YEM Author Interview: David Haynes chats about what the 30th anniversary of his book Right by My Side means to him

David Haynes is the author of Right by My Side. It is the 30th anniversary of Right by My Side, and Penguin Classics is publishing the book. The novel is about fifteen-year-old Marshall Field Finney, an ordinary, sullen teenager who discovers storytelling as a way to ease his adolescent anger and family tensions. YEM was able to speak to David Haynes about how the world changed since Right by My Side came out, how it feels to have Penguin Classics publishing his book, and what he hopes his readers have taken away.

Young Entertainment Mag: When did you first know that you wanted to become a writer?

David Haynes: I knew when I was in 4th or 5th grade that I wanted my life to be about books. I remember telling a family friend who asked that I wanted to be a “bookkeeper”—because I didn’t know what the people who worked in the library were called.  I wrote a story one night when I was in 6th grade and took it to school.  My teacher read it to class and it was a big hit.  I was hooked.

YEM: What does the 30th anniversary of your book Right by My Side mean to you?

David: It’s such a rare thing for a book to get a second life.  It’s rather amazing to get to share that with new readers. I’m finding out that a lot of people didn’t even know that I wrote this book!

YEM: How has the world changed since Right by My Side came out?

David: I was telling an interviewer earlier this week that that technology has fundamentally shifted so much about the ways we interact. I’ve been thinking a lot about how the ways Marshall would have heard from his mother would be different now.

YEM: In what way would you say the world has not changed?

David: I imagine their school experiences would have been much the same.  And since people are people, all the dynamics between friends and family—which are at the heart of the book—should be completely recognizable to today’s readers.

YEM: Community and family are an important part of your book, why was it important for you to add that?

David: That is the subject of all my books.  For me, it’s all about the people and how they co-exist, in good and bad ways.

To be honest, I didn’t conceive RBMS for younger readers; younger readers found the book, largely thanks to librarians who got the word out about it.  When younger readers love your book, they REALLY love it.  They develop passions for the things that touch them in ways that adults do not.

YEM: Your book represents the black middle-class life, what does it mean to you to be able to have that represented in Right by My Side?

David: What I hope is true is that readers find books that present a full spectrum of the way that black lives are lived.  I’m proud that my book presents a part of the spectrum that may be less regularly featured in the media.

YEM: What do you hope your readers have taken away from Right by My Side?

David: That family and friendship endure and are powerful forces in the world.

YEM: How does it feel to have Penguin Classics publishing your book?

David: I have still not quite taken this in.  I have a library full of orange spines.  I’m thrilled to be apart of their series.

YEM: Is there a line or quote in your book that is your favorite and you would like to share?

David: Well, you’ve got to love that first line: “I’m a very dangerous boy.”

YEM: Are coming of age novels some of your favorites to read and write?

David: I’m a writer and a reader who loves all kinds of books and audiences. It’s fun to connect as a writer, and it’s a great joy to find books that connect with you.

YEM: Do you hope to write more books in the future?

David: I am always working on something new.  I’m quite excited about the current novel I’m working on.  I can’t wait to see what these characters get up to!

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