Meet Aminata Jalloh, author of The Biggest Little Brother a story that touches on ” the ideas of compromising different identities as families grow, non-traditional family structures and multiculturalism”. Our fellow African from Sierra Leone published her first book in 2016, and has plans to expand the publication into a series sharing the experiences of African families.
Here, Aminata discusses her writing journey, the ways her home city inspires her, and her future plans.
We asked to share her story.
1. Tell us your story. When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
There was never an “aha” moment for me to realize I wanted to be a writer. I believe that we all have exciting stories to tell and because of that we all have the innate ability to be writers. However, as a young child, I was always writing and reading my parents were always very supportive in encouraging these interests.
2. Where did the idea for come from? And what made you take that leap of faith to self-publish your first book?
I toyed with the idea of writing a children’s story for a long time, however, it was not until I began teaching in Washington, DC, that I finally decided to do it.
The specific moment happened when I was teaching a lesson on writing friendly letters to a class of second-graders. I asked each student to pick a special person in their life and to write that person a friendly letter. They loved the idea, especially when I showed them we would put the letters in real envelopes, addressed to each person.
One student’s letters stuck with me. My student addressed the letter to his older brother, who lived in El Salvador, and in it, he expressed his desire to see his brother. That feeling struck such a chord with me, because as a child, my older sister lived in Sierra Leone.
It made me realize that my experience was not unique and that families with members living in different parts of a state, country, etc., are more common than we think. I recall looking for story books that modeled a similar family structure, but I could not find any. There seemed to be a gap in children’s books that reflect the diverse, multicultural experience of families in America. This inspired me to write The Biggest Little Brother to provide a story that allowed more children to see their experiences normalized and reflected in literature.
3. Self-publishing is both a challenging and rewarding process. What was the most challenging aspect of your process and what was the most rewarding?
When I published The Biggest Little Brother, I was living in Sierra Leone. The country’s picturesque beauty surprises people who travel there. While it provided an inspiring backdrop, it was difficult liaising with US-based book industry vendors because of the time difference and challenges finding internet connections that could handle sharing large files. However, somehow it all worked out and I published the book while I was living in Sierra Leone! I did not see the actual book until four months after it was released when my sister brought me a copy when she visited Sierra Leone.
The most rewarding part of my self-publishing experience was during the marketing phase. I am naturally reserved about sharing things I have done, so I did little marketing for the book. However, once a few people in the Sierra Leonean community learned about it, they shared the title via social media, they purchased copies, and they pushed me to do speaking engagements. It was beautiful for me to see their support!
4. What’s next for your book series?
People took to the story of Sowa and his character. They found his relationship with Hindo and Naiya endearing, and he resonated with my youngest readers. I hope to continue the story of Sowa and his family.
5. What advice do you have for writers?
At the risk of sounding cliché, my advice would be to just do it.
6. How would you like to see your businesses evolve in the next five years?
I have been working in education in various capacities in public and private sectors. I hope to continue this work and also write more books and educational resources that speaks to readers of all backgrounds.
7. Best thing about your journey?
The best thing about my journey has been the immense support I received and learning that other people I knew wanted to write and publish, including the mother of one of my friends!
THE OSOW FAST THREE!
1. What is your favorite Afropop song?
2. If you could have lunch with any person, who would it be and why?
My paternal grandmother. She died before I was born, but I would love to have known her!
3. What’s your overarching vision for Africa?
To see the youth inspired by the possibilities of their roles in creating and developing systems, processes, tools, resources, and services for the continent.