Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Carole Boston Weatherford dishes about her new book; BECOMING BILLIE HOLIDAY


I’m honored to have you here at The Fractured Keyboard. I read your new book, BECOMING BILLIE HOLIDAY, in less than a day. I’m normally not a fan of books in verse, but I couldn’t put yours down. What made you choose to write this book in verse instead of simple prose?
Billie Holiday conveyed enormous emotion in her small voice. Poetry was the ideal medium to capture the lyricism of her life story and the mood of her music.

What inspired you to write about Billie Holiday and why as a YA and not a PB like some of your other biographies? (I, MATTHEW HENSON – BEFORE JOHN WAS A JAZZ GIANT – JESSE OWENS: FASTEST MAN ALIVE – MOSES)
Billie Holiday is my muse and she enlisted me to write the book. She lived an R-rated life. So that ruled out a picture book.

Was there anything you learned during your research that challenged or changed your perceptions about Billie?
I did get to know her a bit better. I discovered that she loved movies and read pulp fiction, that she loved dogs and hated insects. She was a hopeless romantic beneath her street-smart exterior.

An illustrated novel for Young Adults is not the norm. How did the decision to include illustrations in your book come about?
That was the publisher’s decision—and a good one, if I do say so myself.

Floyd Cooper’s artwork is amazing. Did you choose him to illustrate BECOMING BILLIE HOLIDAY? Has he illustrated any of your other books? The publisher chose Floyd Cooper. Becoming Billie holiday was our first collaboration. I hope for another chance to work together.

How long did it take to complete BECOMING BILLIE HOLIDAY, from concept to final release?
About two and a half years.

Why did you end the book in the middle of Billie Holiday's career?I wanted end on a high note rather than to rehash Billie Holiday's heartbreaking decline. At the peak of her fame, 25-year-old Billie could not have imagined that she would die broke at age 44 of liver failure due to drug and alcohol abuse. But she may have sensed that her legacy would endure through her music.

BECOMING BILLIE HOLIDAY, like most of your books, is very powerful. In fact, one poem in particular held a certain resonance or punch for me. It is the one called AIN’T NOBODY’S BUSINESS IF I DO. I felt it summed up the lives of so many American youth. Do you hope to inspire these children with your writing? Billie Holiday, who was born Eleanora Fagan, used art to transcend her circumstances—poverty, parental neglect, rape, racism, and domestic abuse. Perhaps Eleanora suffered so Billie Holiday could sing.

How many books have you published? Are they all for children?
I have 32 books, 27 of which are for young people.

Can you tell us a little bit about your path to publication? Were there any hurdles along the way?
I got my first two contracts by dropping names in cover letters. I knew somebody who knew somebody. My first book, JUNTEENTH JAMBOREE, was published by Lee and Low in 1995. I struck options clauses from contracts and proceeded as a free agent, submitting my work to various houses as I worked my way up the industry’s feeding chain. Awards helped me get my foot in the door even though my subject matter was sometimes obscure. Perseverance has been key to my success. I just keep plugging until some editor sees the potential or value in what I have written.

I notice MOSES was published by Jump At The Sun/Hyperion. That is a closed house. Can you tell us how you got them to look at your manuscript?
An editor called to invite me to submit.

Is there a discussion/reading guide available for MOSES and some of your other titles?
There are study guides for several of my books. I provide links from my web site:

Thank you so much for stopping by The Fractured Keyboard! It’s been a pleasure having you here with us today. On behalf of myself and everyone who pops in, we wish you the best of luck with BECOMING BILLIE HOLIDAY. As usual, I really think you’ve got a winner!

-Niki Masse Schoenfeldt

Be sure and check out my reviews for some of Carole's other books:



  1. Thanks, Niki.

    Very informative.


  2. Billie Holiday as a muse - how AWESOME!

    Great, informative interview, Niki.


  3. Loved reading this. Thanks for a fabulous interview, Niki! I'm looking forward to reading the book.


  4. Hi, Niki!

    Great interview! I really enjoyed reading more about Ms. Weatherford.


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