by Tameka Fryer Brown | Reprinted from THE BROWN BOOKSHELF
Look up the word “prolific” and there has to be a photo of a bright-smiling, Texas-dwelling diva named Angela Shelf-Medearis! Born in Virginia, Medearis called various places home at various times in her childhood, thanks to life with a father who was a recruiter for the Air Force. She settled in Austin, Texas at age 18 with her husband, Michael, and has lived there ever since.
Medearis has published scores of award-winning books for children throughout her career, including numerous picture books and leveled readers. Not only is she a kid-lit diva, but she’s The Kitchen Diva, too…whose business portfolio contains cookbooks, a public television show, a radio show, and other entrepreneurial endeavors produced under the umbrella of Diva Productions. Inspired yet? Me too!
The Brown Bookshelf welcomes Vanguard Picture Book Honoree, Mrs. Angela Shelf-Medearis!
My career as an author began the day I was fired from my job as a legal secretary. I was upset, at first, but then I realized that the severance package covered our expenses for 3 months! For the first time in years I was free to really think about what I wanted to do. I decided to try my hand at writing. I went to the library and checked out every book they had about book publishing. After four long years, hundreds of painful rejection letters, and numerous unpublished manuscripts, I wasn’t having any success with New York publishers. I stopped by a small, regional publisher in my hometown, Austin, Texas. They were interested in two of my books, and published 1,000 copies (500 hardback, 500 paper) of my first book PICKING PEAS FOR A PENNY, a rhyming story about my mother, Uncle John and my grandparents who owned a farm during the Great Depression.
My husband, Michael, worked full-time and part-time to support my dreams and assisted me on my road trips to school districts around Texas to promote my book. He refers to those years as “Driving Ms. Angela.” I created and presented fun programs for elementary through college students that explored the history of African storytelling up to modern publishing. I had plenty of visual items, and told and acted out folktales.
Those appearances helped me to hone my skills as a storyteller. I was named one of the “Best Storytellers in the World” by Storytelling World Magazine. We sold more than 10,000 copies of PICKING PEAS FOR A PENNY at schools, autograph-signings, and book conferences. I submitted the book to Scholastic (again) and this time, they decided to publish it. Since that time, I’ve published more than 40 books with Scholastic and 60 with other major publishers.
Texas Monthly Magazine called me “one of the most influential writers of children’s literature in Texas.” My book, Chester’s CASA, was published by Scholastic, Inc. for distribution to children in the Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) program for children in foster care. I also wrote the award-winning story, Daisy And The Doll, and several other books about African-American arts and Texas history with my husband, Michael Medearis.
My books have sold more than 14 million copies worldwide, and are featured on a line of animated DVDs–The Storyteller Series: Many Books, Many Languages Bilingual DVDs that I produced and narrated, as well ANGELA’S NOTEBOOK, an educational DVD series about writing, reading, authors, and illustrators. My works are found in schools, libraries and bookstores around the United States, and have been translated into Spanish, French, Dutch, and Japanese.
I’ve also worked as a reading consultant for the Scholastic, Inc. and McGraw-Hill Literacy Programs. I assisted the companies with the development of their reading series for elementary school children. I’ve also written several articles for Scholastic’s READ AND RISE and GO! HEALTHY KIDS magazines.
In 2004, I made a radical life and career change. I wrote about my experiences in my spiritual memoir that I wrote with my Pastor, Salem Robinson, Jr. entitled Ten Ingredients for a Joyous Life and a Peaceful Home. Today, I’m known as THE KITCHEN DIVA! I’m the author of seven cookbooks: The African-American Kitchen, The Kwanzaa Celebration, Ideas For Entertaining From The African-American Kitchen, The Ethnic Vegetarian. The New African-American Cookbook, The Kitchen Diva Cooks!, and my newest work, The Kitchen Diva’s Diabetic Cookbook. I’m also the President of Diva Productions, Inc., We’re in development with WGBH to produce THE KITCHEN DIVA! television cooking show for PBS stations nationwide.
