Read Brittney Morris’ letter to readers about what inspired her to write her debut novel, SLAY.

Thank you so much for reading SLAY and for supporting me on my journey as a debut YA author. I wanted to explain my inspiration for the book.

Growing up, I lived between worlds.

During my entire childhood, I was the only Black kid for miles. My classmates asked me how to “speak Black” or “speak ghetto,” and I’d oblige, because I was just a kid who wanted to fit in. I grew up thinking my Blackness was a caricature that I could put on when I wanted acceptance. I was the Black culture expert among my white friends. But when I hung around my Black friends, I felt like an outsider. I hadn’t seen Barbershop. I hadn’t tasted fried catfish. I didn’t know who Missy Elliott, TLC, or Morris Day and the Time were. (I have since been shown the glory of all three, don’t worry.)

I began to wonder: If I was too Black for my white friends, and not Black enough for my Black friends, then what was I?

But since the world rewards those who assimilate, I didn’t con­front this double life for years. I existed quietly in a racial existential limbo until several corporate jobs later, when I cut off all my relaxed hair and went natural. I did this first “big chop” in 2013. For the sake of my health, I learned to embrace the political statement I was mak­ing as a Black woman, just by wearing my hair natural.

Then I found out at the opening night of Black Panther how small a step it is to go from being proud to be natural to being proud to be Black. I grew up in a tiny town, so I didn’t know what a convention was. I’d never known the magic of being in a room where everyone is into what you’re into, where – just by being there – you are enough.

But I found out that night. Oh, did I find OUT. There were people in that theatre who were relaxed, natural, wearing braids and beads and face paint, and some in full cosplay and – for the very first time in my life – I felt Black enough, just as I was, with my twist-out, glasses, and cardigan. No pop culture knowledge necessary, no gimmicks, no accents. For one night, it was enough to just be.

And it was the energy of that night that propelled me into writ­ing SLAY. I wanted a Wakanda simulator video game to visit always, and since I’ve never coded a thing in my life, writing a book was the next best thing.

And as you experience Kiera’s story, I want the magic of Wakanda for you. I want you to know that you’re not alone, that you are powerful as you are, and that nobody has the right to tell you who to be. Thank you for giving me that opportunity.

Wakanda forever,

Brittney Morris

SLAY is available to pre-order now.

Find out more here.