Middle School librarian Mark Welch introduced visiting author — who didn’t have to travel far as he is a Baltimore resident — Ronald L. Smith at Middle School assembly on Tuesday, March 21. Fifth grade students were invited to attend. Smith is the author of several children’s fantasy books, including three “Black Panther” novels.
Smith captured the audience’s attention with his engaging slides and audio clips as he told his story of becoming an author, which started back in his own middle school days when he admittedly didn’t pay much attention and stayed under the radar, reading in the back of the classroom. (He advised students not to follow this path.) He loved books like “The Hobbit” and the “Lord of the Rings” series.
He kept a lot of handwritten journals at this time and showed images of them to the students. He encouraged them to keep their own journals so that they can look back on them in 20 years to see what they were thinking during this time in their lives.
After reminiscing about his adolescence, he showed a plain slide that read: “Then I grew up, got a job, and forgot about the wonder and magic of those books I read when I was a kid.” He worked in advertising for a long time, writing commercials for companies like McDonalds and American Airlines.
But when he discovered a new generation of fantasy books as an adult — like the series “Harry Potter” and “A Series of Unfortunate Events” — he returned to his love of this genre and realized he, himself, should be using this outlet of creative writing. The first book he published was “Hoodoo,” which he wrote because he “wanted to see characters that looked like him and his friends. Kids of all stripes should be able to see themselves in books.”
Smith shared with the students about his writing process. He posed the question, “How do you write a novel?” And then answered, “Try and try again. There’s no magic bullet. You just have to sit down. Butt in chair. You just have to sit and write and write again.”
After he had a couple of novels under his belt, Smith got a call from his literary agent who said that Marvel wanted him to write Black Panther books. “It was the coolest thing I’ve ever done,” he said. “It’s the greatest opportunity, but it’s very scary.” The first one he wrote, “The Young Prince,” takes T’Challa out of Wakanda and puts him in middle school on the South Side of Chicago as a 12-year-old. “What is Black Panther’s life like when his privilege is stripped away?” is the question Smith said the book explores.
“He gave a lot of detail about his history as a writer,” said fifth grader Ben C. “He was a good speaker and very entertaining.”
After assembly, Smith hosted two lunch sessions for interested students, where he further explained his writing and revision process. He showed the boys an example of a page that was marked up by his editor as well as a complete manuscript of one of his novels. However, much of the lunch period was simply spent in a casual discussion about Black Panther and other Marvel characters between the boys and the esteemed author.