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Getting to Know Dionna L. Mann

Updated: Dec 25, 2022

Hi Dionna! Congrats about your 2024 MG debut, MAMA'S CHICKEN & DUMPLINGS! Do tell, who acquired it?

It is exciting, for sure, especially since it's been ten years in the oven. It was a grand surprise when Margaret Ferguson, editor-in-chief at Holiday House, emailed me inquiring about it. I had sent the manuscript to her via the slush pile before I was agented, and it was still on her desk after she had returned to her office once the pandemic shut-down lifted. When I told her the manuscript had not been acquired, she said she was going to read it ASAP. A few months later, Margaret let my agents know she wanted to acquire it! I thought for sure it was a mistake! But I couldn't ask for a better situation. Margaret is an editor of exceptional talent, and having her editorial eye on my story makes me believe I can craft a plot that will resonate with kids. (I think I can--I think I can--I think I can!)

Very interesting! So, how did you find your way into becoming a kidlit author?

When I was in high-school, many years ago, I took a creative writing course with a published author. I never had thought of myself as a writer, though I had fun writing for the school newspaper. But when the instructor read my scribblings, he made me believe I had voice, and that it was special. I never heard that before, but okay.

As that course was wrapping up, our instructor showed us how to submit our work using WRITER’S MARKET. I can’t remember what I submitted, but I do remember showing him my rejection letter that encouraged me to submit something else. I was not impressed, and threw it in the trash.

I understand the discouragement. But, wow, a personalized rejection encouraging letter? That’s amazing, especially for your first time out, and as a teen at that!

Looking back, it was cool! But honestly, my scribblings weren’t that amazing. Fast forward to Lee & Low’s (very first) New Voices Contest. I wrote something new for the first time since high school, and sent it off. And guess what? I got a personal rejection encouraging me to submit something else. This time I was impressed! And here I am, still writing manuscripts for children nearly two decades later.

Is there anything that has helped you stay the kidlit course through the years?

I would say joining SCBWI, attending conferences, and taking workshops has helped me hone my craft. Also, I've been blessed to have had encouraging friends of the pen along the way, both published and award-winning authors. After reading my work, they made me believe what my high school instructor said was true. I have voice. Maybe I do. I don't know. I'm still not sure. But hearing their encouraging words certainly encouraged me to keep my pen flowing on pages.

Nothing like encouragement to battle discouragement! So what inspired you to write MAMA'S CHICKEN & DUMPLINGS?

True. MAMA'S started with my participation at an event at the 2011 Virginia Festival of the Book where a panel of published authors read aloud 100 words of a manuscript's opening that attendees had pre-submitted. The panelists would put up paddles to say if they would or would not keep reading, and why. For the event, I wrote a scene that mirrored a recollection my mother often shared. It was about the times when her parents' landlord on the South Side of Chicago would (after collecting the rent) throw pennies onto the street for the Black children to scrounge after, and how he, a wealthy white man, would stand there, watch, and laugh about it. It always made my mother, a child at the time, very angry. She never ran after the pennies, though deep down she wanted a few to buy herself penny candy.

After reading my opening, all the panelists put up their green paddles to say they'd keep reading! Afterwards, I thought, maybe I'll give this little girl a world to live in and a life to live and a struggle to overcome. MAMA'S is not my mother's life, but it began with her recollection, and it does include one of my favorite dishes that my mother taught me to make, the same way her mother taught her--Southern style chicken and dumplings.

Well, thanks for joining our group--The 24/7s! We're certainly looking forward to hearing more about MAMA'S CHICKEN & DUMPLINGS soon!

It's a privilege to be here!

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