K. E. Lewis on Storytelling, Creative Routines, and Limitless Blackness

© Salima Alikhan 2020

Writer K.E. Lewis spends a bit of time with his agent, Lori Steel, talking craft, morning routines, and the important role that his Black male experience plays in his creative work.

Lori Steel (LS): Can you tell us a bit about what you write?

K.E. Lewis (KEL): I write across genres but, for now, my primary focus is children’s lit, more specifically picture books. Black and male are mostly at the center, yes–because being black and male is my lived experience. However, I cover a large array of content and my topics vary. I don’t write to a theme, per say. I just aim to tell a good story. It may be race-related or not. It may be heartfelt, or it could crack your side.  It may feature a hidden figure of sorts, or it may feature a disgruntled rhinoceros. You never know. But expect a great story. 

LS: Are any of your stories inspired by your childhood? 

KEL: Aren’t all of our stories? Consciously or not, our stories are written in agreeance or in opposition to how we grew up or how we live now–how we be. How we be sexed.  How we be gendered. How we be raced. How we be classed. How we be all over. I grew up with a loving family and in a vibrant neighborhood with very strong, interesting figures. I believe that is evident in several of my stories.  

K. E. at the National Museum of American History with his favorite Sesame Street character - Ernie. Watching preposterous Bert & Ernie sketches is sometimes a part of K. E.'s 3-hour morning writing ritual.

LS: When you’re feeling blocked or between projects, how do you get the creative juices flowing again?

KEL: I don’t know if I’m ever “blocked,” per say. As one of my critique partners jokes, I “always have thirteen projects going at any given time.” LOL. I believe the heart of this question, though, inquires how I continue to work when I’m in a drought of ideas, a drought of words. I will say, I don’t discredit any idea. I see potential in ideas even when others don’t. 

I probably have the longest routine on the planet. 

So I pull from one of my many ideas from my idea journal if ever I am desperate for an idea at the time. In the event I feel unmotivated, though, I go to the art gallery, go see a movie, go on a date, go live, and (my favorite) go Home. Capital H. Where I can get a good  hug, some fried fish or fried chicken, do some yard-work, and dance till I faint. 

Where the magic happens

Speed Round!

Sweet or Salty: Sweet, but perfectly sweet… I bake.

On your TBR pile: The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Most-loved treasure: My fam. They mean the world to me.

Biggest adventure: Taking the leap to pursue both my writing and modeling careers.

Quote or saying that best represents your philosophy of life: “You become a student of what you study.”

LS: Do you have any special routines, foods on hand, or music playing when you write?

KEL: Yes. I probably have the longest routine on the planet. I wake up, pray, meditate, have two cups of coffee, a green smoothie, watch Good Morning America, read, listen to a bit of music, watch short clips of shows I enjoyed as a child, set my expectations, whisper affirmations, do a ten-minute freewrite, then get to work. All of it takes a whopping three HOURS. I know it’s long, but I never approach my work empty. So, it is what it is. 

LS: What do you hope young readers will take away from your stories?

KEL: As a kid, when stepping out of line, my mother always told me to “stay a child while you are a child,” because when I grew up I’d be wishing for my childhood again. Unfortunately, I grew up fast. Not as fast as some, but fast nonetheless. It’s the price of being Black in America. So when I sit to write,  I don’t really write to teach, but it happens because I’m formally trained to do so. 

Blackness is vast and limitless, and unapologetically so.

Instead I write with preservation in mind, the preservation of childhood for children of color who may be forced to grow up because of pressures and responsibilities mostly brought on by racial disparity and socioeconomic class (also brought on by racial disparity). So my hope is that young readers find a place they can sit for a while, revisit over and over again. A place where they can laugh repeatedly and out loud, relish childhood for as long as possible while understanding that Blackness is vast and limitless, and unapologetically so. 

LS: Can’t wait for an opportunity to taste one of your specialty bakes that I’ve heard about – Coconut Pound Cake with Pineapple Custard. If that doesn’t sound like a taste for summer, I don’t know what does! Thank you for spending time in the space to share your story – and your stories! 



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