Meet the author of the young adult novel Black Girl Unlimited, Echo Brown! Echo shares more about her inspiration for this book, her most memorable teachers and librarians, her creative process, and more!
When describing Black Girl Unlimited, what’s your elevator pitch?
Echo Brown: Harry Potter meets The Wire in a tale of magic, miracles, and trauma in the underbelly of a tumultuous midwestern city.
What inspired you to write Black Girl Unlimited?
Echo: I knew I wanted to write a memoir, but a straightforward re-telling of the events of my life didn’t feel like it would really do the story justice. I felt like spiritual/magical elements needed to be incorporated to really describe certain experiences “accurately.” For example, I didn’t want to just say “I suffered from suicidal depression for a majority of my life.” I wanted to viscerally paint a picture of what that experience is like. As such, I developed magical concepts and ideas that I think allow the reader to grasp the layers of my lived experience: emotional, intellectual, and even spiritually. By bending the rules of memoir and creating something that is harder to define, but offers a more layered perspective, I think the story that I’m telling is fuller and more satisfying. Another inspiration I had in writing BGU was to offer a more complete narrative of the complexities of black humanity, something which is often stereotyped or denied altogether in this world.
Tell us about a librarian or educator who made an impact on you.
Echo: Teachers are the primary reason I have ended up on this path. They have been irreplaceable guides in my life. It was a teacher who put me in the gifted and talented program in first grade, which totally altered the trajectory of my life. It was a teacher that encouraged me to apply to college when I was uncertain if I should go. And it was a teacher that invited me into her home when my family faced eviction my senior year of high school. That teacher in particular changed my life. She made me believe in my potential when I was deeply insecure and unsure of myself. She taught me so much about how the world works and even supported me through Dartmouth. When I doubt myself, I can still hear her voice in my head telling me to keep going and believe in myself.
Is there a book that you wish you wrote?
Echo: I wish I wrote Beloved! It’s truly a masterpiece and moved me on a deep spiritual level. I really feel like the ancestors must have been whispering in Toni Morrison’s ear for that one.
What is the first step in your creative process?
Echo: The first step in my creative process is to sit with what is trying to come through me. I don’t force anything when writing. I try and allow the content to flow through me. If I feel stuck or blocked, I don’t freak out. I stop and wait or ask myself gentle questions like “What should come next? What should happen here?”
What was your favorite book when you were 10 years old?
Echo: I actually didn’t read a lot until high school. I was too busy trying to survive poverty. My favorite book in high school was I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Echo Brown is an African-American writer, performer, and playwright from rural Ohio. A Dartmouth alumna and the first female college graduate in her family, she is currently based in Northern California. Echo is best known for her one-woman show Black Virgins Are Not For Hipsters. Black Girl Unlimited marks her debut.
ABOUT THE BOOK:
Heavily autobiographical and infused with magical realism, Black Girl Unlimited fearlessly explores the intersections of poverty, sexual violence, depression, racism, and sexism—all through the arc of a transcendent coming-of-age story for fans of Renee Watson’s Piecing Me Together and Ibi Zoboi’s American Street.
Echo Brown is a wizard from the East Side, where apartments are small and parents suffer addictions to the white rocks. Yet there is magic . . . everywhere. New portals begin to open when Echo transfers to the rich school on the West Side, and an insightful teacher becomes a pivotal mentor.
Each day, Echo travels between two worlds, leaving her brothers, her friends, and a piece of herself behind on the East Side. There are dangers to leaving behind the place that made you. Echo soon realizes there is pain flowing through everyone around her, and a black veil of depression threatens to undo everything she’s worked for.
Praise for Black Girls Unlimited:
★”[An] empowering autobiographical novel fused with magical realism and allegory . . . with the nods to Langston Hughes, Maya Angelou, Malcolm X, and Alice Walker. This revelatory YA book deserves space on bookstore and library shelves for its healing power for all readers to break the chains of intergenerational pain and trauma.”—School Library Journal, starred review
“Brown has written a guidebook of survival and wonder….Brown’s greatest gift is evoking intimacy, and as she delicately but firmly snatches the reader’s attention, we are allowed to see this girl of multitudes and her neighborhood of contradictions in full and specific detail.” —The New York Times
“A graphic look at the magical black girls who are often forgotten or fetishized. Through Echo’s lessons, readers learn what it’s like to persist despite hopelessness, survive in a world propelled by oppressive and exploitative systems, and cope with feelings of connection and disconnect. A much-needed story. Just brilliant.”—Kirkus Reviews
“Steeped in allegory, magical realism, and stunning imagery, this story of what we take with us and what we leave behind marks the arrival of a bold new literary imagination.” —Esquire
“Brown’s prose is searingly beautiful and painful in its imagery . . . Echo is an unforgettable heroine, and her tale makes a compelling counterpart to Nikki Grimes’ memoir, Ordinary Hazards, or a first step toward Octavia Butler. ” —BCCB
“Brown’s novel deals with some very heavy themes including sexual violence, drug addiction, depression, and racism. However, it treats these themes and readers with care while uplifting both its main character and readers who may share Echo’s struggles. A treasure of a story that’s poignant, soulful, and inspiring.”—Booklist
“This is a story of Black girl magic, trauma and healing, learning to save oneself, connection and forgiveness, and given and chosen family.” —Book Riot
“Brown’s quasi-memoir blends magical realism with a coming-of-age story in this mold-breaking novel. The novel never shies from tough subject matter (drug addiction, sexual assault), at the same time deftly integrating magically realistic components and allegory into contemporary scenes.”