New York Times bestselling author Denene Millner remembers the first time she received a check for writing — a 17-year-old youth then more focused on becoming an architect than a journalist.
But after considering a much earlier heart-to-heart talk with her father who asked her “what do you want to do with the rest of your life,” the Long Island native says she began to dream about and work toward becoming a television reporter.
Lucky for us, a college scholarship and unique opportunities helped her find her real passion: writing — a skill she eventually parlayed into co-authoring highly-successful celebrity memoirs about people like Steve Harvey, Taraji P. Henson and Charlie Wilson, just to name a few.
Millner shared these and other thoughts in Detroit on Sunday, Oct. 8 at the Main Library in Detroit during “Family Funday” where she read to children and their parents from two books that bear her unique signature: “Early Sunday Morning,” a heartwarming celebration of the special time a young girl and her family share together as she learns how to lift her voice in praise during worship, and “Crown,” a book published under Millner’s imprint and written by Derrick Barnes that captures the joy young Black boys experience when they get that “fresh” haircut.
Millner says her recent focus on books for youth actually brings her full circle to her earliest days as a writer and the aspirations she once kept close to heart.
“After the birth of my first child who I just sent off to college at 18, I recall that there was a dearth of characters in children’s books who looked like us,” she said. “You could find stories about basketball players, slaves who had escaped bondage and tales about entertainers but I wanted to find stories that reflected everyday Black children. Those books just didn’t exist. And it bothered me.”
Now, with growing accolades and a surging fan base, not to mention having authored close to 30 books, she’s been able to finally make a difference in offering the kinds of books for children of color that simply were not available during her early years of motherhood. And she says she couldn’t be happier.
“I guess I always dreamed about being a writer whose work celebrated the humanity of Black children,” she said. “So, I took a leap of faith and began to develop my own children’s imprint. If others weren’t willing to produce and publish these stories, I decided that I’d fill that sorely needed niche.”
Millner notes the challenges facing Black writers whose stories lift up Black boys and girls and make them feel like they’re “royalty.”
“About 2,800 children’s books are printed each year,” she said. “Ninety may feature African-American characters but only 7 percent are written by Blacks, equating to less than 12 books a year. That’s tragic because when you see the impact of stories about everyday Black children written by Black authors who can write from firsthand experience, it’s easy to understand their significance. That’s what I’m all about now — I’m finally living my dream.”