Inspired by Lady Day, Carole Boston Weatherford, KSB/BA ’77, Writes Jazzy Poetry and Prose
Growing up in the 1960s, professor and award-winning author Carole Boston Weatherford, KSB/BA ’77, aspired to be many things but says she always was a writer, citing Harriet the Spy as an inspiration: “She was a writer. That’s how she spied; she wrote,” Weatherford recalls. “James Bond flicks were just coming out, spy toys were being developed. But those were ‘boy toys.’ I couldn’t have a 007 spy kit, but when I read Harriet the Spy, I realized I could have a notebook. I could write, so I could be a spy.”
Though her cloak and dagger aspirations of espionage faded with childhood, Weatherford’s dream of writing remained strong. She has penned numerous books, mostly aimed at children and young adults, and she has won countless accolades, including the NAACP Image Award. But Weatherford’s proudest accomplishment was writing Becoming Billie Holiday, a book of biographical poems chronicling the singer’s early life, which won a Coretta Scott King Author Honor. Weatherford declares, “It was the book I was born to write.”
While at AU, Weatherford was in the University Learning Center independent study program, where she could design her own degree and major. “Because it was independent study, I developed research skills that I would use in my literary career… At AU, I began to learn to make my own way. ”
She was also assistant manager at the record co-op. Combining her studies with her interests, Weatherford created a course called The Poetry of the Blues and read Billie Holiday’s autobiography, which piqued her interest in the jazz singer.
Unsure if young adult readers would know who Holiday was, Weatherford delayed writing Becoming Billie Holiday until she visited the National Great Blacks in Wax Museum. While standing near a wax figure of Billie Holiday, she overheard a young girl in middle school exclaim, “Ooh! Billie Holiday! …She could really sing!”
Weatherford had an epiphany: “I looked back at the wax figure, and it was almost as if Billie said, ‘I told you: you need to write my book.’”
Many of Weatherford’s works feature African American characters and historical figures. She is currently working on a book about Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s legacy. As an author and teacher, Weatherford believes, “My mission is to mine the past for family stories, fading traditions, and forgotten struggles… so kids won’t carry prejudices forward into their future.”