Lockport author Keah Brown on rest, representation, and her new book, 'Sam's Super Seats'
Lockport author, journalist, actress, and screenwriter Keah Brown released her first children’s book this week with Tuesday’s release of "Sam’s Super Seats." It tells the story of Sam, a disabled girl with cerebral palsy, who learns about the importance of rest as she goes back to school shopping with her friends.
WBFO’s Disability Reporter Emyle Watkins spoke with Brown on Monday about the message of her book, representation in publishing, and her advice for future authors.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Emyle Watkins: I'd love to have you share with our listeners a little bit more about who you are and your work as a writer and a journalist.
Keah Brown: What I like to do in all my work across genre is focus in on what makes people who they are, and why. I think that's a lot of why I got into journalism, specifically in the first place, and then just being able to use screenwriting, and being an author and being able to write across genre has been a dream come true, because I like to figure out what makes people who they are and why it matters to the world. And I really do that with a focus in pop culture, because I am a film and TV fanatic. So, it makes sense that I get to combine all the things that matter most to me, and I get to do it for a living.
Watkins: I know that your book coming out isn't your first book. Can you talk a little bit about the work you've published in the past?
Brown: I published my first book in 2019, titled The Pretty One, it is a collection of essays in the style of a memoir, which was me just explaining, you know, my life so far, the things that I love, like film and TV, experiences as a disabled black woman who exists in a world that isn't necessarily designed for disabled people.
With The Pretty One, I was able to really just focus on the things that matter most to me and talk about things like ableism, and the importance of rest, and the importance of making sure that we listen to our bodies and we listen to each other.
Physical copies of Sam's Super Seats are available online for $17.99 by clicking here. Kindle and Nook Book versions of the book are also available for $10.99. The book includes descriptions of the illustrations for children with low or limited vision. The book was illustrated by Sharee Miller.
And now with "Sam's Super Seats," my children's book that comes out on August 23rd, I really wanted to tell a story about a little girl, going back to school shopping with her mom and her two best friends because going back to school shopping was my favorite part about going back to school. And I really wanted to talk about rest and the importance of listening to yourself and your body and the things that it needs.
So with those two books, I think the throughline is really just talking about the necessity of taking care of yourself and to rest and not to buy into the whole rise and grind culture that I think we've captivated over the last five or 10 years... this idea that productivity is the most important thing that we can do in our lives. And I think I'm pushing back against that and saying, like, 'no, the most important thing you can do for yourself when you need it, is to rest, is to take a break and take your time to just do nothing. And let that be an adventure as well.'
Watkins: Thank you for sharing that. I mean, I feel like that's something that resonates with a lot of people with disabilities, is even just learning how to rest. What has that journey been like for you, of learning how to rest? And how did you get to a point where you're able to share that message with other people?
Brown: For a lot of people with disabilities, myself included, we're told that our value comes from being the sort of model disabled person or the exception to the rule of what disability is, or our culture, really even trying to understand what disability is. And so for a very long time, I fed into that idea that like the only version of me that was the best version of me was being productive and showing people that I can push past pain and you know, aches of my body and just ignore that my body's telling me to slow down because that way, people who are not disabled could see that I hold value.
And I think even now, you know, it's an everyday thing where I'm constantly reminding myself like you don't have to go beyond to impress people who don't really see you in the first place. And it took me a very long time to get to that point. Because I spent so much time thinking that my worth was in my work. And thinking that the only time that I held value was when I was being productive, was when I was writing as many articles as possible as a journalist, you know, planning out as many books as possible. And as a Virgo, I do love to plan.
But I think the thing that I find most interesting is being able to talk about this has really allowed me to set firm in my belief that we deserve rest. It's not, you know, a gift given to us, it's a right and I think it's not just for disabled people, I think everyone deserves the chance to rest and recuperate. And it didn't, I didn't realize that telling people that would make an impact at all until I was well into my 20s. Like late 20s is when I realized, oh, maybe me saying it out loud, would help more than just me, it could help other people. And so I've been sort of on that quest ever since.
Watkins: Do you feel like people are looking for permission to rest in our society?
Brown: Absolutely, I think, particularly people in marginalized communities. So that's like disabled people, women, non-binary people, people of color... I think we're constantly looking for permission to rest because we live in a culture that tells us our sole value is in working. And our sole value is pushing pressure limits and going the extra mile and all these sort of euphemisms for this idea that we need to work hard, and work hard and work hard.
