When I reflect about diverse books, one of my greatest joys as a reader is finding a book where the characters find joy – find joy not necessarily amidst struggle and trauma and conflict (though these stories are important), but a story where the characters can just be. In particular, I love that for Black stories; where Black characters are given the space to be happy, to find love, to be messy, to be sad, to just be human, in all its imperfections.
If you’re looking for such a book, look no further: Yesterday is History by Kosoko Jackson is that book – and I’ll talk a little bit about this book shortly. But, as you will read today in my interview with Kosoko, author of Yesterday is History, he talks about the pressures that Black authors face and, in particular, the pressures that Black male writers face. His words resonated with me and made me thoughtful – and I hope that you will reflect on his words as well.
For our very first Black History Month guest post, we have Kosoko visiting us today at the Pond! He visits us as a purple owl holding a Starbucks cup! I am incredibly excited for you all to read the interview that we did together – I particularly enjoyed this interview and his answers, and I hope that you do as well. But, before we dive into our interview, let’s talk about Yesterday is History!
Yesterday is History by Kosoko Jackson
A romantic, heart-felt, and whimsical novel about letting go of the past, figuring out what you want in your future, and staying in the moment before it passes you by.
Weeks ago, Andre Cobb received a much-needed liver transplant.
He’s ready for his life to finally begin, until one night, when he passes out and wakes up somewhere totally unexpected…in 1969, where he connects with a magnetic boy named Michael.
And then, just as suddenly as he arrived, he slips back to present-day Boston, where the family of his donor is waiting to explain that his new liver came with a side effect—the ability to time travel. And they’ve tasked their youngest son, Blake, with teaching Andre how to use his unexpected new gift.
Andre splits his time bouncing between the past and future. Between Michael and Blake. Michael is everything Andre wishes he could be, and Blake, still reeling from the death of his brother, Andre’s donor, keeps him at arm’s length despite their obvious attraction to each other.
Torn between two boys, one in the past and one in the present, Andre has to figure out where he belongs—and more importantly who he wants to be—before the consequences of jumping in time catch up to him and change his future for good.
If this book sounds good, then you’re in luck! Because Yesterday is History releases today! I had the privilege to read an eARC of this book and thought it was a wonderful and poignant story about time travel and love. In fact, I think it’s safe for me to say that this book is one of my favourite books of 2021 so far. (I’ll be publishing this review next week – look out for that!)
Author Interview with Kosoko Jackson
CW: Hello Kosoko! A big warm welcome to The Quiet Pond; we’re so delighted and excited to have you here today. For any of our friends out there who might only be meeting you for the first time, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Kosoko: Thank you so much for having me! I’m so exactly to be chatting with you! Sure! My name is Kosoko Jackson, I’m a YA author who writes novels centering queer black boys. My debut, YESTERDAY IS HISTORY is coming out…well, today! I’m also an MFA student, work in digital media, and spend probably too much time watching movies for my own good.
CW: Yesterday is History releases today, and I am thrilled for you! A huge congratulations – it sounds like a phenomenal book and I cannot wait to read it, especially since it blends time-travel with romance and is queer as well. What inspired Yesterday is History, and how has it evolved since its first conception?
Kosoko: Thank you so much! I’m really proud of this book. It took me 2 years and 2 major rewrites to get it right. The inspiration is actually pretty simple. While in NYC for BEA 2 years ago, I visited Stonewall since I had never been before. It really got me thinking, “how can I tell a story that involves LGBTQ history without the usual letters motif used in fiction?” I’ve read so many books that use letters, but I like to challenge myself (something future me hates) when writing, so I wanted to be bold. I’m also a HUGE science fiction nerd, and I knew I wanted to somehow fold that into the story. We don’t have enough YA science fiction and I wanted to add to that genre. Originally, the book started with blood donation, but it didn’t allow enough freedom and personality heart-wrenching storytelling. So, during my second round of edits, I made the decision to completely rewrite the book by using an organ to tie the past and the present together. I think it turned out pretty well, honestly!
CW: Yesterday is History is queer science-fiction with elements of historical fantasy and coming-of-age, and I’m really excited by the concept! What drew you into writing a science-fiction story with very distinct coming-of-age elements, such as finding one’s place in the world and finding themselves?
Kosoko: So, I love science fiction. It’s my favorite genre and I hope to keep writing more and more into it. To me, as a science major and also as a fiction author, science fiction’s strength is that it’s a genre that allows us to explore unusual life questions, through fantastical elements. So a coming of age story using science fiction as a backdrop made perfect sense to me. I wanted to write a story that was about pushing back against expectations and norms, and finding your own path and help teens find a way to explain and explore that without going down the typical coming-of-age path. So, I was like, why not throw in a romance AND a time element–which also shows how far we as a society have come as queer people. In essence, I wanted to show passage of time, internally and externally.
