March 11, 2016 – A New York City paramedic turned published writer and author recently spoke to Fort Valley State University students about fiction writing and the publishing business during a special lecture in the Miller Hall Auditorium. On March 2, science-fiction writer Daniel Jose Older, a 2015 New York Times Notable Author, spoke to students about entering the writing profession during the College of Arts and Science Distinguished Speaker Series.
Dr. Uppinder Mehan, dean of the College of Education, introduced Older to the audience.
“Mr. Older is here to give a chat about writing and the novel,” he said. “It’s my goal to bring more writers and artists here on campus.” Mehan said that Older’s book, the Shadowshaper has been named to Esquire Magazine’s 80 Books Every Person Should Read, and short listed for the Kirkus Prize.
Older started off his appearance with a short reading from Chapter 21 of his book, Shadowshaper, which earned a New York Times Notable book mention in 2015. He told the class the book he originally wrote, turned into a completely different book after input from various authors.
Older said he discovered the writer Octavia Butler in the 7th grade through his teacher Ms. Middleton, who took him aside and thought he would love the book.
“Ms. Middleton was a teacher that everyone adored or hated. She told me to take a book of short stories by [Octavia Butler] that was way above my reading level at the time, but it planted a seed, you know, Octavia Butler loves to talk about seeds. But, it didn’t just set off a seed, it set off a time bomb that didn’t go off until 20 years later.”
He told students that Butler wrote about post-apocalyptic nightmares and power dynamics way before the Hunger Games addressed them. He said he read every Octavia Butler book, and it told a deeper story about race, but it doesn’t oppress you at the same time. He also said he was inspired to write by Stephen King’s On Writing, and Junot Diaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao .
Older said he wanted to allow young people of color to believe that magic could also infiltrate their lives.
Older didn’t start out writing fiction. He worked four days a week as a paramedic saving drunks, the elderly and sick, then spent his days off writing. Older said the draft he initially wrote was the final piece published. He received input from readers and critics and made changes based on their feedback. He then submitted his work to publishers. The author stated his book was rejected more than 40 times before Scholastic Books agreed to publish his work. Now, the book has been named to several lists including the New York Times Notable Books.
Older said there needs to be more diversity in publishing houses. He said most editors and publishers were not people of color, and the books that were being approved for publishing focused on African-American people (especially for children) were limited to the Civil Rights Era and Slavery. He told students editors told him they did not understand his lead protagonist, nor could they relate to her experience.
“They told me that they couldn’t identify with my lead protagonist in my story who was an Afro-Latina woman,” he said. The editors asked if Older could change the race of his lead protagonist; he refused.
Older is now at work trying to diversify the publishing industry, along with other writers of color.
For details, contact College of Arts and Sciences at (478) 825-6454.
Caption: Daniel Jose Older reads from his novel, Shadowshaper.
Christina D. Milton, public relations specialist
Marketing and Communications
(478) 825-6319, firstname.lastname@example.org