Tiffany D. Jackson’s Latest Novel Centers the Vulnerability of Black Girls
In 2017, right before the release of her debut YA novel Allegedly, Tiffany D. Jackson wrote at a yoga and journaling workshop in New York City that her biggest hopes were for “peace and that people would like her books.” Since then, Jackson has written four books and racked up critical acclaim, including an NAACP Image Award nomination for her debut and the Coretta Scott King-John Steptoe New Talent Award for Monday’s Not Coming.
Her latest effort, Grown, follows 17-year-old Enchanted, an aspiring singer whose whole life changes when she meets legendary R&B star Korey Fields. A connection that’s invigorating and exciting at first quickly becomes a nightmare when he’s found dead and Enchanted is the only culprit. She’s forced to peel back the layers of a painful few months of her life and work to exonerate herself while exposing a predator beloved in the public eye.
This book is about the systems that fail young Black women, labeling them grown when the adults should have known better. It’s also one of Jackson’s most personal, as she herself revealed that she was in an age-inappropriate relationship in high school as well. The book sheds light on a problem that’s all too common and can no longer be swept under the rug.
The interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
ZORA: Grown is your fourth book baby out in the world. What do you feel has changed, if anything, from Allegedly to now?
Tiffany D. Jackson: With Allegedly it felt like it was very quiet. There wasn’t really a lot of marketing. I mean, no one knew who I was. And now, it’s like all these eyes and it’s slightly overwhelming in a sense. I’m so used to being in the background. Especially [since] I came from the television world where I was always behind the camera. So now, to be sort of up front is slightly overwhelming.
What made you want to make the switch from television to writing books full time?
Originally, I thought I was going to be able to do both ’cause I’ve always wanted to be a writer. I guess I never truly thought that I could have a full-time career in writing. But I didn’t realize how in-depth being a writer was going to be. [Then] my career felt like it started to take off and I knew based off the fact that television hours can be from 13–15 hours a day, there was no room for anything else… Television wasn’t going to allow me to chase my dream full time. So I decided, hey, let me just try and see what happens. And here we are.
In Grown, it seems like there is such a loaded meaning there when we look at the crux of the story from this idea of grown men being predators on younger women to the fact that society often treats young girls as if they are grown. How did you land on the title?
The title actually was my nickname for the novel. I always kind of give all my novels nicknames, so I used to just call it Grown and someone was like, “That’s actually a really cool title.” And I’m like, “Alright, we’re going with it.” And it is such a loaded word. It’s something we heard, especially as Black women, most of our lives. Either grown, or fast, or someone said the other day when you’re acting too ripe. I wanted to bring attention to the story but also bring attention to the idea of being grown, and how that term is derogatory, especially for Black girls.
“We grossly underestimate what kids can truly handle.”
Can you speak to writing about mature topics like this for teens, particularly in Grown, because there are themes of sexual coercion, addiction, and mental abuse? How do you resolve writing about such big topics for younger people?
We grossly underestimate what kids can truly handle. But I also fear the idea of us not telling them and not showing them the full scope of a situation like this. Because a lot of times, considering that this book is sort of born from the reaction to the R. Kelly documentary, parents are funneling their opinions down to kids, and kids don’t get the full scope of the situation.
So I feel like if we give them novels that really put kids in the shoes of particularly victims, they could actually see how people could be coerced and how grooming happens. Giving them context gives them the power to have the tools and the wherewithal to actually identify that, either in their own lives or the lives of their friends and classmates. At the end of the day, we want to be able to have more constructive citizens moving forward in this world. We want our kids to read stories that help them build their empathy muscles, and become more compassionate humans in general.
How do you fortify yourself as a Black woman writer highlighting such important issues surrounding young Black girls?
I know what I’m getting myself into. I know I cover a lot of dark topics. The thing about it is when I’m out and touring and talking, a lot of people come to me and they sort of unpack on me. They unpack their own stories, and it’s still happening. People are in my DMs saying, “I was 15 and he was 30.” There’s a lot of those stories and so one of the ways I have been sort of fortifying myself is being at home and being able to refill the well: watch television and stuff like that and prepare myself to take on this because sometimes that is the part of this journey, right? Writing stories and actually knowing that people are gonna see themselves on the page and saying, like, “I see you, I acknowledge you.” I’m happy to acknowledge people because there was a point where I wanted to be acknowledged as well.