I was in kindergarten the first time I heard I’d never be an author.
When rain poured outside of our classroom window in torrents, it meant only one thing: indoor recess. While my fellow classmates whined their complaints and their youthful smiles fell into cold frowns, I rushed to my cubby. Inside were countless construction papered stories stapled together and signed with my pen name: Charity Alyse.
They were familiar stories, ones I’d heard countless times before. Stories of brave princes and delicate princesses, stories of magic and wishing on stars. Except the fairy tales I created carried a twist. Each character had a skin that matched mine. Princes had afros that were picked out to the galaxies and the princesses had micro braids that snaked down their waists. In these stories, Black characters always got their happy ending.
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When I showed my kindergarten teacher these stories, she did not smile as I thought she would. She did not clap her hands and giggle as she’d done for the little pretty blonde girls who twirled around her. She looked at me with a grimace. “You will never be a writer.” She said. “No one will read stories such as these. As a matter of fact, this is called copyright infringement. If you continue to steal other people’s ideas, you’ll be arrested and put into prison where you’ll never see your family again.” The dream of being an author flew from my little body and back into the sky where I’d wished them from.
Just one year later, I waited in line at the school library to check out the chapter book I’d held tightly in my hand. It was Junie B. Jones. Do not forget, The B. in her name stands for Beatrice, I’d memorized that full well. See, Junie B. wasn’t just my favorite character in any book, I made sure to pay extra attention whenever my first-grade teacher read Junie B. Jones aloud to the class. I memorized the entire first paragraph just as the other children in class had done because there was a catch to checking out chapter books in the library at our elementary school. Students had to be able to read the first paragraph of the chapter book to bring it home. I was prepared, replaying the same words in my head over and over, though I could not read every word in the book, I would try, and my mother would help me.
The girls before me giggled when their names were stamped onto the first page of their library books. They’d each gotten a Junie B. Jones book. I’d be next. Junie B. wasn’t just my favorite character in any book I’d read, she was the first white character that I’d read of with a Black friend. Her name was Grace. I thought a lot about Grace’s family and how her life was at home. If she went to a church that had beige pews like mine that stuck to her legs when things got hot. If her mother twisted her hair with black gel before school every morning. This book gave me a little glimpse at a character who looked like me and it made me feel seen.
Unlike Grace, I had very few friends to call my own. The blonde and brunette girls in my class played together. They made it clear I wasn’t welcomed in their friend’s group when I’d tried to color with them, and they chose to use the blackest color in the crayon box for my skin and the brightest red for my lips. I cried a lot that day, but books like Junie B. Jones helped to heal me. If I would never be an author, as my kindergarten teacher said, I’d be a reader through and through.
“Can you read this chapter book?” The librarian asked me when I’d walked up to her desk. She was a gray-haired white woman, her wrinkles bearing lines into her pale skin. She did not smile at me as she’d done the girls in line before. I could feel something was strange about that, but I’d chosen to ignore it. I smiled wide nodding. She opened the book and I’d prepared my memorized line. Before I could get three words out, she lifted a hand to stop me. It swiped up so fast, I could feel the wind in my twists.
You are just reading what the girls before you did. You will not cheat on my watch. Now read this.” She swept through the pages, pointing to every hard word that she could find. I fumbled and tried but to no avail. She slammed the book shut and placed it beside her. You can’t check this book out. You can’t even read it.”
“But…” I struggled with the words that fell from my lips. “The girls before me did the easy part, the words we memorized in class.”
“No matter. Don’t be nosey. Now, go pick out something else.”
She saw the tears stream down my face, no doubt. But the tears of a child did not move her hardened heart. A heart surely hardened by generations of hate fossilized in the history of our country. My first-grade teacher saw all of this take place. She gave me a note home to give to my mother. That evening my mom read the note to me.
It stated how I’d experienced racism at school by the librarian. My first-grade teacher apologized, for this she moved her heart and her eyes to tears. I learned then that not everyone with white skin around their bones was the same. Not everyone was hateful toward me. My mom purchased every Junie B. Jones book she could find for me at the time. I still have them.
In the times these memories from my childhood arise, I cry. I feel the embarrassment and pain that I felt all alone in that elementary school. I had no one to advocate for me during that time. If only I had the words I do now, my teacher and librarian would have known how unacceptable their treatment toward me was. But I didn’t have the words, I was a child. I could only communicate tears.
Twenty years later and here I am, a writer. A real Author known and loved by God, my fiancé, and my family. I tell stories of Black joy and pain, of standing up for oneself. Of truth and romance. Stories that encourage their readers to love the skin around their bones, whether white or black, wrinkled, or smooth. For in us all are dreams that should be fostered by those around us. The reality is, not everyone’s dream is well received.
The road to publication was long and winding. Over 200 rejections awaited me before Another side of the tracks was represented by an agent and published. The rejections still pour in little ways. The lists I do not make, the festivals that don’t invite me, and the glimmer of familiar pain is still there. Recently, I gave myself a moment to pause. It was about one in the morning, and for the first time, I wasn’t stressing about deadlines or lists. Instead, I was reading the beautiful words of my dear friend, Brooke Channing. My paraphrase won’t do it justice, but I’ll try. She wrote about the importance of pausing our every wondering brain to check in with what our hearts want. To literally ask our hearts what they want, and really listen to the response. I tried it at the time I chose to pause. I closed my eyes and asked my heart what it desired. It’s response? My heart wanted to be a child again. To think like a child. To dream like a child. To believe in myself again.
There is beauty during every rejection, even now. I remember little Charity who showed her stories to her teacher, who tried checking out her very first chapter book. I remember how much she ached to be seen, known, and loved. I remember how there are little Charity’s all over who feel the same. With my writing, I get to show them that they are so loved, so seen, and so known. That their stories and their voices matter and that they are stronger than they believe.
Dear reader, let my life be a lesson: Let not the pains of rejection keep you silent. Instead, let them be the contrary wind that pushes your sails forward, listen to the wants permeating within your heart, and quiet your every wondering brain. Most importantly, don’t quit your daydream.
Meet the author
Charity Alyse earned her bachelor’s degree in English literature at Rowan University and is currently working toward a master’s degree in clinical mental health therapy. Another side of the tracks is her first novel. Alyse lives in New Jersey. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram @Charity_Alyse and CharityAlyse.com.
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About Another side of the tracks
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This lilting and riveting young adult debut novel about three teens entangled by secret love, open hatred, and the invisible societal constraints wrapped around people both Black and white is perfect for readers of All American Boys and The Hate U Give.
There is an unspoken agreement between the racially divided towns of Bayside and Hamilton: no one steps over the train tracks that divide them. Or else.
Not until Zach Whitman anyway, a white boy who moves in from Philly and who dreams of music. When he follows his dream across the tracks to meet his idol, the famous jazz musician who owns The Sunlight Record Shop in Hamilton, he’s flung into Capri Collins’ path.
Capri has big plans: she wants to follow her late mother’s famous footsteps, dancing her way onto Broadway, and leaving this town for good, just like her older brother, Justin, is planning to do when he goes off to college next year. As sparks fly, Zach and Capri realize that they can help each other turn hope into a reality, even if it means crossing the tracks to do it.
But one tragic night changes everything. When Justin’s friend, the star of Hamilton’s football team, is murdered by a white Bayside police officer, the long-standing feud between Bayside and Hamilton becomes an all-out war And Capri, Justin, and Zach are right in the middle of it.
Publisher: Denene Millner Books/Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Publication date: 11/22/2022
Age Range: 12-18 Years
Filed under: Guest Post