Tamika Burgess joins The Spotlight this week to chat about her middle grade novel, Sincerely Sicily
Author Name: Tamika Burgess
Book Title: SINCERELY SICILY
Book Genre: Middle Grade
Release Date: January 3, 2023
Welcome, Tamika! What sparked the idea for this book?
Sincerely Sicily is loosely based on my experiences growing up and came out of a need for representation and understanding. As a child, I didn’t fully comprehend how to explain my Black Panamanian background when people asked, “What are you?” Being asked that question, coupled with the fact that I was growing up in a predominantly white community as a Black Latina, I often felt out of place. My peers were all the same, and not only was I of a different race, but my culture was entirely out of their understanding.
I always wished for a point of reference, someone I could point to and say, “I’m just like them.” But characters in books, movies, and TV shows didn’t look like me, nor did their experiences resemble mine. So I wrote the book I needed and would have loved to read as a child.
How long did it take for you to write the book? Did you do any research?
I worked on it off and on for years. It was a long process. In 2012, I read R.J. Palacio’s Wonder and was so captivated by the story and the writing that I told myself, “I have to do this too.” And in 2013, I started the first version of what would become my debut MG novel, Sincerely Sicily.
I did a ton of research, online especially. But since my parents were born and raised in Panama, I could speak to them and other family members about their experiences as they related to what I wanted to include in Sincerely Sicily.
What drew you to writing middle grade fiction?
I don’t remember choosing middle grade. I think it chose me, lol! When I started writing what is now my debut novel, Sincerely Sicily, I started out writing a picture book. But while writing, I realized I had a lot to say, which would not work well for the concise way picture books are written. But I knew I wanted to write for an age group who was young and at the age where they are starting to learn about themselves and discover the world around them.
If you were speaking to someone who hasn’t read your writing before, why should they want to read Sincerely Sicily?
Other than writing a well-rounded story relatable to all age groups, cultures, races, and genders, my writing highlights Panamanian history and Black Panamanian culture and how it relates to the African diaspora.
What do you hope readers will take away from this story?
I have so many hopes for Sincerely Sicily, but the main one is that when readers finish, they walk away from it with a clear understanding of the African diaspora. The diaspora is vast and spans worldwide. It is made up of people who descend from native Africans yet live outside Africa, predominantly in the Americas, therefore including Latin American countries.
Any words of wisdom you give your pre-published writer self (or to a new writer)?
Sincerely Sicily started as a picture book in 2013 and is finally being released ten years later in 2023. So my main piece of advice is to keep going. No matter how long it takes, finish the story you want to tell.
What are your interests outside of writing and reading?
I love shopping, visiting historical museums, and watching documentaries.
Are you working on a new project? Please tell us about it.
I’m just starting to work on my second middle-grade novel, currently in the outlining and planning stage. So right now, I don’t have much to share, but the main character will be Panamanian or of Panamanian descent. I can confirm that the main character will be a boy, and I am excited to write from his perspective.
Where can readers find you?
Purchase Sincerely Sicily: https://www.harpercollins.com/products/sincerely-sicily-tamika-burgess?variant=40333137313826&utm_source=aps&utm_medium=hc&utm_campaign=aps
Twitter & Instagram: @ Tameeksb
Subscribe to Tamika’s Newsletter: https://www.tamikaburgess.com/newsletter
Thank you, Tamika! Sincerely Sicily is OUT NOW.
Sicily Jordan’s worst nightmare has come true! She’s been enrolled in a new school, with zero of her friends and stuck wearing a fashion catastrophe of a uniform. But however bad Sicily thought sixth grade was going to be, it only gets worse when she does her class presentation.
While all her classmates breezed through theirs, Sicily is bombarded with questions on how she can be both Black and Panamanian. She wants people to understand, but it doesn’t feel like anyone is ready to listen—first at school and then at home. Because when her abuela starts talking mess about her braids, Sicily’s the only one whose heart is being crumpled for a second time.
Staying quiet may no longer be an option, but that doesn’t mean Sicily has the words to show the world just what it means to be a proud Black Panamanian either. Even though she hasn’t written in her journal since her abuelo passed, it’s time to pick up her pen again—but will it be enough to prove to herself and everyone else exactly who she is?
Tamika Burgess is a storyteller with over a decade of novel, TV/film, and personal essay writing experience. Born to parents who migrated from Panamá, Tamika has always taken a particular interest in writing themes that explore her Black Latina identity. Because of her passion for spreading the knowledge of Black Panamanian culture, Tamika has been featured on various websites, podcasts, and panels. When she is not writing, Tamika is somewhere cozy online shopping and listening to a podcast. Tamika resides in sunny Southern California.