I’ve been so fortunate to not only be inspired and encouraged by many talented children’s book writers and illustrators, I’ve also had the chance to meet and work with them. During those long, lean, discouraging years when I was trying to learn the craft, get my work published, and collecting thousands of rejections, I loved going to the library and checking out books by Eloise Greenfield, Walter Dean Myers, Julius Lester and Lucille Clifton. After I became a published author, I had the opportunity to meet and work with numerous talented African-American authors and illustrators. Their love and support kept me going through the tough times.
The students, teachers and adults I’ve met during my travels around the world to share my work have also been inspiring. I often receive requests for particular kinds of books or hear great stories that I transform into a fictional work. Their enthusiasm for my work and the letters I’ve received are heart-warming.
Last, but certainly not least, my wonderful husband, daughter and son-in-law, grand-daughter, parents, siblings and my church family have been my support, sources of inspiration, and cheering section throughout my life and my career.
I’ve been so blessed to do what I love, with people I love, and to meet so many wonderful folks over the years. I’ve enjoyed the opportunity that I’ve had to be an example of how you can fulfill your dreams if you keep the faith and don’t give up! Above all, God empowers His plans.
I’ve been working for the last 7 years as a culinary historian, cookbook author, and food columnist for newspapers and magazines. I’ve also been working as a television chef and producer of cooking shows. Recently, I’ve been talking with a major publisher about creating faith-based books for children and adults!
The State of the Industry
I like to read the industry magazines, blogs, and on-line articles to see what’s being published. It helps me to decide what’s needed in the marketplace. As always, it seems that the same biographies about African-Americans are being published over and over. I remember when I wanted to write about Ida B. Wells Barnett–school teacher, newspaper owner, civil rights activist (her investigations of lynching incidents are legendary), wife, mother of 4 children and fashionista. Her face was on the postage stamp on the letter I sent to the publisher to pitch my biography idea. They turned it down because they “had never heard of her!” I had to fight to get the book published, but it was worth it to honor such a wonderful woman and to educate folks about her life.
I’d like to see all aspects of African-American history celebrated in children’s literature. In the future, I’ll probably work with my publishers to publish books that celebrate the stories about our contributions to history that haven’t been told.
The Buzz (AWARDS AND HONORS)
DIVA PRODUCTIONS, INC.
SKIN DEEP AND OTHER TEENAGED REFLECTIONS: 1996 Violet Crown Awards Special Citation
HOLIDAY HOUSE, Inc.
DANCING WITH THE INDIANS: 1991 Violet Crown Special Citation
THE SINGING MAN: 1994 Violet Crown Special Citation/ALA Coretta Scott King Honor Book for Illustrations
POPPA’S NEW PANTS: 1996 Teddy Award
THE GHOST OF SIFTY-SIFTY SAM: North Carolina Children’s Book Award, 1999
SEEDS GROW: Gold Winner Oppenheim Book Award, 2000
THE PRINCESS OF THE PRESS: THE STORY OF IDA B. WELLS-BARNETT: National Council of Social Studies Woodson Award
ALBERT WHITMAN AND COMPANY, Albert Whitman & Co.
SEVEN SPOOLS OF THREAD: winner of the Platinum Book Award-Oppenheim Toy Portfolio; featured on THE TODAY SHOW; Notable Social Studies Trade Book-2001, Children’s Book Council and National Council for the Social Studies; 2002 Children’s Book Committee Best Children’s Book of the Year; Show Me Readers Award Master list; Louisiana Young Reader’s Choice Award, Not Just for Children Anymore! 2001
BOOKS WITH MICHAEL RENE MEDEARIS
VERMONT FOLKLORE SOCIETY,Middlebury, VT.
DAISY AND THE DOLL: Winner of the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Living the Dream Award, 2002