Interview: New Visions Award Winner Tracy Occomy Crowder

Recently, we announced that Tracy Occomy Crowder has won the seventh annual New Visions Award for her manuscript, Montgomery and the Case of the Golden Key. In this blog post, we ask Tracy about her inspiration behind her winning manuscript and her writing experience.

Tell us about the inspiration behind your story.

My son inspired me to write the book.  He was reading adventure books at the time and I felt like it was important to expand the adventure/mystery genre to include more books with Black boys like my son as protagonists.  I decided to follow the phrase “go with what you know” and wrote a story in which the main character, Montgomery “Monty” Carver, is modeled somewhat after my son and the setting roughly reflects our experience living on the South Side of Chicago.  We live just South of Washington Park, which was a big part of my life growing up and of our family’s history.   I have childhood memories of sliding down the giant slide on pieces of cardboard, sitting under the weeping willow trees and having picnics in the park and I know that the park was a major part of my father’s childhood experience as his family enjoyed summers there as well.  It has been a refuge and hub of activity for African-Americans over the years and I wanted the park and the community of the same name to play a pivotal role in the story.

Are there any particular writers (especially children’s/YA authors) who have inspired you?

This is my first attempt at writing a children’s book and I’m only really starting to learn about authors in the field.  I really enjoyed the character development and humor of Jason Reynolds’ Ghost, which I read with my son a couple of years ago.  I also appreciate the level of adventure and magic and the entire world that J. K. Rowling created with the Harry Potter series.

Is there anything in particular you hope readers take away from this story?

I want readers to have some fun reading the book as they follow along with Monty on his quest to prove himself – both his cool and his abilities as a scientist.  I also want them to consider community – to understand the importance of connecting to one’s community, to know that all communities have some heritage, highlights and strength to draw from and to realize that we have to be able to create fun and joy even in challenging circumstances.

Tell us about your writing experience. When and why did you start writing and where do you draw your ideas from?

I became interested in writing as a way to reimagine and expand on stories I learned about my family through genealogical research.  My goal is to write mysteries that involve different periods of Black history and aspects of Black culture as the backdrop for characters who experience the funny little occurrences and tensions of everyday life.  I get inspiration from the legacy of my grandmother, Marita Bonner, who wrote during the Harlem Renaissance.

What other interests and/or vocations occupy your time?

I enjoy reading and watching mysteries, doing genealogy and gardening.

Is there anything else you’d like to add, e.g., about your family, community, experiences growing up, current projects?

I am a community organizer by profession and have been doing social change work for the past 30 years to improve communities across Illinois.  My work in helping parents bring back recess to Chicago Public Schools drove home the importance of ensuring that all children, but particularly children of color, have a chance to be children with all of the wonder that entails and to see themselves as worthy of experiencing play and having fun even in the midst of challenging circumstances.

Submissions for next year’s New Visions Award are now open and close on August 31, 2020. Find out more about how to submit here.

ABOUT: Tu Books, an imprint of LEE & LOW BOOKS, publishes diverse middle grade and young adult literature. It is the company’s mission to publish books that all young readers can identify with and enjoy. For more information, click here.