Writer finds resilience in stories of Black women and girls

Nadia L. Hohn (BA ’01) is an award-winning author of books for children who took a leap of faith during the pandemic

book coverThroughout my life, there have been many pivots, pauses and restarts that forced me to pick up the pieces and rebuild. Like stepping stones, I felt like each experience prepared me for the next one.

In the first part of the pandemic, I was kicking myself for not having pursued a career in medicine as I had dreamt as a child. I had admiration for my relatives in New York City and other parts of the U.S., working in health care and “suiting up” to battle the pandemic to save lives.

I didn’t quite feel myself an “essential worker” even though I was teaching elementary school and an adult writing course online. Beyond good grades, I cared far more about the mental health and well-being of myself, my students and those front-line workers. I began to write twice weekly pick-me-up messages with scriptures and songs to inspire my relatives, then eventually friends and acquaintances.

What I learned was that my words could heal others in ways that medicine didn’t.

So, making the decision to take a leave of absence from my teaching job to pursue a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) in Creative Writing last fall required a leap of faith and made sense. Just like the Black women and girl characters I write about in my books, I was led by a belief that essentially, I had the tools to make my dream work.

My writing had already carried me—emotionally, financially and spiritually—through difficult seasons including cancer, divorce, grief, loss, financial challenges and heartbreak.

In a writing class assignment, a character called Malaika appeared in my imagination, then on my page—a Black girl, “a barrel child” living with her grandmother in the Caribbean after her mother migrated to Canada for work.

My own aspiring resilience was mirrored in her ability to overcome challenges—a migrant worker mother in Canada, not having money to buy a costume, family changes and a move to a foreign country where she doesn’t speak the language.

Other characters joined her in books that followed. The shy girl, raised by a widowed mother, gifted with an ability to write poetry while decolonizing and eventually becoming a cultural icon. The petite, illiterate, enslaved woman who overcame a disability while freeing herself and hundreds of others.

My characters showed me levels of resilience—how to be authentic and to make a way out of no way—just like my ancestors did for generations before me, as my sense of purpose renewed and direction in life affirmed. 

How did Nadia publish her first book? Hear her tell the story on our alumni podcast, Uncharted: Warriors in the World. Listen to the full episode on SpotifyApple PodcastsGoogle Podcasts or Soundcloud.

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Nadia L. Hohn (BA ’01) is the award-winning author of books for children including A Likkle Miss Lou and the Malaika series. Her most recent title, Malaika’s Surprise, was released in March.