About Jamilah

My Story

(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 credit: TaRhonda Thomas

Other Facts

Age: I was born in 1983

Favorite Animal: Cat. I’m obsessed with felines!

Favorite Food: Very hard for me to answer because I am a foodie. I love all sorts of foods! I love sweet and spicy things and foods from all over the world.

Least Favorite Food: Potatoes. I know… it’s strange. Most people love them! I only like them if they’re French fries or chips.

Strange Fact: I claim to be from Philadelphia, but that’s because it’s the first place in my childhood where my family stayed for a while. Until I was about ten, we moved several times and I attended six different elementary schools and two different middle schools. I was born in Washington, D.C.

Siblings: I have an older brother and sister and a twin brother. Technically, I’m the youngest. Here are some grainy pictures of me with my sister and twin.

Kids and Family: I have two sons with my husband.

Ethnic Background: People ask this a lot! My father’s side of the family is African American. We are descended from the Africans who were enslaved and brought to present-day United States. My mother’s side of the family is from Guinea and Liberia. Our ethnic group is Mandinka, and we are from the Diabaté clan, which is famous for its griots. My mother came to the United States in the 1970s.

Languages: Sadly, I only speak English fluently although many of my family members are multilingual. Languages that are spoken include French, Mandingo, and Arabic, but I only know bits and pieces of these languages.

My Parents