CW: You mentioned that you wrote Yesterday is History because you wanted to explore coming of age stories that didn’t feature Black pain – and that really resonated, because while I think exploring Black pain through writing is important, I feel that a lot of readers – for whatever reason – expect that from Black authors. As a Black writer, what ‘pressure’ do you feel with your writing, and how does Yesterday is History challenge those pressures?
Kosoko: This is such a good question. I think I always feel two pressures: one, trauma porn. I feel publishing often only ones one type of story; Black Lives Matter, Slavery, etc. Same with queer stories. It always has to be about the trauma of coming out. Let it be clear, these stories are important, but Black (and queer) kids deal with this in their life. They deserve some sort of reprieve from it in their fiction and I wanted to give them that! To have them just be badass and the star of an epic romance.
And two, I feel I always have the crippling fear my stories wont ‘resonate’. Let’s face it, publishing is still mostly white and female. Being a Black queer boy writing these stories, can sometimes be scary. I always try to balance the story I want to tell and how to make it appealing (and marketable) to an industry that’s mostly white.
CW: Let’s talk about love triangles! I feel like love triangles are a very loaded and controversial trope among readers, but I personally really enjoy love triangles; I’m really intrigued to see what you have in store for us. What does writing a love triangle mean to you, especially in the context of Yesterday is History?
Kosoko: The thing I love about love triangles is that, to me, when done well, they show two sides of a coin. A love triangle shouldn’t be “Oh, main character OBVIOUSLY was going to end up with Character A.” It should be that both love interests show different possible routes, like two different lives, and neither of them are bad, or wrong, just different. I think we expect teens to always make the right choice and too many stories (and life lessons) show there is only one path…I wanted to write a story that not only rebuked that, but also emphasized who we are depends on the people we surround ourselves with, and that’s what life is really about…the people we meet along the way (no matter how cliche that sounds).
CW: You said that you also wrote Yesterday is History because you wanted a Black boy to be the love interest – and I cannot wait to meet Andre. What was the most fun part about writing the romance in Yesterday is History?
Kosoko: If you asked me this 2 years ago ,when I started writing YESTERDAY IS HISTORY, I would say the answer is the science fiction. But now? I LOVED the romance! I love writing banter. I love longing glances. I love the ‘will they won’t they?’ But I also love talking about social justice issues without throwing it in people’s faces. There’s a lot of talk about privilege, who has it and who doesn’t, in YESTERDAY IS HISTORY. And I think I did it well! I think we talk about race and class and wealth without making it so direct and heavy on the page.
CW: I also want to take the opportunity to ask you about your other YA release, All Kingdoms Must Fall, which comes out in 2022. (Congratulations again!) I’m particularly excited for All Kingdoms Must Fall; it sounds like a book that I’ll love. Can you tell us what it’s about and, in the vaguest way possible, give us a teaser?
Kosoko: Of course! So All Kingdoms Must Fall is about a boy, Marshall, who wants to be a journalist. After an acquittal of a murder of a Black man in Baltimrore, he goes to join the protests. Unbeknownst to him, or anyone there, the government enacts a dome which keeps everyone in and any information from leaving. He teams up with two individuals, Marco and Catherine, each using their unique skills to try and take down the Dome. It’s an ode to BLM, ACAB and also the power of teen rebellions in the modern age.
CW: I like to close all my author interviews with this one question – what is a food that feels like ‘home’ to you, wherever or whoever that may be?
Kosoko: OHHH this is a good one. My mother’s apple butter. She would make this homemade apple butter during the summer on Sundays and its creamy and apple-y and ugh. I love it so much!
About the Author
Kosoko Jackson is a digital media specialist, focusing on digital storytelling, email, social and SMS marketing, and a freelance political journalist. Occasionally, his personal essays and short stories have been featured on Medium, Thought Catalog, The Advocate, and some literary magazines. When not writing YA novels that champion holistic representation of black queer youth across genres, he can be found obsessing over movies, drinking his (umpteenth) London Fog, or spending far too much time on Twitter. His YA debut, YESTERDAY IS HISTORY, will come out in 2021, published by SourceBooks Fire and his adult #OwnVoices queer Romcom, I’M SO (NOT) OVER YOU will come out in 2022, by Berkley Romance.