Along with Father’s Day, our country celebrates Juneteenth on Sunday. This federal holiday is a dedicated commemoration of African American history and a reflection upon its culture and progress. We can’t think of a better way to be part of such an important time here in Charlotte than to introduce you to CLT Smarty mama and author Syrina Rice. She is the founder of Rice Love Tree Publishing, which creates content that celebrates communities underrepresented in popular literature.
Syrina and her husband Darrell have three children: two teenaged boys and one 8-year-old daughter (with whom she co-wrote and recently released I am a Work of Art). The book’s main character, Syd the Kreative, learns about four black artists with very distinct styles while trying to complete a school assignment. Through the unique artistry of Jean-Michel Bisquiat, Kara Walker, Kadir Nelson, and Kehinde Wiley, she tries to identify her own style. Ultimately Syd is encouraged to simply be the greatest version of herself.
“That is a message echoed in our home,” Syrina says.
We took some time to get to know Syrina a little better and are excited to share the conversation with you here today.
Q. How did the idea arise for the new book?
A. Last year I noticed Sydney’s interest in replicating art peak; however, she didn’t copy many drawings that looked like her. So we started exploring famous black artists, and these four had really interesting perspectives. She and I instantly agreed they should be shared with other children, too.
Q. Putting out one book, much less starting Rice Love Tree Publishing during the pandemic is no small feat. How did you make your vision reality, and how can other moms fuel their own creative aspirations? Practical tips welcome!
A. My boys are teenagers now, but I used to read to all my kids at bedtime as often as I could. Syd would sometimes add on to the story and take us down an equally entertaining path. One morning I woke up and wrote the first draft of my other book Hey Mama! and read it to her that night. She loved it. Thinking no one would publish the story, I began researching how to do it myself.
I found a Facebook community of self-published authors focused on diverse representation in children’s books. They shared a wealth of knowledge, lessons, and resources to get me started. The publishing process was less intimidating because I worked with freelancers to proofread and edit, illustrate, typeset, and format my books. Websites like Fiverr.com and Upwork.com helped me find professionals in my budget.
Q. You also trained to serve as a new Augustine Literacy Project tutor this school year. What was the experience like, and why did you decide to sign up?
A. When I started training for ALP, I had a child in elementary, middle, and high school so I understood the learning gaps made wider during the pandemic. I wanted to do more than reading to a class, and ALP offered a real curriculum and commitment with measurable impact. I love the science behind their methods, meeting like-minded folks, and helping students become confident readers.
Q. When you’re not writing and publishing or volunteering, what does a typical day look like for you?
A. I work full-time in leadership at Robinhood Financial. Once the work day ends, I’m either on a grocery run or shuttling a kid to dance, football, or their job. Sometimes it’s all of the above. Mom life is not for the faint of heart! My husband is a great partner in all the chaos so that I can be protective of my early morning and late evening quiet times.
Q. What have you found to be the most significant challenges and rewards of raising your children?
A. Our boys’ lives revolve around sports, video games, friends, working, and (eeek!) learning to drive. It’s pretty amazing to watch who they are, who they want to be, and how they make decisions. Sometimes, they even take my advice. But I do worry about the dangerous assumptions the world will make about them as young black men.
Raising a daughter with a positive self image comes with its own set of challenges. My husband and I try to be honest about the world we live in and intentional with our language as we create space for them to just be their authentic selves. Our goal is for them to discover who they are, in healthy ways.
Q. You hail from Brooklyn but chose Charlotte as your home city. What do you enjoy most about living here as a family?
A. Brooklyn will always be home to me, but I think of Charlotte as its hip, family-oriented cousin. I can easily find a fun activity or event to do with my kids and then adult at a trendy rooftop with dinner and drinks. Charlotte’s a fun and lively city.
Q. Where we can get our own copy of the new book? How can we stay in the loop on Rice Love Tree’s latest books, coaching, workshops, and community events?
A. You can grab your copies through www.ricelovetree.com. That is also the best place to keep up with our virtual and in-person events throughout the year. Feel free to subscribe and help us grow our literary community.
Two upcoming chances to meet Syrina
1. Juneteenth Vendor Appearance
When: Today (Saturday, June 18) and Sunday
Where: Juneteenth Charlotte Festival
Address: 7205 N. Tryon Street, Charlotte, NC
2. Book Signing
When: June 25, 1-3 p.m
Where: Urban Reader Book Store
Address: 440 East McCullough Drive, Suite A130, Charlotte