so children like my son feel seen in the literature. I have a birthday book, a Christmas book, and now an Easter book to cover special times I grew up enjoying.
What comes first for you — the plot or the characters — and why?
"They go hand in hand with me – the characters are already a part of my life, experiences, and reality. Once I create a story– I need to write unique stories, stories anyone will look back and say – Yolanda T. Marshall was the first author to write about a Canadian child travelling to 15 Caribbean nations and educating everyone about what makes them unique. The first author to place kids of natural African and Caribbean heritage in a soca party with jollof rice… the first author who had us leave the black cake and sorrel for Santa instead of cookies. The author with many traditional Caribbean and African recipes in the picture books. I want to make sure all readers learn, relate and walk away with the essence of my stories – some will feel like they are the characters because the plot is all about them, their identity. My characters are plots, and my plots are my characters – it is the only way I can create creative, memorable stories."
What is the most important part of your writing process?
"I was getting it done and feeling content with what I wrote."
What’s your favorite and least favorite part of publishing?
"I started as a self-published author on my own in 2008. I received multiple book deals and shifted to traditionally published books. I have also worked in academic publishing for over 11 years, since 2010. My favourite part is gaining all the experiences I just mentioned. My least favourite part is knowing that being Black in publishing has its trauma, but I look at all I have accomplished and what other racialized authors like myself are accomplishing in Canada, and I dwell on that – that is my light. My son has always seen himself in literature because I made it possible. I love writing, reading for kids and making sure I produce books kids can find on their school shelves for decades to come. I can list 100 things about publishing I dislike, but it won’t detour me, so I focus on the positive contributions publishing has presented to a Black mother like myself. I use publishing to stand up to a system built on excluding me from children’s literature. It is my way of ensuring ALL kids have access to inclusive, cultural books. Most days, I love it, and some days I don’t, yet on all days, I win because I have embraced publishing."
When you are not writing, what is your most favourite pastime?
"Cooking, travelling, jazz, and most of all, enjoying my son's growth."
What piece of advice would you give someone considering becoming an author?
"Do it with passion; find yourself in your writing. It is not an easy road, so be prepared and open to continuous learning. Research publishing, gain knowledge of the field and appreciate your audience. Keep writing!"
Yolanda T. Marshall