Wilson Reed, Ph.D. is the author of the book JuneBug. Full of humor and heartache, JuneBug shows one young person’s journey to self-worth despite the onslaught of negative messages that come at him from all sides. Young readers will follow JuneBug’s exploits with his friends, the loss of his mother, and his struggles with systemic racism. Throughout his experiences, JuneBug learns to use his head, humor and heart.
What was the inspiration for the character Junebug?
JuneBug was something that was inside of me for years sort of gnawing at me like, “You got to do it; you got to do it.” I would take these notes, and it took me years to get the notes from one spot to the other, but I think the best way to look at JuneBug is sort of like a play. There’s a problem, there’s an issue, and there’s some kind of resolution. JuneBug, early on, is looking at how he deals with this segregation, and JuneBug is one of six million people that left the southern states and moved all over the nation. By the time I moved out of Mississippi in 1969, millions of people had moved away, and the story of the book is to try to understand my role in this whole thing. I was like one guy hustling, trying to make ends meet.
Why did you choose to go with Junebug as the title?
I had another title I was working with and it was called “From Mississippi to Seattle.” People told me that it might not work and I needed something that was fun. Junebug was an affectionate name that I was given because we all had nicknames. You didn’t want to be called by your name; you wanted something short and affectionate. When I was in high school, my name was Blue. The guys called me Blue because I was black, but it was loving. It was an affectionate kind of thing. That’s what the key is to understanding Southern societies; people loved each other, even if they didn’t have resources. I tell the story of going looking for a friend at Mrs. Flowers’ house and Timothy was not there. But Mrs. Flowers says, “Blue, I know what’s wrong with you. You are hungry. I’ll fix you a plate.” Her daughters were off to college and I was a kid that looked hungry, so she would fix me some food and tell me a story. She told me to come back up there if I had any problems, and that shows that there are nice people in the world even in a segregated society. We need to keep some of that love that we had where people looked out for other people’s children.