Author Interview: Ibi Zoboi American Street, Part I

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Author Interview: Ibi Zoboi American Street, Part I

“We need diverse books,” is the cry of the book community. Well, Haitian-American Ibi Zoboi is meeting that need with her Young Adult novel American Street, released this spring. In the tome, Zoboi writes about Fabiola Toussaint, a teen who leaves Haiti with her mother, but who ultimately has to fend for herself in the United States when her mother is detained by immigration authorities.
Author Interview Ibi Zoboi American Street

Kreyolicious: When did you decide, “Okay, I’m going to write a Young Adult novel!”
Ibi Zoboi: There wasn’t any one moment that I decided that I would write a Young Adult novel. I think I’ve always written YA because my characters were mostly teens. The first novel I wrote featured seventeen year-olds, and I never thought it was Young Adult fiction. I’ve written other novels featuring twelve year-olds as well. Also, Young Adult novels can cover a broad range of topics and issues, and it’s for any reader. The only thing that makes it YA is that the story is told from a teen’s perspective. Teenhood is such an important time where you’re just discovering the world and your place in it, and you make stupid mistakes. That’s why the genre is so popular right now. Young adulthood was when we asked questions and everything was brand new.

Kreyolicious: You call your novel American Street, and the last name of the heroine Fabiola is Toussaint. These aren’t simple coincidences?
Ibi Zoboi: Of course, not. Everything is symbolic in my stories. American Street is an actual street in Detroit. The story takes place on the corner of American Street and Joy Road, an actual intersection on the west side of Detroit. This is, in fact, an American story. And I’ve always known that Toussaint means “all saints” and it’s the first name of our Haitian revolutionary hero, Toussaint L’ouverture. The novel features some saints or lwas [voodoo gods], and my character has to write a paper on Toussaint. These are just symbolic seeds that I plant here and there so that culture and history continue to live on through story.

Ibi Zoboi American Street

Kreyolicious: Is there a part of Ibi that’s in Fabiola, or is there some Fabiola in Ibi?
Ibi Zoboi: Yes, Ibi can be just as naive as Fabiola. Sometimes I see the world wide-eyed and with lots of wonder and awe. And I will also fight for a loved one as Fabiola does. At times, I don’t always know the rules of the game. Or maybe, I choose to ignore them. But like Fabiola, I care deeply about family and culture, and I’ve very observant and thoughtful.

Kreyolicious: Even the most confident writer has their moments. Were there challenging times for you as to put your plot together and were working towards the finished product?
Ibi Zoboi: I was very worried about how I presented my characters. I’m writing about Haitians and Haitian-Americans in ways I haven’t seen before. I was careful about perpetuating stereotypes. But I know for a fact that we all have experienced immigration and assimilation in different ways. I tried to remedy that by literally giving each of my characters a voice. I had step into their shoes for a moment in order to humanize them. I have a responsibility as a writer to provide context for the violence and trauma so that my characters are not one-dimensional.

This concludes Part I of the interview with Ibi Zoboi. Be on the look out for PART II of the interview.

CLICK HERE to visit Ibi Zoboi’s website! CLICK HERE to purchase her book from Amazon.

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ABOUT K. St FortK. St. Fort is the Editor and Founder of, well, Kreyolicious.com and wishes to give you a heartfelt welcome to her site. She loves to read, write, and listen to music and is fascinated by her Haitian roots, and all aspects of her culture. Speaking of music, she likes it loud, really, really loud. Like bicuspid valve raising-loud. Her other love are the movies. She was once a Top 50 finalist for a student screenwriting competition, encouraging her to continue pounding the pavement.She has completed several screenplays, with Haiti as the backdrop, one of which tackles sexual abuse in an upper middle class Haitian family, while another has child slavery as its subject. She is currently completing another script, this time a thriller, about two sisters who reunite after nearly 10 years of separation. A strong believer in using films to further educational purposes, and to raise awareness about important subjects, she has made it a point to write about social issues facing Haiti, and making them an integral part of her projects.She has interviewed such Haitian-American celebrities as Roxane Gay, Garcelle Beauvais, Jimmy Jean-Louis, Briana Roy, Karen Civil, and many, many more.And that’s her writing this whole biographical sketch. She actually thinks writing about herself in the third person is cute.MY WEBSITEKreyolicious ™: kree-ohl-lish-uh s: Surely an adjective…the state of being young, gorgeous, fine and utterly Haitian. Kreyolicious.com™, the hub for young, upwardly mobile Haitian-Americans, is akin to a 18th Century cultural salon but with a Millennium sensibility–an inviting lair, where we can discuss literature, music, problems facing the community, and everything on the side and in-between.Kreyolicious is the premier lifestyle, culture and entertainment blog and brand of the hip, young, trend-oriented, forward thinking Haitian-American. It’s the definite hot spot to learn more about Haiti our emerging identity as a people, and explore our pride and passion about our unique and vibrant culture. Within the site’s pages, Kreyolicious.com is going to engage you, empower you, and deepen your connection to everything Haitian: the issues, the culture, our cinema, the history, our cuisine, the style, the music, the worldwide community.Make yourself at home in my cultural salon. If you’re looking to learn more about Haiti, Kreyolicious.com invites you to board this trolley on a journey–on our journey. For me too, it is a process, a non-ending cultural odyssey. If you’re already acculturated, I can certainly learn something from you. We can learn from one other, for certain.With my site, Kreyolicious.com I look forward to inspiring you, to enriching you, and to participating alongside of you, in the cultural celebration. And being utterly kreyolicious.How do you wear your kreyoliciousness? On your sleeves, like I do?Kreyoliciously Yours,Your girl K. St. Fort,Ahem, follow me elsewhere!

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