Behind the Black Pen #4: The Mega-Talented Marlon McKenny!


Hello History Lovers!

In honor of #BlackHistoryMonth today and EVERY DAY, we have a treat for you. Whether you love eye-popping illustrations or a good old-fashioned read, you'll find something for everyone in this interview. Come and meet artist-writer-publisher Marlon McKenny and read the remarkable "remixed" stories in his Conscious Culture line of children's books.

FYI, here’s our interview legend:

BHC = The Black History Channel
MM = Marlon McKenny

To contact Marlon or learn more about his work, follow these links:

Instagram: @consciousculturepublishing

Let's go!

All About Marlon the Creative

Marlon McKenny's "remix" of Alice in Wonderland.

BHC: What inspired you to become a writer?

MM: Ever since I was a kid I always loved books. As a 5 year old I put the staples in paper and made books. My mother was a teacher who was very critical of my vocabulary. She said my spelling was horrible. In my mind I thought I was not good enough. So, I focused on art.

BHC: We can't wait to find out: what is your favorite childhood book?

MM: My favorite book is Corduroy, by Don Freeman. I really loved that book. The people in it are black people, and this made a big impact on me.

BHC: Corduroy looks and sounds like a great book. Thanks for sharing, we'll have to check that one out. Now, on to YOUR characters. How do you select names for your characters?

MM: A lot of the stories I tell are based on African history, so many of the names have been researched and are already in place. That’s where I get them most of them from. Other times I pull them from people I know, or from notable African American people.

BHC: We're curious; do you try more to be original with your stories and illustrations, or do you prefer to deliver to readers what they want?

MM: I actually try to do both. I always begin with a story that inspires me, so in essence I always start with something I think is a cool idea. But as I put the story together, I really like to think about how the reader will enjoy it. So of course I want the flow of the book to make sense. In other words, I’m very conscious of people being able to follow the story. That's why I used to go to meet-ups for children's books. I wanted to learn, to sharpen my skills. FYI, I was always the only African American male at those meet-ups, but I'm sure it has gotten better since then.

BHC: The topic of meet-ups is a great lead to this next question: What other authors are you friends with, and did/do they help you become a better writer?

MM: I spend a lot of time working by myself, but I also love to collaborate with like-minded people. That being said, Jesse Byrd is one of my writer friends. He's an African American editor who has been writing children's books for over a decade. He understands structure and story arc and he has definitely helped me polish up my ideas.

BHC: We'll keep our eyes open for that name. Now, tell us, what does literary success look like to you?

MM: In my mind, my goal is to be the default or "go-to" when people want to buy a book with African historical characters in it. I want them to want to pick up one of my books. I want them to think of Conscious Culture, my publishing company, first.

BHC: If you didn’t write, what would you do for work?

MM: Even if I didn't write I would still be storytelling. At the end of the day I’m a storyteller.


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