An Interview with Professor Janaka Lewis

Janaka Lewis was born and raised in Georgia and formally educated in North Carolina and the Chicago area. She is a self-proclaimed daughter of the South and southern spaces and loves to both teach and write about mobile women from the mid nineteenth-century through today.

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Through her teaching, she specializes in early African American narratives and also nineteenth century African American women’s narratives. She also teaches American Literature survey, where she also focuses on narratives in fiction and nonfiction. She also loves to talk (and write about) her family–husband Daryl, son Justus, and daughter Delany.

Miranda Lewis: What do you enjoy about teaching?

Janaka Lewis: I love motivating students to think critically about everything and seeing them make connections between early African American literature and the society in which we live.

ML: What is one important tip to remember about writing?
JL: That is it never “finished,” always in different stages of existence.

ML: What is the hardest thing about writing?
JL: Just that–feeling like it is something that you can complete (especially by a deadline, even though I give them often). At some point you realize that something is in a state in which it can be shared, and that’s what “finishing” really means.

ML:  What is something you enjoy about writing?
JL: I love seeing an idea that exists in one form in my head come to fruition through print (or electronic) media. Sometimes I will think about something for days, and when I finally write it down I feel a sense of relief.

ML: Why do you write?
JK: I believe I write to live, because thinking about ideas all of the time without expressing them is stressful! That said, I don’t write nearly as often as I should.

ML:  Do you have a favorite type of work to write? (For example, a specific subject or type of genre?)
JK: I like narratives about somebody (a woman or a child, most often in my work) coming to consciousness of who they are. I write short fiction, critical essays, and poetry, but this seems to be the central theme of all of my work.

ML: Do you have a favorite work that you have written? If so, why?
JK: My children’s book Brown All Over*, about a young boy learning to appreciate the color brown through his own image and that of his family, is my favorite because it has promoted so many great discussions from preschoolers to senior citizens about celebrating who we are, whoever we are.

ML: What advice would you give to someone who is interested in submitting their writing for publication (for example, a poem or short story to a literary-arts magazine, or a book to a publishing house)?
JL: I would tell them to do their research and to send it out. It might get rejected several times, but even in rejections, they might get awesome feedback. I went through a self-publishing company for the children’s book but have also sent poems and chapters to books that were published and I find value in both having control and yielding control to others in the publication process.


*Brown All Over is available for purchase here.

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