Meet Mariama J. Lockington, author of Forever is Now. The newly minted Stonewall Honor author brings you her first YA in-verse novel that tells a story of a Black teen coming of age in an anxiety-inducing world.
Can you tell us what inspired you to write FOREVER IS NOW?
I wrote Forever is Now during a really hard time. It was the early days of the Pandemic, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd had just been murdered, and my own mental health was suffering daily. While I was struggling to read books or do much of anything, this story sort of flew out of me. I turned to the page to find some hope, some joy, and make sense of the world. I wanted to write a story about a Black girl who is both strong and delicate, who like me, lives with chronic anxiety, and who gets to ask for help, fall apart, and just be as she is in the face of some hard realities. I also wanted to write a book about joy, and how living in the present is perhaps the most alive we’ll ever be.
Tell us a little about what you love about your protagonist, Sadie.
I’m very much driven by character when I write, and Sadie’s character is one of my favorites. Sadie is fierce and vulnerable with her words, she is in love with her City— Oakland, CA— and she’s unapologetically queer. She loves her family, her community, and this planet, and she seeks to build connection and compassion wherever she can. She’s also a sixteen year old girl, with a messy love life, a fury that she takes out on a boxing bag, and she’s a dreamer—bursting with stories and poems. Sadie rejects the “strong black woman” stereotype, and instead seeks to reclaim her joy, her aliveness by being beautifully imperfect and learning to live in the now.
How do you hope this book will be used in classrooms and libraries?
While we’ve come a long way in this country, there is still a harmful stigma when it comes to mental health issues and disorders— especially if you are a Black person. As someone who lives with generalized anxiety and panic disorder, it’s important for me to write stories for young people that demonstrate that they are not alone and that mental health is just as important as physical health. I hope this book will spark conversation about anxiety—how it can live inside the brain and also be accelerated by racism, homophobia, and other oppressive systems. I also hope this book sparks conversation about identity, voice, and power— what it means to advocate for yourself or your community, and how joy can be an act of resistance, even in the face of an unforgiving, cruel world. This book also sites and calls to the page a number of BIPOC writers— dead and living— that Sadie engages with in her life. I hope the reading list provided at the end of the book will be helpful for educators looking for supplemental materials to talk through some of the bigger issues and themes in Sadie’s story.
As this book is a lyrical novel, do you find any inspiration in music while writing? If so, what music did you listen to while writing FOREVER IS NOW?
Music is a huge part of my life and my writing process. I grew up with musician parents, and I played classical flute and piano for over ten years. Every book I write starts with a playlist. The Forever is Now playlist is heavily influenced by some quintessential Bay Area artists, like Zion I, Too $short, and Goapele, but it’s also a journey through moods— from sad, to angry, to joyful, and then to songs of resistance and love. I really enjoy thinking about the musical plot of a book, and even though I can’t draft to music with lyrics, often between writing sessions, I play a song from the playlist to help me get ready for the next scene or even just to have a little dance break in my office. While I no longer practice my flute or the piano, I believe my poetry and storytelling are heavily influenced by my musical background. The full Forever Is Now playlist will be printed in the final book, so readers can engage with the songs as they like.
Tell us about a librarian or educator who made an impact on you as a child.
This is tricky, because I moved around a ton as a kid, and I was homeschooled until high school. However, I do remember that whatever city we found ourselves in, my parents made sure to take my siblings and I to the closest library to get books. To this day libraries feel like a safe haven, a refuge, a magic place full of worlds to get lost in. In fact, I often go to my local library here in Kentucky to draft my books, wander the isles, and check out entirely too many books. As an author, visiting school libraries is one of my favorite things. Librarians are my heroes, and I get so excited to meet other adults who make reading possible, exciting, affirming, and inclusive for all kinds of young people.
What advice would you give to young writers?
We tell stories every day— when we get home from school and talk about what made us laugh, when we see our best friend on the bus in the morning and tell them about a song we can’t stop listening to, when we share about cute things our pets did the day before, etc. Stories are all around us, and when you’re feeling like you’re stuck, or like you don’t have anything important to say, just step out into the world— listen with your ears and your eyes. There are so many ways to begin, so many things to be inspired by. Writing is about being curious, asking questions, going on adventures outside of your comfort zone; so don’t stay hidden— or tucked away, live your life big and write down every word that makes you feel alive.
What was your favorite book when you were a young reader?
I loved the Babysitters Club series, Nancy Drew, and the Boxcar children, but one of my most favorite books was Anne of Green Gables. I love Anne with an E’s fierceness, her penchant for poetry and drama, and her sincere wonder of the world. Even now, as an adult, I find myself looking up at the sky and trees on a crisp, autumn day, and saying: “I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.” Anne will forever be a kindred spirit of mine.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Mariama J. Lockington is an adoptee, writer, and nonprofit educator. She has been telling stories and making her own books since the second grade, when she wore short-alls and flower leggings every day to school. She is the author of For Black Girls Like Me, her middle-grade debut, as well as a poetry chapbook The Lucky Daughter. Mariama holds a Masters in Education from Lesley University and Masters in Fine Arts in Poetry from San Francisco State University. She lives in Lexington, KY with her partner and dapple haired dachshund, Henry.
ABOUT THE BOOK:
Forever is Now
By Mariama J. Lockington
On Sale 5/23/2023
A poignant and lyrical young adult novel-in-verse about a Black teen coming of age in an anxiety-inducing world, from the author of For Black Girls Like Me and In the Key of Us.
I’m safe here.
That’s how Sadie feels, on a perfect summer day, wrapped in her girlfriend’s arms. School is out, and even though she’s been struggling to manage her chronic anxiety, Sadie is hopeful better times are ahead. Or at least, she thought she was safe. When her girlfriend reveals some unexpected news and the two witness a violent incident of police brutality unfold before them, Sadie’s whole world is upended in an instant.
I’m not safe anywhere.
That’s how Sadie feels every day after—vulnerable, uprooted. She retreats inside as the weeks slip by and relies on her phone to stay connected to the outside world. When Sadie’s therapist gives her a diagnosis for her debilitating panic—agoraphobia—she starts on a path of acceptance and healing. Meanwhile, Sadie’s best friend, Evan, updates her on the protests taking place in their city. Sadie wants to be a part of it, to use her voice and affect change. But how do you show up for your community when you can’t even leave your house?
I can build a safe place inside myself.
That’s what Sadie learns over the course of one life-changing summer, with some help from her family, her best friend, an online platform for activists, and a magnetic crush she develops for the new boy next door.
From critically acclaimed author Mariama J. Lockington comes Forever is Now, a powerful young adult novel-in-verse about mental health, love, family, Black joy, and finding your voice and power in an unforgiving world.