About Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow
(Excerpted from my feature on The Brown Bookshelf: 28 Days Later)
I knew I wanted to be a writer since the age of seven when I wrote a story called “Little Ballerina” and wasn’t satisfied when I finished writing it. I added a sequel and then another and another until I had an impossibly long series. I wrote stories and poetry all through grade school and even college, but as an adult, I suppressed my dreams of pursuing professional writing.
I come from a working-class background and the idea of writing for a living felt impractical. What if I couldn’t pay bills as a writer and wasted the college education my family had sometimes gone hungry to afford? More than that, I was too embarrassed to openly claim my dream. It seemed like too grand a thing to want.
I loved talking about writing though and I loved sharing books with young people, so I became an English teacher. Occasionally, I’d publish an article or write poetry for myself, and I felt fulfilled just doing that.
In 2015, my longing to write more seriously started to gnaw at me. I tried writing articles and other stuff, but none of it was satisfying my craving. Although I was reading lots of children’s books with my two sons and I adored those books, writing for kids didn’t occur to me.
And then one day, l overheard a conversation in a Muslim women’s group, a conversation that I had literally had many times before about the lack of children’s books representing Black Muslim kids, and something clicked. I’m not sure why hearing it this time was different from any other time. It was a weird, revelatory, moment – the kind of moment that when I have described it to others has gotten me uncomfortable smiles in response. You know the smile people make when they’re quietly thinking someone is crazy? That kind. Anyway…
In that moment, a voice in my head said, you have those stories. And then, I was suddenly flooded with ideas. I had characters and bits and parts of stories all fighting for attention in my head. I had to grab a notebook and jot them all down.
After that, writing for kids became an obsession. I started seeing those picture books I adored as mentor texts. I spent a lot of time in my local library studying kidlit, taking notes, and recreating my own versions of the great writing that I read. I wrote my own picture books and discovered that this was my writing passion.
Photo Credits: Michael E. Gray
Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow, M.S.Ed, is a Philadelphia-based, award-winning children’s book author. A former English teacher, she educated children and teens in traditional and alternative learning settings for more than 15 years. As an inaugural fellow with the Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative (MuslimARC), she also developed foundational curricular frameworks for youth and adult anti-racist programming and this work continues to influence her writing. Her picture books and middle grade fiction, which feature young Black and Muslim protagonists, have been recognized as the best in children’s literature by Time Magazine, NCTE, and NPR, and she is a 2021 Irma Black Award Honor author. A former teacher and forever educator at heart, she is probably most proud that her picture book Your Name Is a Song was named a NEA Read Across America book and that it is included in the standardized curriculums of major school districts throughout the United States. In addition to producing children’s literature, she invests her time in the mentorship of aspiring children’s book authors through multiple programs including We Need Diverse Books and the Muslim Storytellers Fellowship of the Highlights Foundation where she is also a program committee member.
Approximate Number of Books Sold
Selected Interviews and Articles
I’m An African American Muslim Woman and I’m Tired of Explaining Myself (Philadelphia Inquirer)
The Inspiration for Mommy’s Khimar (Epic Eighteen)
Invisible Women (also Known as Muslimahs) (Muslim Observer)
Mining for Heart: The Heart is in Relationships (with Beth Anderson)