RayRay Paints a Self-Portrait is a new book by 17-year-old author Surayyah “RayRay” Fofana who is a high school student, activist, dancer and writer. Surayyyah’s father is from Senegal and her mother is American. The book was illustrated by Eliana Rodgers who is also biracial.
The book was published byKind Cotton – www.kindcotton.com. With a one-for-one business model, every Kind Cotton purchase made means a book is donated directly to a child or classroom. To date the company has provided over 35,000 books to children. The story is based on Surayyyah’s life experiences and she hopes the story helps to raise awareness around all things tied to race, culture and diversity and creating a better, more inclusive world.
Surayyah recently discussed her book and motivations via an exclusive interview.
Meagan Meehan (MM): When did you first discover your talent for writing and how long did this book take to complete?
Surayyah Fofana (SF): I first discovered my love for writing at a really young age. I was infatuated with the idea of getting to inhabit the minds of other people and characters when I wrote. My earliest stories were about fairytales and monsters, but they always maintained an element of personal experience. I think my love of storytelling made me realize that writing is something that I could see myself pursuing as early as elementary school. As far as my own book, the drafting and writing process took about the length of my sophomore year and it was published last year when I was a junior.
MM: Was it difficult to write about a personal experience?
SF: Definitely. There is something really vulnerable and scary about talking about my own identity struggles. I think at first, I was reluctant because I felt that my own experiences weren’t compelling or relevant to others. But in this process, especially after reading in-person to young kids, I learned that telling my story helped others share theirs.
MM: How did you come to partner with Kind Cotton?
SF: I followed the brand on Instagram for a long time and also was an admirer of their commitment to childhood literacy. I reached out as I was trying to publish my books in hopes of being able to unite our causes.
MM: How did you get involved with racial justice causes?
SF: Growing up in a multicultural household helped me realize that different groups of people often encounter both individual and intersecting issues. After watching my family members navigate and confront adversity, I was incentivized to do the same.
MM: What do you wish more people knew about growing up biracial?
SF: I wish more people knew that often the identity struggle is multifaceted. I think that narratives like “too white for the black kids” are limited in that they don’t explore the full perspectives and experiences of mixed people who struggled to assimilate in other capacities.
MM: What’s the best feedback you’ve gotten about your book?
SF: Recently, I shared my book with my younger cousin who is also black and biracial. There is a language barrier between us–she speaks French and I speak English. But I remember flipping through the pages and hearing her say her own name, when referring to the illustration of my younger self. At that moment, I saw the impact of representation.
MM: What other topics might you write about in the future?
SF: In the future, I’d like to continue to orient my writing around social justice causes. In addition to this, I want my writing to encompass a diverse and broad range of perspectives. Ultimately, I want to write about topics that reflect society today in a way that is timely and inclusive.
MM: What are your ultimate goals for the future and is there anything else that you would like to mention?
SF: In the future, I hope to pursue a career in law and politics. I intend to use my legal background to advocate for marginalized groups, and enact long lasting and systemic change through policymaking. I know nothing is set in stone, but I am confident that writing will continue to be a passion of mine and most importantly a safe space to share my experiences.