A lifechanging moment for New York Times bestselling and award-winning author Sajidah “S. K.” Ali was when her middle school teacher told her she had a talent for writing. “I just remember a lot feeling like I wasn’t anything special or spectacular when I went out into the world,” she tells So Booking Cool. Although she grew up in a loving home (and one that encouraged her as a book lover and writer), she wasn’t raised to deconstruct society including its perception of what it means to be good and beautiful. “Going out there in the world, I didn’t feel like I had anything to contribute, had anything I was good at. I felt very anonymous.”
There was a time when she wanted to sing and perform but could not imagine herself doing either. She saw no examples of a Brown girl like herself. “I think that moment in seventh grade when my teacher said that it was such a pivotal time because it was like somebody out there in the world is saying it. And it was like ‘Oh, do I have this thing?’ And I just remember treasuring it so much that even later when there was hardships in my life, just hardships of being in high school and bullying things; and I would still remember that my teacher said that. I would tell myself ‘Well, I’m a writer at least. I know how to write. I know this part of myself, that’s been validated.’”
That fateful day also influenced Ali to become a teacher. The most important outcome to the former educator was for her students to leave her classroom feeling confident in themselves and in their path. “It was really important for me to inculcate that feeling of like ‘You are important. You’re worthy. You have important things to say and do, and give.’ And it was just for them to explore, and if they felt like expressing that part of themselves, then I would validate it..”
She continues, “…More important than teaching any subject was making sure that students left my classroom feeling like they were phenomenal, and had some talent, and had something to give, and could follow who they wanted to be and everything. So yeah, that was pivotal for my own life and then pivotal for how I taught.”
Check out Part 2 (Part 1 is here) to learn more about Ali’s time as a teacher including initially hiding the fact that she was an author from her students and why she did so; how it feels to have her writing compared to the likes of Judy Blume; whether she still enjoys horror as a genre; her thoughts on the best and worst advice about writing; and her future projects including the sequel to Saints and Misfits and two new picture books. For more information, visit Ali’s official website.