Author Spotlight: Kara Lee Corthron

image of author Kara Lee Corthron

Kara Lee Corthron is a playwright, author, and TV writer based in Los Angeles. Her full-length plays include AliceGraceAnon (New Georges), Holly Down in Heaven (Forum Theatre, DC area), Listen for the Light (Know Theatre of Cincinnati), Welcome to Fear City (CATF and Kansas City Rep, Kilroys’ List 2016), Etched in Skin on a Sunlit Night (InterAct Theatre, Philadelphia), What Are You Worth?, and Time and a Half. Kara is the author of the young-adult novels, The Truth of Right Now from Simon & Schuster/Simon Pulse and Daughters of Jubilation from Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, coming in October 2020.

What is your book about?

The book’s focus is on Evalene Deschamps—the youngest member of a long bloodline of Black women with magical powers called “Jubilation.” The inherited magic extends back to slavery and possibly beyond, developed as protection from the evils of white supremacy.

What was your inspiration for Daughters of Jubilation?

I once saw a Gordon Parks’ photograph that left a deep impression on me. It’s from his “Untitled, Mobile, Alabama (1956)” series. In the photo, there’s a little Black girl in the foreground, a house with some people on the porch in the background and what appears to be a strange disturbance…coming from her head. Maybe it’s smoke, a distant twister, or a cloud of dust. But when I saw the photo—knowing that Parks was chronicling the lives of everyday Black people living under Jim Crow—my imagination wondered what life might’ve been like for this girl if she had created that strange disturbance with her mind. What if she did in fact have magical powers and with just one thought, she could wreak havoc on the world? This was a pivotal moment of inspiration for me.

Even though this story is set in 1962, as we tragically know the themes are all too resonant today. And the magic element? The power I dreamed of for that little Black girl in the Parks’ photo is what I’ve wanted and wished for countless Black people today. We don’t live in a world where Breonna Taylor had the supernatural ability to protect herself and punish her murderers. So why not create one?

What do you hope readers take from this story? 

We all have magic inside of us. It may not be as blatant as Evalene’s, but it’s there.

What got you into writing? What kind of stories do you enjoy writing most?

I started as an actor; my BA is in Theatre. I moved to New York and auditioned for a long time. I booked a few things, but not many and I quickly got tired of reading bad scripts. I didn’t want to act someone else’s words while thinking, “I could do better than this.” I briefly thought of writing material that I would perform myself, but that felt way too vulnerable so I became a playwright. Playwriting led me to TV writing and once I felt somewhat secure in myself as a “real” writer, I decided to do the thing I’d wanted to do since about age 8: write a book. That’s the abridged story of how I got into writing.

I can only write stories that have a point and what I mean by that is I need to know why I’m writing something. I love all kinds of stories, though my favorites tend to be about young people in high-stakes situations, sometimes with a fantastical feel (such as Daughters of Jubilation) or contemporary realistic (such as my first novel The Truth of Right Now). I’m also drawn to thrillers and horror, but there must always be a compelling why. I know some media exists just for the purpose of entertainment and I’m all for that! Sometimes we just need to be entertained. My goal is to entertain, but also to challenge my readers/audience in some way, which isn’t easy, but those are the stories I have to tell.

How do you balance writing books and television with the rest of your life?

The short answer is I haven’t figured that out yet. Fortunately, I have a very patient and supportive husband. The only trick I’ve discovered, though I haven’t mastered it yet, is taking real breaks to avoid burnout. I try to meditate every night before I go to bed and I do my best to stop working by 7PM on a normal day. I’m still trying to build boundaries and the quarantine made that harder since my home and work are all in the same place right now. The life/work balance thing is an ongoing project for me.

Any advice for up and coming writers, particularly those who are interested in writing both books and TV?

Write, write, and write some more! The only way to develop your craft is by doing it. When you take a breath from all that writing: read, read, and read some more! Read in the genre you write in, but read other stuff, too. Read historical fiction, read non-fiction, read abstract poetry—if you find yourself interested in something that feels foreign to you, give it a read. It will all influence your work in ways you may never even realize.

Join a writing group or take a class so you can build your community of fellow writers. These will be the folks that give you feedback before you send your brilliant manuscript out into the world. Learn to take criticism with a brave face and sense of humor. Learn how to discern useful notes from the unhelpful ones. And don’t submit anything professionally until it is the BEST you can possibly make it.

All that said, the real answer is I don’t know the secret to success. Surprise! Nobody’s trajectory is a direct line. My advice will work for some and not for others, because we are all different. The only thing you can control is the quality of your writing. If that’s your main focus, you’ll figure out the other stuff as it comes.