YEM Author Interview: Jumata Emill chats about exploring privilege in his book The Black Queen

Jumata Emill is the author of The Black Queen. The Black Queen follows the mystery of Nova Albright, the first Black homecoming queen at Lovett High. The book explores privilege, and justice. YEM was able to speak with Jumata about where the inspiration for The Black Queen came from, the writing process for The Black Queen, and something he learned from writing The Black Queen?

Young Entertainment Mag: How excited are you to have your book The Black Queen out? 

Jumata Emill: Beyond! This book has been such a labor of love. A true culmination of years worth of conversations and emotions I never knew would come together the way they did, into this particular story. 

YEM: Why do you think it is so important to write a book that explores privilege the way that yours does? 

Jumata: It was something I hadn’t seen done yet in YA — a story that prominently features a white teen coming to terms with their privilege and all the ways their ignorance to the nuanced of race and social justice contributes to systemic barriers that people of color face in this country every day.  

YEM: How would you describe The Black Queen? 

Jumata: A true murder mystery that feels familar while at same time fresh and poignant. 

YEM: What made you want to write a thriller book, have you always liked thrillers? 

Jumata: Love them! I grew up reading Encyclopedia Brown, Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys books. While I loved them, I always longed for similar books that featured kids that looked and talked like me as the protagonists. Books where black kids were the smartest kids in the room and not sidekicks to white characters or stereotypical punchlines, which sends a certain message to marginalized readers. The Black Queen is my first true “Toni Morrison” book.  A book I’ve always wanted to read as a teen, so I finally wrote it.  

YEM: Where did inspiration for The Black Queen come from? 

Jumata: Initially, from a random conservation I had over coffee with a coworker one afternoon. We were talking about something related to the high school she attended, and she casually mentioned her school had this convoluted way of electing its homecoming queens where one year they chose a white girl and the next a black girl, and then switched back and forth like that year-to-year. That concept stayed with me and I thought, “This could make a great YA plot if I added a murder to it.” From there, I began to think about characters, their motivations and the story truly began to fall into place from there.  

YEM: Is it important for you to always touch on a subject such as privilege or race in your writing or is it something that organically happens when you are writing a story? 

Jumata: With The Black Queen it happened organically, born from my questions surrounding why such convoluted race-related customs and practices still exist at some schools in the Deep South. But I don’t want to be an author who constantly writes about black trauma and/or race relations. Maybe there will be slight undercurrents of it in my future works, but I don’t see those topics always being so front and center as they are in my debut novel.  

YEM: What is a book that made you fall in love with literature? 

Jumata: There isn’t just one book that did that. There are many. Too many for me to pick just one. I always had a love for words and storytelling. And my love for writing is simply an extension of that. 

YEM: Can you take us through your writing process of The Black Queen? 

Jumata: It started with that conversation with my coworker, from there I had to figure out what characters could inhabit this world where a murder would take centerstage of a high school’s homecoming queen elections, spefically the year the first black girl would wear the crown. Once I knew who they were, I began plotting the story, which was driven primarily by those characters’ motivations. And from there, I put pen to paper and let the story unfold.  

YEM: What is some advice you can share with others who want to become writers? 

Jumata: They’re gonna hear this a lot, but “read, read, read!” After that, “write, write, write!” That’s truly one of the best ways to get good at your craft. Focus on the things you want to see in literature.  

YEM: What is something you learned from writing The Black Queen? 

Jumata: That seeing the world from two different people’s perspectives (in this case my two POV characters) can be truly illuminating.  

YEM: What do you hope that your readers will learn from reading your book? 

Jumata: That conversations around race and privilege are still important today as they were years ago (which says a lot in and of itself about this country). I hope this story opens the door for that to happen in a different way. Especially among black and white teens.      

YEM: Are you going to continue writing young adult books? 

Jumata: For the foreseeable future. But who knows. I never say never when it comes to writing. If a story hits me that’s not YA I’m not going to NOT write it. Now, whether or not it gets published remains to be seen. 

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