Fresh Voices: Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich
Welcome to Fresh Voices! In this new series, we are excited to share with you authors whose books capture a unique aspect of the human experience. Enjoy a special Q&A with Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich about her novel Operation Sisterhood!
What inspired you to write OPERATION SISTERHOOD?
I was inspired both by childhood pretend play with my sister and friends, including many (many) “shows” that our moms suffered through, my “national cooking show,” and my longtime request that my parents “adopt” two more sisters for my sister and me, one each of our respective ages. I was also inspired by the family stories I read and loved by Noel Streatfeild, Elizabeth Enright, Madeleine L’Engle, Sydney Taylor, and more. But I had to work hard to write myself and other Black and Brown people into those stories. I knew from the real world that we existed, but we were too often invisible on the pages of joyful family tales.
In Operation Sisterhood, the family “freeschools” because the parents want to raise the girls to be “free within themselves,” to paraphrase Langston Hughes—to love who they are, know they are loved as they are, and be fully who they can be. I went to many different types of schools, public and private, in different countries. My family, and many of the other Black families we knew, believed in a kind of schooling outside of the school building, the kind that meant doing interpretive dances to “Young, Gifted, and Black” at annual Martin Luther King Jr. breakfasts, reciting the poems of Claude McKay at Thanksgiving, and memorizing the countries of the African continent with a puzzle. I learned about Black history and culture in many ways, through a variety of subjects and in everyday life, and my family made sure that it was grounded in an understanding that all Black children are capable, curious learners with a rich heritage to draw from.
I had the opportunity to live in a variety of cities, and my mom would always take us on “adventures,” wherever we were. And whenever we lived in New York, there was so much to enjoy – for free! I went on my own adventures as I got older, visiting some of the literary “landmarks” that I’d read about, trying the foods that my favourite characters ate. And as a mom raising a NYC kid, I’ve shared many of these joys with my own daughter (sometimes to her chagrin), including the National Cooking Show and cultivating an appreciate for this vibrant, community-minded, and incredible city.
I wasn’t allowed much television, so started writing my own versions of those family stories, influenced by my own life, very early on. Oh – and my sister and I, along with another pair of sisters, did form a band called GLOSS. But we never got past designing our very cool logo.
What was the most difficult part about writing the book? What part was the easiest?
I was working on this version of Operation Sisterhood during the horror of the previous Presidential administration, heightened racist violence, and a global pandemic. It was very difficult to write a joyful story when I was, to be quite honest, grieving deeply. In order to finish, I focused very much on what I wanted to give young readers who were also experiencing all of those things, particularly Black girls. I wanted to tell them that I saw them, that they are loved, and that they and their stories are precious, just as they are.
The characters were so much fun. It’s one of my favourite parts of the writing process (along with revision), creating characters. They tend to be very vivid early on, and I walk with them, live with them, have internal conversations with them for a long time before I even start writing. And I felt a freedom with this story and these characters, because from the very first conversation that I had with Phoebe Yeh about the story, I could see that she “got” it in a deep sense; she understood what I wanted to do, and what was important for the story and for serving readers in the very best way.
What character or element of the story do you identify with the most and why?
Bo is figuring out when to take risks, and to be flexible, and when to assert herself and set clear boundaries. I’m navigating that on a daily basis.
If you could put any character from another book into this story, who would it be and why?
Ryan Hart from Ways to Make Sunshine and Ways to Grow Love by Renée Watson, and Delphine from Rita Williams-Garcia’s Gaither Girls trilogy (so there’d be some time travel involved.) I think they’d all have a lot of fun being creative together. And they’d definitely put on a show.
What do you want kids today to take away from this story?
I hope each reader gets whatever they need from this story, and I believe that that’s something that can change over time too, and that’s a beautiful thing. Reading is so very much about relationship – with story, with ourselves, with the world…I’m a big re-reader, and my favourite books have always fulfilled different emotional and/or intellectual needs at different moments in life. I often read to figure things out about myself, and in my life; to understand some of the questions that I had about our world, to find answers, to ask more questions. I hope that readers can feel its warmth, love, and respect for them and their worlds, and sense (and maybe share) my love for New York City. And also for cake.
What are you currently reading?
I’m reading A Wish in the Dark by Christina Soontornvat, The Warden by Anthony Trollope, Micaela Coel’s Misfits, and Black Futures, edited by Kimberly Drew and Jenna Wortham. And I’ve got a re-read of Parable of the Sower on deck!
Operation Sisterhood By Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich
Fans of the Netflix reboot of The Babysitters Club will delight as four new sisters band together in the heart of New York City. Discover this jubilant novel about the difficulties of change, the loyalty of sisters, and the love of family from a prolific award-winning author.
"[A] jubilant middle grade novel." -The New York Times
Bo and her mom always had their own rhythm. But ever since they moved to Harlem, Bo’s world has fallen out of sync. She and Mum are now living with Mum’s boyfriend Bill, his daughter Sunday, the twins, Lili and Lee, the twins' parents…along with a dog, two cats, a bearded dragon, a turtle, and chickens. All in one brownstone! With so many people squished together, Bo isn’t so sure there is room for her.
Set against the bursting energy of a New York City summer, award-winning author Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich delivers a joyful novel about a new family that hits all the right notes!
“This ode to Black girlhood and the communities that serve them offers humor, tenderness, and charm.” –Renée Watson, New York Times bestselling author
“A beautiful, rich, and deeply comforting story about family and the powerful choice to live with joy, Operation Sisterhood is a book to savor.” –Rebecca Stead, New York Times bestselling author