Catherine Stine's IDEA CITY

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Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Interview with Renée Watson about What Momma Left Me

Before I interview Renée, here’s my quick synopsis of her new novel, What Momma Left Me, from Bloomsbury Press (for 8 to 11 year-olds)

Following the death of their mother, and disappearance of their father, thirteen year-old Serenity and her brother Danny move in with their grandparents. At first, Serenity is put off by their rules and insistence on her attending long hours at church. There's the added challenge of attending a new school, and trying to make all new friends, all while missing her mother. Things start to brighten when Serenity meets Maria, also in the youth ministry group at the church. But as her brother falls in with a sketchy crowd, and Serenity finds herself drawn to a boy in that same clique, Serenity is faced with tough choices, which will test her faith, and sense of right and wrong. It’s a page-turner with real heart!

CS: In What Momma Left Me, the church is central to the plot. Can you talk about that?

RW: I write very close to reality and I grew up in the church. It was a normal part of life that was not separate from my school or friends. I wanted to show that fluidity and connection, and how so much good can emerge from that sort of tight-knit community.

CS: People often say that even though a novel is fiction, parts of characters come from the author and her experience. How much of the Serenity character came from you?

RW: *Laughs* I was always questioning everything, just like Serenity! My journal was my best friend too. And as Serenity looks out for Maria, I really looked out for my friends in school, particularly a new girl, who seemed overwhelmed. Also, when I was little, my mom was a lot like Serenity’s grandma. She prayed with me through troubled times and always had time to listen to me.

C: I thought one of the big questions in Momma was what is real peace? Do you agree?

R: Yes. There was so much chaos in Serenity's world that she was worried she might not find peace until she went to heaven, or that it didn’t exist at all. Her grandma helped her see that it was about making peace with the ups and downs of life: “You know how many times I’ve cried?... So many I can’t count.” Grandma smiles. “But guess what? I can’t count the laughs either!”

C: I love how each chapter begins with a poem. I especially love your Ode to Cake! Have you considered writing a poetry book for kids?

R: Sure. Poetry was my first love. I read at open mic poetry readings around the city, and do poetry workshops with my students.

C: What are you working on next?

R: I have a picture book forthcoming with Random House called Harlem’s Little Blackbird, about Florence Mills, a Harlem Renaissance performer. And I’ll be doing a reading and book signing in New York City at Bank Street on November 4th, from 5:30 to 7:30, so come on down! I invite you to visit my website for upcoming events and info.

C: Thanks so much for stopping by.

RW: Anytime.


  1. Thanks for letting us know about this book. It looks terrific and the reviews I just read say the same. I can't wait read it and share it. Way to go, Renee Watson!

  2. Renee's awesome - From the workshop to the bookshop! Can't to read what she does next...

  3. I love Renee's writing and was immediately drawn to Serenity. Can't wait to read book in entirety! Courtney Tuckman

  4. I love Renee's writing, lyrical, poetic, spiritual, sassy, funny but deep. The characters in MAMA are intriguing, and develop well in a setting that feels very real. I also like that Renee is including without sounding preacher-ly the very real spiritual and community values from the grandmother. The story is relevant, specific, and timeless. I can't wait to read more of the book, and of course, the Hurricane book is always in season, a beautiful and ultimately optimistic telling. Keep on going, Renee! Sheila Lewis

  5. Thanks everyone for such kind words. And thanks so much for your support. It means a lot to me!