"Panther Baby" by Jamal Joseph
Jeff Glor talks to Jamal Joseph about "Panther Baby."
Jeff Glor: What inspired you to write this book?
Jamal Joseph: I have three children and have also mentored hundreds of teenagers since I have been home from prison. I've shared stories from my life with them in the course of giving advice or talking about social issues. They would listen and say "wow, you need to write a book, it would help so many young people our age understand that they can make a difference." So I tried to tell the story from the curious eyes and passionate heart of a 15-year-old coming of age during the civil rights and black power movement.
JG: What surprised you the most during the writing process?
JJ: That once I really committed to writing it was less painful than I thought it would be. The high points of serving breakfast to school children and protecting the community as a young Panther and the low points of being betrayed by a Panther mentor who was actually an undercover cop and being thrown in a filthy prison cell at 16 all began to flow as the life narrative that made me who I am today. The angry young Panther became a Columbia Professor, youth advocate and creative artist because the power of love kept pulling him in the right direction. From Noonie (my adoptive grandma) to Afeni Shakur Tupac's mom) to a prison guard named Mr. Kariem there were people to remind me that true humanity is based on our ability to love and to do for others - no matter the circumstances.
JG: What would you be doing if you were not a writer?
JJ: I feel really fortunate that when I'm not writing I am doing the other things that I'm meant to do. I am a teacher and a youth advocate. During the week I teach film at Columbia University, weekends I teach theater and peer leadership to Harlem Teens at a program I co founded named Impact Repertory Theater. Teaching is a great gift that rewards me far more than it does my students.
JG: What else are you reading right now?
JJ: I am reading "Le Freak" by my friend Nile Rodgers. He also joined the Panthers as a teenager and went on to become a super successful musician and producer with his own band Chic and in collaboration with artists like Diane Ross, David Bowie and Madonna. I am also reading "The Swerve" by Stephen Greenblatt.
JG: What's next for you right now?
JJ: I am going to direct an independent film I co wrote with (and starring) an amazing actor named Daniel Beaty. It's the story of an ex-gang leader getting out of prison and returning to Harlem. I'm also going to work on a screenplay version of "Panther Baby." Then it will be time to start writing another book.
For more on "Panther Baby," visit the Workman website.
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