I think that because marginalized people, in particular, are being told this, then we often go above and beyond, because we think that's the only way that we'll be respected. That's the only way to move up and our careers, that's the only way to exist, and have a life that we value. The idea of the American Dream is really tied into 'work, work, work, pull yourself up by your bootstraps,' do all these things that are supposed to push you forward, and you do all these things, and sometimes nothing happens, you know? Sometimes you aren't propelled forward. And it's not as easy or as cut and dry as saying, like, just keep working hard. And everything will come to you. Because there are so many obstacles for people in marginalized communities that we have not yet even begun to truly address that person that has an even deeper disadvantage.
And it doesn't matter how much we work or how you know how much we care, that's not going to be the sole thing that lets us know that anything is possible, we have to work often three times as much, three times as hard for something to come to fruition. And I think a lot of that is because of the world we've built. So we do have to ask, you know, ourselves and each other really for permission in a way that I don't think that people in positions of power often have to ask themselves if they need or deserve rest.
Watkins: Tell me a little more about "Sam's Super Seats."
Brown: "Sam's Super Seats" is a children's book where we meet our protagonist, Sam, as she gets ready to go do her favorite thing, which is back-to-school shopping at the mall, with her mom and her two best friends Sydney and Sarah. And as they're shopping at the mall, and getting cute clothes and getting excited about learning and being both beautiful and smart, and what that looks like, Sam begins to get tired. Her body starts to ache, her legs start to tingle, so she knows she needs to sit down and take a rest.
And there, they meet Maya, which is the bench at the mall. And they talk about the importance of resting the body and what happens when they quote unquote 'super seat in training' which means the seat is not exactly comfortable, like her living room seats that she likes, or the seat in the back of her mom's car, those are 'super seats,' but Maya is a 'super seat in training.' And basically, they just have a discussion about what it takes to recuperate and to rest your body. And that it's okay to take the time to recuperate, and the rest your body, even when you're in the middle of an adventure, and you're so excited to be where you are.
And then they go home, they go back to Sam's house, and they try on jewelry. And they just play and have fun with her mom for the rest of the day. And it's a very cute story because it really does encapsulate the idea of letting rest be a part of the adventure and I'm very proud of it.
Watkins: The main character of your book is disabled. And I know I read a statistic that only 3.4% of children's books have a disabled main character,what is it been like promoting this book as a book that has a disabled main character?
Brown: Sometimes I'll get people excited about there being a disabled character. And then other people will be like, I don't know, I'm unsure about whether or not I should get it because my kid is not disabled. And that is disheartening. Because like you said, there's really no... there's not enough representation of disabled people in children's books. And for me, that's when my love of reading started. So it would have meant the world to me to have seen, to have had representation when I was growing up in the 90s.
Watkins: Absolutely. And I know one of the things I encountered the most, writing about disability, is people say, well, how many people does that really impact? Which is really disheartening. And for your book, what really struck me is like, you know, Sam has cerebral palsy, and 17 percent of kids have a developmental disability like CP. So that's huge, almost one in five kids have some sort of developmental disability. So one in five kids, you know, might relate to your book in a very personal way.
Brown: Absolutely. I mean, I think that it was imperative for me that Sam have CP. And it was also imperative for me that Sam have a CP like mine, where she doesn't have a everyday mobility aid. You know, because when you do see disabled rep, it's usually very much mobility aid centric, and very white. And I think those stories are absolutely valid. I want to be clear about that.
But I also think that there's something to be said, about the kid who has CP, or walks around their classrooms limping and people don't think that thats actual valid disability, because they're not wheelchair users or don't use a cane or a walker or what have you.
I think, to me, it is really interesting, because people will say, with no, wherewithal at all, they'll be like, 'Yeah, so who does that really impact?' Tons of kids. And you would know that, if you listen to them, you know? If you actually took the time to think outside of the small circle of kids that you've built for your kids.
You have to get to a point where like, it isn't amazing that, you know, there's one more book in the world with a disabled person. And we have to get to a point where it's like, oh, this is just one of many, instead of one of the few, and we have to really figure out a way to change people's minds.
But also the idea.. that's the tricky thing, though, because there's the idea that the onus would be on us, and I don't think that that's good either. But I do think that we need to get to a place where people start thinking about experiences outside of their own, and that's mostly like adults thinking out outside of experiences that match their own.
Watkins: You wrote a book that you wish your younger self would have been able to read. Do you have any advice for local kids who are dreaming of being an author someday?
Brown: I think my biggest piece of advice is to lean into who you are. Don't be afraid to tell stories about you know, being tall and lanky or short and stout. Don't be afraid to tell stories about you know, fantastical dragons and big ideas and like very friendly fairies and just you know, write the things that make you happiest and then you never know what will come of them. You know, don't be afraid to tell a story or tell your story.