On May 21, 2022, author Mariama J. Lockington is coming to the Gaithersburg Book Festival to share her middle grade novel, In the Key of Us with her readers. In the Key of Us is a coming-of-age story about the losses that threaten to break us and the friendships that make us whole again.
I loved this novel. I loved that the setting was musicianship and band camp. I loved that the story was told in alternating viewpoints of Andi, Zora, and the camp itself. Mariama’s writing poignantly depicts the highs and lows of relationships, the unhealthy ways in which some handle stress, and the grieving process. And I appreciated that Mariama included an important author’s note that included inclusive mental health resources.
I listened to the audiobook, and the narration by Yinka Ladeinde and Imani Jade Powers was wonderful. I hope you enjoy this middle grade novel as much as I did.
I hope you enjoy this interview with the talented Mariama J. Lockington.
What is your writing space like?
My wife and I just bought a house last May, and after years of sharing a small work space, I feel really lucky to now have my own sunlit office at the back of the house. My office has a desk, a plush lavender desk chair, a couple of bookshelves with my books that are organized in rainbow colors, pictures of my author inspirations (Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison, Zora Neale Hurston, etc) and lots and lots of plants on every window sill/free surface. There’s also a small couch where I read and where my dog, Henry, sometimes cuddles me when he’s not asleep in his day-bed next to my desk. I love a good candle, so I always have a candle burning when I’m in my office— notes of citrus, gardenia, or eucalyptus are my favorite.
How (or in what ways) do you hope librarians will promote your book?
I love libraries and librarians are magical! While In the Key of Us deals with some hard topics (self- harm, bullying, anxiety, the loss of a loved one) it’s also a story full of hope, music, adventure, friendship, and love. I hope that librarians are able to promote this book with a good understanding of all of these nuances, as well as put it into the hands of young people who are excited to read inclusive, first-love, coming of age stories.
What do you hope your readers will learn from reading your book?
That it’s OK to change your mind, to not have all the answers— growing up is messy, wonderful, and full of adventure. That they are loved, just as they are.
Who is the reader you are writing for? Please describe them.
I am writing for the reader who has a powerful voice, but is sometimes scared to share it. For the reader who feels like they never quite fit in, even though they try their hardest, for the reader that is brave and determined, even when they feel lost. I am writing for the reader that could spend all day outside, in the sun, soaking up the magic of the outdoors, for the queer reader and the perfectionist reader, and the reader who knows without a doubt that music can help us feel alive and connected beyond the bounds of this world.
What is one (or more) thing(s) that you really want your readers to know about you?
When I was young, I played flute and piano. While I don’t play these instruments anymore, practicing music helped me with the practice of writing and gave me a deep appreciation for the arts. Summer Camp is where I first believed I could really be an author— and where I first fell in love with the outdoors.
What do you love most about the cover art of your book?
All of it! The cover artist, Tonya Engel, really just captured the essence of both my main characters so perfectly. But if I have to pick one thing, I love that Zora and Andi are out on the water in a kayak and that they are holding hands under the glimmering sun.
What has surprised you most about the characters in your book?
Sometimes I think I’ve written a character that’s very different from the girl I was growing up, and then a reader will point out a quality that we share. It’s always eye-opening to see the ways we put our past selves into stories or even our current selves.
Which book review or award has been most meaningful to you?
The most valuable reviews that I’ve received in my author journey have been from young readers writing to me. When a young person says: “I don’t like to read, but I read your book in one night” or “After reading your book, I’m not afraid to be myself anymore.” That’s when I know I’ve done ok, made an impact, and that I have to keep going.
What are you most looking forward to at our book festival?
Being in-person and getting to talk to readers! While virtual events have been great as far as connecting with people across states, there’s nothing like being able to talk to readers in the flesh and feel the excitement of a live festival. Also— of course, I will likely come home with lots of new books that I am excited to read.
Would you like to learn more about Mariama? Check out this interview: Ask the Author: Mariama J. Lockington.
Mariama J. Lockington is an adoptee, writer and non-profit educator. She has been telling stories and making her own books since the second grade, when she wore short-alls and flower leggings every day to school. Her work has appeared in a number of magazines and journals, including Buzzfeed News Reader, and she is the author of the poetry chapbook, “The Lucky Daughter.” Her latest book is “The Key of Us.” Mariama earned a Masters in Education from Lesley University and Masters in Fine Arts in Poetry from San Francisco State University. She lives in Lexington, Ky., with her partner and dapple haired dachshund, Henry.