Words to Live By: Patrice Gopo
Words to Live By features exclusive interviews with authors, artists, and community members.
Patrice Gopo is the child of Jamaican immigrants and was born and raised in Anchorage, Alaska. She is an award-winning essayist and the author of All the Colors We Will See, a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers selection. As a child, she loved twirling a globe, dreaming about cities and states, countries and continents. As an adult, she loves words and enjoys pondering how places shape the people we become. She lives with her family in North Carolina—a place she considers another home. All the Places We Call Home is Patrice’s first picture book. Please visit www.patricegopo.com to learn more.
September 1, 2023
Is there a book or genre that stands out in your memory from your youth?
As with many writers, I was an avid reader in my childhood and young adult days. And I used to read across genres, never holding tightly to one type of book. But I think the books you keep into adulthood probably indicate what stayed with you in those growing years. Some of the titles I still keep on my bookshelves include ‘The Westing Game’ by Ellen Raskin, ‘The Perilous Gard’ by Elizabeth Marie Pope, books by L.M. Montgomery—most notably the lesser-known “Emily” series, and ‘The Chosen’ by Chaim Potok.
What kind of reader were you as a child?
Voracious! I delighted in books as a child. But it wasn’t always like that. My
parents tell me that I was a reluctant reader, that when I first learned to read, I didn’t like books, I didn’t want to read, I didn’t want people to read to me. The story goes that my parents kept reading to me and encouraging me to read anyway. And somewhere along the way, something clicked, and I remember a day in church when I had a book with me—Charlotte’s Web, I believe—and there, at that moment, everything came together, and I was reading that book by myself because I wanted to. In my mind, that’s the beginning of the child and then young adult who always had a book with her, who spent her Saturdays on the loveseat beneath the giant picture window just reading, who checked out massive stacks from the library.
What are three children's books you think should be on every child's bookshelf?
Oh!! I don’t think I can answer that question with actual book titles. I think this will be unique to each person, but I do think a book in each of these three categories would be great:
1. A book that speaks to who you are
2. A book that reminds you that you are part of a world that is so much greater than just you
3. A book that makes you smile, laugh, or brings you joy
Picture books on my shelf right now that fit these suggestions for me: A book that speaks to who I am: ‘I Love My Hair’ by Natasha Anastasia Tarpley and illustrated by E. B. Lewis A book that reminds me that I’m part of a world so much greater than just me: ‘The Day You Begin’ by Jacqueline Woodson and illustrated by Rafael López A book that makes me smile, laugh, or brings me joy: ‘Magnificent Homespun Brown’ by Samara Cole Doyon and illustrated by Kaylani Juanita.
Book Harvest is proud to practice Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop's theory of "Mirrors, Windows, Sliding Glass Doors," which states that in order to become avid readers and reap the full benefits of lifelong literacy, children have to see both themselves and worlds beyond their own in the stories they read.
Is there a book that you saw yourself reflected in as a child? Or one that opened new worlds for you?
In childhood, I often did not see myself reflected in books and stories. As a result, most of the books I read opened up worlds that weren’t necessarily my world. But I do have particularly fond memories of ‘Peter’s Chair’ by Ezra Jack Keats and ‘Corduroy’ by Don Freeman. Those are the first books I remember where I saw Black children in the illustrations. Lisa was Corduroy’s friend, but Peter was the main character! I still have ‘Corduroy’ and ‘Peter’s Chair’ on my bookshelves! But as a Black child growing up in Anchorage, Alaska, the New York City (or similar location) setting for both books connected me to another world. (As an aside, a while back, I wrote an essay about this topic of representation in children’s books.
What kind of books are on your bookshelf?
All kinds of books! Particularly books featuring characters of color and written by writers of color. Fiction and nonfiction. Picture books (so many picture books). Middle grade novels. YA novels. Novels in verse. Poetry collections. Essay collections. Memoirs. Business books. Contemporary fiction. Historical fiction. Fantasy and SciFi. Books about writing. A couple of graphic novels (well, really graphic memoirs). Books about social issues. All kinds of books. As a writer, I think it’s really important to read across genres, to read broadly, and to read what might differ from what I write. Because I enjoy it, but also because this practice helps me grow as a writer!
What are you reading currently?
‘We Who Walk the Seven Ways’ by Terra Trevor. I’m only a few chapters in, but I’m loving this memoir so much. It’s about a woman raised to conceal her Native ancestry and how she seeks healing and finds belonging embraced by a circle of Native women elders. This memoir had me at healing and belonging! On the picture book front, I just read ‘Ablaze with Color: A Story of Painter Alma Thomas’ by Jeanne Walker Harvey and illustrated by Love is Wise. A beautiful, tremendous picture book biography about the first Black woman to have her work chosen for the White House collection.
What is your favorite place to read?
Anywhere that includes a comfy pillow, a soft blanket, and the ability for me to curl up. If I’m reading in the daytime, a window too. These ideals can be present in a whole lot of places :).
Who is your favorite all-time character from a book?
Oh, this is another interesting question. As an adult reader, I find myself less drawn to the character and more drawn to the setting and story. That said, I know as a child when I read ‘The Westing Game,’ I always thought Turtle was such a great character. Also, Kate from the ‘Perilous Gard’ was wonderful too. I always loved that they were both smart and bold, clever and creative. Both Turtle and Kate were gifted at puzzling through puzzling situations. I do love the main characters in a few recent picture books: ‘A Map into the World’ by Kao Kalia Yang and illustrated by Seo Kim and ‘Watercress’ by Andrea Wang and illustrated by Jason Chin. Such rich, dynamic characters. I can feel their emotions as I read.
If you could have dinner with three authors from any period in time, who would you pick?
I’m not sure exactly who because I feel like so many authors from the past, I can access their thoughts and ideas through the work they’ve left behind. So, I think my dinner would include contemporary Black authors and authors of color as I know I would glean such encouragement for my writing journey. I actually host a podcast called “Picture Books Are for Grown-Ups Too!” And because of this, I get to speak with quite a few picture book authors about their work and their experiences. It’s truly a delight. You can learn more about the podcast here.
What are the children in your life currently reading?
Right now, my youngest really likes graphic novels and novels in verse. My oldest really enjoys a great fantasy/science fiction series. I have an author newsletter, and usually, in December, I invite my children to share book recommendations. Here is a link to last December’s recommendations.