2020 Debut Author Interview: Kim Johnson!

In 2019, we made it our goal is to work with as many debut authors as possible and spread the word about their debut novels. It was such a success last year that we decided to continue the fun this year as well! Follow us this year as we pick the minds of the 2020 debuts and chat with them. Also stay tuned for news of giveaways, Twitter chats and more!
At the end of 2019, we Tweeted about wanting to discover more debut authors and their books. We ended up finding Kim Johnson and her novel THIS IS MY AMERICA, and we have been interested in it ever since. We are so excited to have Kim on the blog today to answer some of our questions! 

Kim Johnson held leadership positions in social justice organizations as a teen and in college. She’s now a college administrator who maintains civic engagement throughout the community while also mentoring Black student activists and leaders. She is also the graduate advisor and member of an historically Black sorority. THIS IS MY AMERICA is her debut novel and explores racial injustice against innocent Black men who are criminally sentenced and the families left behind to pick up the pieces. She holds degrees from the University of Oregon and the University of Maryland, College Park.

Keep up with Kim: Website / Twitter / Instagram / Pinterest / Facebook / Goodreads

The Book Bratz: First of all, congratulations! How does it feel to be a debut author?
Kim: As my pub date approaches it continues to feel surreal. What has been the most impactful experience has been from early readers moved by my story and taking the time to reach out. The challenge for me right now is being inspired and positive as a debut during not only a pandemic, but rising racial tensions. My novel is so relevant to the issues going on, so it hits deep to my activism roots. As a debut though I feel like the pandemic has connected authors and readers in unique ways that I hope will continue past COVID-19.
The Book Bratz: In your opinion, what's the best part of the writing process? What's the hardest?
Kim: The initial spark of a story gives me a rush. Those are the moments my fingers can’t keep up with my words and I know magic is happening on the page. The hardest part is finishing that first draft because it’s so raw, but I also love the process of revisions. 

The Book Bratz: Where did you get the inspiration for THIS IS MY AMERICA?
Kim: The Black Lives Matter movement and Bryan Stevenson’s JUST MERCY were my inspirations. In my early life as a leader in student organizations I found my students were wanting to have the same answers I was looking for—how to make change. The conversation in 2014 and 2015 around BLM in media was very focused on Police Brutality but not the fact that 1 in 3 Black men born today will wind up in jail at some point. I wanted to tell a story that addressed police brutality but also the faults and foundation of our criminal justice system. 

The Book Bratz: Who was your favorite character to write? Who was the most difficult?
Kim: My favorite character was Tracy, the heroine in this story. She is like so many student activists I know, full of determination, fearless, relentless, and inspiring. The most difficult character was Tasha, Tracy’s best friend. She has her own story to tell and I had to make sure to focus on Tracy so it wouldn’t overwhelm the reader. 

The Book Bratz: What other books have you read and loved that you think really helped inspire you to write THIS IS MY AMERICA?
Kim: JUST MERCY by Bryan Stevenson, THE NEW JIM CROW by Michelle Alexander, and HOW IT WENT DOWN by Kekla Magoon.

The Book Bratz: What do you hope that readers will take away from THIS IS MY AMERICA?
Kim: I hope readers are not only enthralled with the story, but the recognize the Beaumont family represent experiences of too many Black families—the threat of a family’s hopes and dreams can be disrupted at any moment. I want readers to leave the book hungry for more books with Black main characters across all genres and categories. I also hope THIS IS MY AMERICA leaves readers inspired and ready to act for change. 

The Book Bratz: Do you plan on returning to the world of THIS IS MY AMERICA in the future, or do you have any other projects in mind? Can you tell us anything about them?
Kim: I don’t have any plans to explore a follow up, although I think it would be interesting to take on the perspective of Tasha, Tracy’s best friend. Possibly even her brother, Jamal, a few years earlier before he became a suspect. My next project will be a historical fiction set in the 1950’s and will keep up with elements of mystery while exploring the Great Migration and inequality in the American suburban dream. 

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Title: This Is My America
Author: Kim Johnson
Publisher: Random House Children's Books
Publication Date: July 28th, 2020

Summary: Every week, seventeen-year-old Tracy Beaumont writes letters to Innocence X, asking the organization to help her father, an innocent Black man on death row. After seven years, Tracy is running out of time—her dad has only 267 days left. Then the unthinkable happens. The police arrive in the night, and Tracy’s older brother, Jamal, goes from being a bright, promising track star to a “thug” on the run, accused of killing a white girl. Determined to save her brother, Tracy investigates what really happened between Jamal and Angela down at the Pike. But will Tracy and her family survive the uncovering of the skeletons of their Texas town’s racist history that still haunt the present?

Thank you so much to Kim for stopping by and answering our questions! We are super excited about THIS IS MY AMERICA and can't wait for it to be out in the world on July 28th

Read Jessica's review now by clicking HERE!

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