Guyanese author sharing her Caribbean heritage through children's book
Yolanda T. Marshall
Yolanda T. Marshall is a Guyanese-born Canadian author.
She started writing when she was just eight years old.
The oldest daughter of a talented Jazz Guitarist, her lyricism manifested itself through poetry.
This was especially evident in pieces like Serenaded in New York, Delia Sings the Blues and Single Rose.
As a cross-genre writer, Yolande silently commands you to read and digest life’s cultural motions.
Her first book, "Obayifo," originates from the Ashanti tribe. It is the name given to an African Witch. The poem visits the works of Obeah, its people and fears. This poetry book was published in 2008.
Yolanda is extremely proud of her Caribbean heritage and has written four children’s books which explore different facets of its culture.
Her first children’s book- Keman’s First Carnival- was inspired by the birth of her son.
She has since written three other children’s books, A Piece of Black Cake for Santa, Sweet Sorrel Stand and Miles Away in the Caribbean.
A world traveller, a jazz lover and a devoted Mother, Yolanda embodies Art and takes her readers on adventurous, cultured journeys.
Luckily for us, she took time from her undoubtedly busy schedule to give some insight into her writing process and share some details about her new children’s book which is set to be released in August.
- LC: Start by telling us about your journey as an author, when did it begin?
YTM: I started writing poems at the age of eight and continued throughout my adult life. While in my third year of university, I decided to publish a poetry book. After compiling a list of my favourite, specifically, "Obayifo: A poetic journey into the mind of Miss Marshall," was published in 2008.
- Which part of the process do you most enjoy?
YTM: I enjoy the writing process. It is therapeutic, and holding the finished manuscript is like a key to the adventurous world of sharing my stories.
- On average, how long does the entire process take, from conceptualisation to the final fullstop on the last page?
YTM: For me, it varies. My poetry books took five years of accumulated poems. My children's books are written and illustrated within four months to a year.
- Of all the books that you've written, all the characters you've thought up and developed, which is your favourite?
YTM: Tough one! I love them all, but "Miles Away In The Caribbean," hits closer to home. This book highlights all the Caribbean nations. Miles, the character is named after my son, Miles. My son has visited most of the Caribbean countries mentioned in this book. The wordplay was of the title and how it connects to my son makes this title stand out from the rest.
5. Why children's books? Why books that speak of Caribbean culture?
YTM: I am a Caribbean mother who was seeking books with characters that represent my child, who is of Caribbean and African heritage. There aren't many Caribbean children's books, reflecting the lives of children within the diaspora. I want my child to be proud of his Caribbean culture and others to learn about it, respect and enjoy it.
6. What's one thing many people may not know about career writing?
YTM: The difficulty Black writers experience with getting published.
7. What's your biggest strength?
8. When was the last time you cried?
YTM: After watching the video of George Floyd and the protests which followed around the world. I have a Black son; Fear and anger build-up, and I worry about his future. I live in a country where racism exists - this is why I write because our kids matter too.
9. What's your guilty pleasure?
10. What's the one thing that's missing in your life right now?
YTM: I can list a few things since we are currently in a pandemic. I miss going to various cultural events in my city. I will miss Carnival this year.
11. What's the worst thing that's been said about you on social media?
YTM: I have no clue.
12. What's the best piece of advice you've ever received and from whom?
YTM: My Dad. He told me to do what I love, not what I'm told to love.
13. What advice do you have for aspiring authors?
YTM: Keep writing because your stories are valid. The rough drafts might turn out horrible, but it is the foundation on which you will build solid books!
14. What's your biggest accomplishment to date?
YTM: Being a Mother.
15. Given the opportunity to start over, what if anything would you do differently?
YTM: Started writing children's books 15 years ago.
16. Any hidden talents?
17. What fuels your passion?
YTM: My intent to incite happiness within others.
18. What do you want your legacy to be?
YTM: The Mother who didn't find the books she was looking for, so she wrote them.
19. Biggest wish for your child/children?
YTM: For my son to grow into a confident, intelligent and honest man. For him to feel safe navigating this world, and be a blessing to his descendants.
20. To what do you most attribute your success?
YTM: I feel I am continually striving to be successful - I am not fully there yet. Thus far, my determination and talents are elevating me toward each goal.
21. What do you do for fun?
YTM: I travel for fun.
22. What do you think is the secret to longevity in your field?
YTM: Having many stories to share.
23. Some of the biggest challenges you've encountered, and how did you overcome them?
YTM: A challenge I had was gaining the attention of media outlets to promote my Caribbean children's books. After the first year of trying, I realised I am not their cup of sorrel, nor their piece of black cake, so I focused on having my books read in schools and libraries. I focused on my community events and bookstores. It is where I feel at home, so I keep my focus there first.
24. What brings you the greatest joy?
YTM: Watching my son grow.
25. What's on your bookshelf?
YTM: Countless children's books.
26. What's at the top of your bucket list?
YTM: My plan to visit Ghana and Nigeria.
27. Who are your heroes?
YTM: My Parents
28. What's your greatest indulgence?
YTM: Creating the most delicious, traditional meals, from around the world.
29. What’s the best gift you've ever received?
YTM: There are many I am grateful for, including my son.
30. Given the opportunity to address youth in the Caribbean, what would you say to them?
YTM: Thrive to accomplish more than your parents did and never give up on a good education. Be proud of your Caribbean culture. Gravitate towards those who uplift you, treat you with respect and provide healthy environments for you to succeed.
31. Tell us about your upcoming projects, what's next for YTM?
A: Currently, I am super excited about my latest book, "My Soca Birthday Party: with Jollof Rice and Steel Pans." The title alone says it all. This storybook is set to be released in August 2020.
32. How difficult was it to get published?
YTM: I self-published my first four children's book, and it only cost me the price of my illustrations - publishing with KDP and Ingram Sparks is free. I did this because it is near impossible for books like mine to be published by major trade publishers, and even tougher for Black writers to get a book deal.
My upcoming title was picked up by an academic publisher. My previous Boss sent my manuscript to the publisher, and I was accepted immediately. My older books will be adopted by this publisher as well. It took five years to get here, but I never let it slow it down or detour me from creating my storybooks.