Hey! It's Essence! I'm here today with Kamichi Jackson, a poetry lover with an amazing voice who has written what might be the most powerful novel of 2017. K My Name Is Kendra will connect with teenagers all over the world, which is why Kamichi was a semi-finalist for the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. Congratulations, Kamichi! I'm so excited for you all to get to know her. Let's get to the interview!
Essence: How did the idea for K My Name is Kendra start?
Kamichi: It actually began as a story called Queen of the Scene, and the main character—whose name I don’t even remember anymore—was not an African-American girl. The original character did also suffer from depression, though. That part of the story was my way of dealing with my own ongoing depression. I was able to write my feelings through her. And then I began to finally deal with the underlying cause of my depression, and that’s where the sexual abuse story line came into play. I had to write from a more authentic place in order to process what I had gone through myself, so the character became an African-American girl and I changed her name to Kendra. Why Kendra—I don’t know! But sometimes my characters name themselves when they speak to me on the page. She decided Kendra would be her name. To call her anything else would not have felt right and she might not have told me her story as openly as she did.
Essence: Kendra had a teacher that she really liked and reached out to her when she sensed something was wrong. In high school, did you have a teacher that was similar to Miss Wilson?
Kamichi: I didn’t have a teacher that took an interest in me in that way, no. I’m not sure they recognized that I was even going through anything. And I’m not sure how I would’ve responded if they had approached me about it, to be honest. Talking about my dark thoughts was discouraged in my family, so I suffered in silence and didn’t tell anyone outside my house. But singing and writing became the outlets that kept me going, and the teachers who had me in those classes did seem to take notice of how much my creativity meant to me, so they challenged me to hone my skills. Indirectly, most likely without their even knowing, they helped me through my darkest hours.
Essence: In the beginning of the book, Kendra struggles with depression and has no one to talk to. What advice would you give teens who are going through depression?
Kamichi: Please please don’t give up trying to find someone to talk to! If there’s no one in your personal circle of family and friends, try a trusted adult at school. And if there’s still no one, please call any one of the many 24/7 national and local depression, crisis or suicide hotlines. Here are a couple organizations: Crisis Call Center (800-273- 8255) and the National Hopeline Network (800-784- 2433 or 800-442- 4673). You can visit Teen Health And Wellness for additional resources.
Essence: There’s a lot of Spanish in the novel. Do you speak Spanish yourself? Any other languages?
Kamichi: You’re the first person to catch that—I’m so impressed! Yes, I am bilingual. English is my first language, but I’ve been speaking Spanish since I was a little girl. Just a little at first in my neighborhood and with close family friends, but then even more as I formally began to take classes in middle and high school. I’ve totally immersed myself in the language and culture in the past thirty years, so I’m now fluent and am often mistaken for Dominican or Panamanian. There’s always more to learn though! As with English, there are words and expressions I don’t know, so I have to constantly keep at it in order to converse with fluency.
Essence: I can’t wait to read the sequel Starring Me As Myself. I love Nita. She’s my favorite character. Will she be in the sequel?
Kamichi: I love that you chose a more minor character as your favorite! One day, I’d like to pick your brain as to why that is.
Nita will definitely be in the sequel. Kendra needs her even more in her life, especially now that she has finally confessed to Nita all the things that happened to her. I actually would like to give her a bigger role and further develop her character. Just trying to figure out what that looks like on the page.
I want to say also here that Nita did inspire one of the cards from my new expression card line, which is called The Kendra Collection and is based on words that—had they been spoken by the characters to each other in the book—might’ve helped Kendra completely avoid the life-changing series of events that eventually claimed her innocence.
Essence: Much like you, I love poetry and love writing poems. What’s your favorite poem, Kamichi?
Kamichi: Phenomenal Woman by Maya Angelou! It means so much to me that I had to include it in K My Name Is Kendra as the poem Miss Wilson shares with Kendra to empower her. I read it often myself. And it’s one I will share with every single young lady who ever attends any one of my self-esteem workshops. These girls must learn how special and unique they are. It will help them drown out the voice of any person or industry telling them that they aren’t good enough, pretty enough, thin enough, et cetera. That inside voice must be louder and stronger than the others. That’s how a girl learns to love herself and recognize her own personal brand of beauty.
Essence: Alright, let’s do a couple fun questions before we go! First off, what’s your go-to karaoke song?
Kamichi: LOVE this question! It’s “He Loves Me” by the fabulous Jill Scott! I sing it a lot…and I’m even going into the studio soon to record it—just for fun. There are so many other songs I sing though, and since karaoke is part of my brand, I’ll be doing a lot more vocal work in the coming year. I’m sure to have even more go-to songs than I already do. Eventually, some of these karaoke performances will end up on YouTube, so keep an ear out!
Essence: If you had a chance to write a show for Nickelodeon, what would it be about?
Kamichi: Definitely another fun question! The one show I would really want them to create if I was ever given a meeting with Nickelodeon producers is based on one of my upcoming projects, and it’s so top secret that I’ll keep that under my cap for now, LOL (but it’s really really good).
There is another idea I have in my files, though, that might be appropriate—a live-action sitcom featuring a slightly dysfunctional family of actors (parents and four children) who struggle to communicate with each other in their lives off-camera. The parents hire a writing team (they live in the apartment over the family’s garage so they can be on-call 24/7) that secretly helps script the conversations between the family members. It would be called Line! and it’s based on the way professional actors sometimes forget their lines and call out for the script supervisor to feed them their next lines. Ultimately, they’ll learn in each episode that talking through a problem openly and from the heart is the best way for a family to thrive.
That’s it for today’s interview with Kamichi, but don’t leave just yet. We’re teaming up with Kamichi to give away a signed paperback of K My Name Is Kendra. Just click on the image below and enter to win a signed copy for your bookshelf or classroom. The contest ends on Tuesday, September 5th, and the winner must live in the United States. Good luck!