The NCSCL is honored to present an interview with Dr. Lashon Daley, the Department of English and Comparative Literature’s new assistant professor of children’s literature. The interview was conducted online by Natalie Alvarez and Lara Amin, graduate assistants for SDSU’s National Center for the Study of Children’s Literature. We thank Professor Daley for taking the time out of her busy schedule to talk with us, and we’re proud of the opportunity to better acquaint our readers with our newest professor and her exciting work!
Tell us a bit about yourself: Where are you from? What were some of your favorite books as a child? How did you become interested in children’s literature and childhood studies, and what do you find particularly interesting about it?
I grew up in Miami, Florida, and spent most of my childhood climbing the mango tree in my backyard and the avocado tree in my front yard. As a result, I rarely read for leisure. Being outside and playing with my siblings brought me more joy than reading on my own. And to be honest, I hated reading. I preferred making up stories in my mind and telling them to my very attentive collection of stuffed animals. I did begin writing down my own stories when my mother gave me my first journal at the age of seven. I wrote my first children’s book shortly thereafter. It was about a blue rose that did not know how to bloom and had to learn on its own.
When I eventually began to tolerate reading, I fell in love with serial collections like The Berenstain Bears by Stan and Jan Berenstain, Clifford the Big Red Dog by Norman Bridwell, and Spot by Eric Hill. In addition, I’ll Fix Anthony by Judith Viorst was also a favorite because it mimicked my experience of being the youngest child and allowed me to feel seen.
As you can see, my love for children’s literature was a slow burn. It finally caught fire when I was working as a marketing assistant at the Louisiana Children’s Museum in New Orleans. I had the privilege of working with my colleagues to implement children’s educational programs, and childhood literacy was a major part of our core mission. I had a running knowledge of what was popular in the industry, what books were used to hit literacy goals, and essentially what made a good children’s picture book. So, I decided to write my own. My children’s book, Mr. Okra Sells Fresh Fruits and Vegetables, was published in 2016 by Pelican Publishing, and it launched me into the industry in a new way. Performing the text at festivals and in classrooms made me even more curious about children’s literature. When the book was released, I was in my first year of my doctoral studies at UC Berkeley. Through a series of research pursuits, children’s literature, especially children’s literature as it intersects with Black girlhood studies, eventually became one of my research fields.
Children’s literature is a fascinating field of study because of its depth and breath. Essentially everyone from children, to parents, to educators, to librarians, to the top
scholars within the field, to the illustrators, to the writers themselves all, play a role in expanding this field of study. The infinite possibilities of where this field can go means that I am limitless in my research. And for me, that is a beautiful place to be.
When you applied to SDSU, what aspects of the university and the Department of English and Comparative Literature did you find most attractive?
While my Ph.D. is in Performance Studies, my heart has always been based in English and Comparative Literature. I received my BA in English, my MA in Folklore, and my MFA in Writing. So applying to the department felt like a homecoming for me. I was extremely impressed by my colleagues Phillip Serrato and Joseph Thomas, whose research interests are so fascinating. I felt that I was going to be among scholars who also remained curious and limitless in their approach to the field and to their research. I felt a strong connection to so many of the professors in the department, who are not only top scholars, but also creatives as well. Plus, the opportunity to work with, teach, and mentor English majors and minors is an absolute dream.
What were the most significant challenges or obstacles for you during or post-graduate school?
When I was pursuing my MFA in Writing at Sarah Lawrence College, I had a desire to pursue publishing after graduation. I did not. However, that desire manifested itself again while I was preparing for my qualifying exams in the third year of my doctoral program. I was feeling so overwhelmed by the requirements of becoming a top scholar that I considered leaving my program. I began to research the job market in publishing and even applied for a position at a children’s literary publisher. I never told my advisor because I knew that she would talk me out of it. Once I passed my exams, I did feel much more confident in my ability to complete my degree. I am grateful that I persevered because now I have the opportunity to continue my research and to be in conversation with those within the industry.
What seminars would you like to teach? Tell us about them and how they relate to your research.
I would love to teach a seminar on research methods for fiction writers. Since I pursued my MFA before pursuing my PhD, I feel like I missed out on some crucial knowledge on how to conduct research for my creative master’s thesis. Being taught the craft of writing is super important, but I believe that teaching research methods in MFA programs would be a game changer. I am a really great example of why this is important. For my MFA thesis, I was writing a young adult novel about a Black girl coming to terms with heartache and grief after the tragic passing of her father. Now as a scholar at the intersection of children’s literature and Black girlhood studies, I feel much more equipped to write and construct a world for my character that is based in real-world research.
Which of your current projects excites you the most?
I have some children’s picture book manuscripts that I put on hold in order to complete my dissertation. I am excited about returning to those manuscripts. And then, of course, I am excited about turning my dissertation into a book.
What advice would you give to a student starting graduate school in 2022?
When you wake up in the middle of the night with the perfect word or sentence for your manuscript, write it down immediately. You will NOT remember it in the morning.
Thank you so much to Dr. Daley! We’re grateful to have the opportunity to showcase SDSU’s brilliant new professor of children’s literature!
- (NA) & (LA)