This week we introduce you to Ryan Ruggiero, the author of Voices with Feathers: Stories of African Youth. Her book is down the line for publication by us this year.
1. To begin with, please tell us a little about yourself.
I am 28 years old and currently live in Philadelphia, PA with my boyfriend. Serving your community is very important to me and after I served in South Africa in the US Peace Corps for 3 years I started working for the US Federal Government at the General Services Administration. I love to cook, travel and volunteer with youth in my community.
2. When did you realize you wanted to be a writer?
I’ve been writing ever since I can remember. When I was a child, I began journaling and recording the experiences around me. When I was in high school I dreamt of traveling the world and telling people’s stories.
3. You are publishing your book with us. Please tell us about your journey.
It was important to me to find a publishing company that targeted young people and shared my vision. Young people have a unique way of seeing the world and telling their story. Marianne really understands the purpose of my book and how it will reach young people and that’s important to me.
4. How long did it take you to complete writing the book?
I completed each story in about 2 hours after an hour interview with each youth over 3 months. It took about 5 months to work with my mentor to select the stories, write the introductions and edit the stories.
5. How did this story first occur to you?
While serving as a US Peace Corps volunteer in South Africa, I worked closely with youth both in school and out of school. I was struck by their challenges and resilience. My close friend Lipher, once described the youth of his village as “The living dead.” What he meant by this is that there are no employment opportunities for young people in rural areas. Those words have stayed with me. I was determined to travel the continent to 12 countries to hear the stories of young people who often do not have the opportunity to share their stories in a project called “Unheard Voices.” I had that idea that the youth would feel empowered through sharing their stories and that we all might learn something through reading them.
6. What is the best thing you like about your book?
I love that while most of the youth in the book have encountered challenges in their life such as the loss of a parent or the inability to afford school fees, they continue to be resilient and believe that life will get better – they have hope.
7. Did you always want to become a writer?
I studied journalism in university and it was always my dream to be a writer in some capacity.
8. How many books have you written so far?
This is my first book! The writing I’ve done previously was for local newspapers and freelance writing.
9. What is your schedule like when you are writing, and what is your writing corner like?
The beginning of every week I would set my goals for how many stories or chapter I needed to finish that week. Then I designated a few hours each night to work on those stories. The hardest part was deciding which stories to put in the book and the rest was just staying focused on my goal.
10. What do you think makes a good story?
I think there are stories everywhere all around us. I think a good story comes from the details and perspective the writer shares. Even the most mundane topic can be exciting if the writer describes it in a different way that can connect with the audience.
11. Every writer has an inspiration. Please tell us who/ what inspired you to write?
I love the idea that stories can be shared across borders and cultures. Stories can be used to connect people, to share new ideas and to promote understanding. I am inspired to write stories because I believe they can make the world a better place.
12. How do you develop your plots and characters?
All stories in this book are true stories from real people. I did my best to find a particular interesting aspect of the interview and focus the story around that idea.
13. Who is your favorite author?
Right now…Tracy Kidder.
14. What genre are you reading right now?
Literary journalism – non fiction.
15. Do you belong to any writers’ group? If so, which one?
No, I do not.
16. Of all the characters you have created or encountered, which is your favorite and why?
Veronica in this book is one of my favorite characters. She had such charisma and is such a fighter. I think her story is fascinating.
17. Last question before we sign off. WHAT’S NEXT?
I’d love to make the time to write another book similar to Voices with Feathers but on a different topic. I love travelling and it would be incredible to another or country or around the US to do more interviews, possibly with American or unemployed youth.