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empty Posted July 2002
BNC E-Interview Exclusive:
Tonya Bolden

by Jacqueline Trussell
Founder and President,

For the past few months, has introduced you to children's books that focus on African American history and culture. Contributor Colleen Birchett, has provided several reviews of books that tell the African American story. In June, featured the book, Rock of Ages: A Tribute to the Black Church by author Tonya Bolden. Bolden is the author and editor of many books for adults and children. With beautiful illustrations by  R. Gregory Christie, the book, published by Random House Children's Books,  captures the story of the Black Church for young and old. spoke with Tonya Bolden in an exclusive BNC E-Interview.

Tonya Bolden
Tonya Bolden

BNC: When did you begin writing?
TB:  I began writing professionally in the mid-1980s; however, as a child I wrote stories and poems, and as a teen, I wrote lots and lots of poetry.  I've been in love with books since I learned my ABCs.

BNC: Who are some of your literary inspirations?
TB:  James Baldwin, Toni Cade Bambara, Anton Chekhov, Charles Johnson, Toni Morrison, and Flannery O'Connor are among my literary inspirations.

BNC: Why children's books?
TB:   I write for adults, teens, and children. And at this point most of my books are for young people. I think this is because, at the core, I am a teacher.

BNC: What prompted you to write Rock of Ages for children?
TB: Given the significance of the Black Church in Black survival and overcoming, from the days of captivity through the days of Jim Crow and beyond, it seemed to me that it would be a good thing to start teaching people about this at a young age. People shouldn't have to wait until they are 20 or 30 to learn about the significance of the Black Church.   

BNC: What do you see as the biggest crisis or challenge facing youth today?
TB: I think the biggest crisis or challenge facing youth today is believing that they should and can live lives of purpose and of service (which one can do in so many ways). It saddens me that when many young people think about their future, about their careers, they think solely in terms of making a lot of money. This is, of course, not their fault. What do they see around them from adults but greed and materialism run amok?  

BNC: What has the response been to Rock of Ages?
TB:  The response to Rock of Ages—to both my words and Greg's art—has been overwhelming, including from people who are neither Black nor Christian.  

BNC: How important is it for youth to know of the history and struggle of the Black Church?
TB:  It is extremely important for young people to know the history of the Black Church, just as it's important for young people to know about their grandparents and other forbears.

BNC:  How or has the Black Church influenced you?
TB:  The Black Church has influenced me in a number of ways. In terms of history, it helped my people survive and build-up.  In terms of my writing, the music of the Black Church (from the spirituals to gospel) and the tones and rhythms of classic black preaching have become part of my "vocabulary." It's hard to articulate and even pinpoint, but I know that my style of writing has been influenced by the culture of the Black Church.

BNC: To you, what does it mean to be Black and Christian?
TB: To be Black and Christian is to be extremely forgiving.

Rock of Ages: A Tribute to the Black Church

To learn more about Tonya Bolden, visit her website at
shop Order Rock of Ages: A Tribute to the Black Church here.

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