Representation + girl power=no damsel in distress.
Author & businesswoman Anna Nyakana made it her mission to encourage young girls to conquer their own fairytales instead of waiting for someone else to do it for them.
Born in Germany to a Ugandan father & a German-Moldavian mother, Nyakana knows the importance of highlighting one’s culture & embracing their differences. She & her family immigrated to the United States in the ’90s, moving to Stamford, Connecticut. There, young Nyakana’s love and writing skills developed. At the same time, her experiences living in Connecticut shed light on the lack of diversity & education of other cultures. Nyakana created the Niyah Zuri Books to prove to young girls that they can conquer anything they put their minds to, including slaying the fiercest dragons that come into their lives!
The inspirational author sat down with us to talk about being a businesswoman, an advocate for education, & how we can slay dragons in our lives:
1. How has your international background molded you into the person/entrepreneur you are today?
My blending of Cultures, an immigrant in America journey, and projects-to-suburbs childhood has given me the ability to understand, empathize, and love everyone. I use this SuperPower to bridge the gap between races and socio-economic levels. Not only is my mission to instill self-knowledge in children of Color while bringing diversity to the classroom but to empower all children not to be limited in their thinking based on their zip code or circumstance. I recognize that I am a Woman of the World and will apply this SuperPower to save it!
2. What do you want your audience to understand from your books? What’s the overall message?
I want every young reader to know that they are limitless and discover their “inner Niyah” to solve and become heroines/heroes in their own stories. Moreover, I want children who feel unrepresented and misrepresented to see a shining example of their ancient legacies, inspiring all children to respect and acknowledge one another as humankind versus by the shade of their skin.
3. Talk about your writing process and the writing flow.
I’m very visual, so I normally start with an outline or bubble chart of my high-level ideas before writing. Whether it’s a chapter for my books or even a writeup for an education blog, once I have a visual, I start crafting the journey of the story or thoughts with my words to ensure the reader can “see” what I’m aiming to show them. Some days I could write a few sentences towards apiece, and other days, I can’t be pulled away from clicking the keys on my Mac. I try not to put pressure on the flow of my writing but rather stay true to the mission of the message I’m conveying.
4. You state that you want children to see themselves as the ones slaying the dragons instead of waiting for someone to do it for them. Why do you think this is an important lesson for children? Describe Niyah Zuri from your series and how she’s a good role model.
My goal is to inspire children to use and sharpen their critical thinking skills to overcome obstacles, especially young girls. Since childhood, we are taught to be a Princess in waiting for her hero rather than utilize that crown on our head as armor and venture off into the unknown with a determination of saving ourselves. This involves reconditioning the mind to be more independent versus dependent. Niyah Zuri is a fearless heroine who does not back down from challenges but instead realizes they are opportunities for her to grow in her skillset and confidence. She exemplifies how to be an inspiring leader, leaning on her abilities to empower those around her, and shows all children to tap into their greatest treasure: their minds.
5. Why do you feel there’s a lack of diversity in classrooms today? How can we change that?
The lack of diversity truly lies in the curriculum; the classroom is often the first place where a child meets another race. Seeing as the classroom is the representation of the outside world, it is critical children have the opportunity to learn about cultures other than their own to gain love, empathy, and understanding for those different from them. We can ensure this virtual progression by implementing books and themes that focus on representation in curriculums to be taught all school year versus the limited focus during Black History month, for instance.
6. Talk about the latest Niyah Zuri book. What can we expect from the latest book?
“Niyah Zuri and The Pharaoh’s Throne”follows my fearless heroine Niyah Zuri as she and her best friends, Miguel and Hugo Gonzales, time-jump throughout history. Readers build their vocabulary while being exposed to world culture and are empowered from seeing characters of color at the forefront. Moreover, young girls learn that they don’t have to play a damsel in distress role. They can be heroes in their own stories and save themselves.
7. What future projects are you working on? Anything new in 2021?
I have many “Top Secret” projects to be announced before the end of this year. Still, I will disclose that 2021 will kick off with the launch of my book series sequel “Niyah Zuri and the Mayan Eclipse” and the highly anticipated “Adventures with Niyah Zuri” cartoon series teaser, which is finally in production! The cartoon series will continue the Niyah Zuri mission of focusing on representation, girl empowerment, and history through adventure while doubling as an educational resource, which can be utilized in the classroom and virtual learning. I plan to pitch the teaser to networks in the coming months.
8. Is there anything you want the public to know?
Niyah Zuri is more than my main character. It’s more than a book. It’s a movement: Niyah Zuri means “Beautiful Purpose” in Swahili. I utilize all of these elements combined with motivational speaking to encourage the youth to live purposefully in their paths! Everyone has their own destiny. The movement lights the flame for all to seek out and walk in their dreams now.