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What was the most interesting fact about Oprah Winfrey that you learned in your research?
By the time Oprah was in kindergarten she knew how to read and write. I love the story about her spelling big words like elephant and hippopotamus and that she wrote a note to her teacher letting her know that she did not belong in that class. It’s fascinating to me that even as a young child Oprah’s instinct was to advocate for herself, to speak up and ask for what she needs and deserves. Not only was this an interesting fact from her life, but it’s also a reminder to never shrink, to never downplay your brilliance. I just loved that story and I knew as soon as I read it that it would end up in the book.
What is the biggest lesson you hope young readers take away from the book?
Oprah grew up reciting scriptures around town and even to the farm animals on her grandparent’s farm when she a little girl. Back then, she didn’t know she’d become the icon she is, that she’d be known as The Queen of Talk. I hope young people read this and realize that they too have many tiny talents, simple hobbies, and that those humble beginnings can be seedlings for what is to come. I hope the caretakers of the young readers learning Oprah’s story are intentional about fanning the flame and nurturing those talents—not in hopes of becoming popular or famous but in hope of fulfilling what they were put on earth to do. It is so powerful to learn how to follow your passion, how to let what you’re good at and what you love be the thing that guides you. I think Oprah’s story teaches that.
I also hope that children who have experienced any form of abuse will read this story and find comfort in knowing that there is healing and so much life that can be lived and enjoyed even after painful, horrific circumstances.
How did you do the research for this biography?
I really wanted to capture Oprah’s story from her own words so I watched interviews, speeches, and read her book What I Know For Sure to pull direct quotes and get to know her through her own storytelling. I also read biographies written about her and even watched a few episodes of the Oprah Winfrey Show (which I grew up watching!).
What question would you ask Oprah Winfrey if you had the chance to meet her?
I’d love to know what children’s books resonate with Oprah. She’s such a champion of building community around literature, I’m curious about the kidlit books she loves.
I’d also ask her to share any insight she has with young people about what to do in the meantime. There’s a period of time before dreams become a reality that can sometimes feel discouraging and frustrating. I’d ask Oprah, “What have you learned about waiting, about patience?”
What does the Persisterhood mean to you?
The word persist implies—guarantees, actually—that there will be challenges and obstacles to overcome, so when I think of the Persisterhood, I am reminded that the women in the series who we now know as legendary, all had a beginning, a before. The Persisterhood is about dreaming wild dreams that require faith and hard work to fulfill. It’s about having the resolve to keep going no matter what setbacks are along the way.