Monday, September 6, 2021

Book Birthday Blog with Jean Alicia Elster


 Welcome to SCBWI-MI's Book Birthday Blog!

Where we celebrate new books from Michigan's authors and illustrators.

Congratulations to Jean Alicia Elster on the release of How It Happens


How It Happens continues the plot of your two novels Who’s Jim Hines? and The Colored Car. What is something you hope your readers will take away from How It Happens?

I want readers to understand the interconnectivity between generations. Our lives do not happen in a vacuum. The actions of our ancestors and the times in which they lived affect subsequent generations in ways that many of us never consider. Who’s Jim Hines? and The Colored Car provide the framework upon which How It Happens is built. In those first two books, I mention the fact that May Ford is light-skinned and could have easily passed for white. So I take readers back a generation to Clarksville, Tennessee in the post-Reconstruction era in order to examine the roots of that lineage. I explore the effect of those roots in the lives of three successive generations of African American women beginning in the South in 1890 and ending in the North, in post-World War II industrialized Detroit.

What was the most difficult part of writing this book?

The most difficult part of writing this book was extracting the core of the narrative without getting bogged down in extraneous facts and details. My editor at Wayne State University Press has a mantra: simplify the narrative. As a writer, I have worked to internalize that phrase, but it has not been easy. Before writing How It Happens I did genealogical research in Clarksville, Tennessee. I even visited that town’s white and black cemeteries. I compiled oral histories via numerous interviews with relatives through the years, particularly at family reunions. I scoured the Burton Historical Archives in the Detroit Public Library. I recalled the snippets of her history that my maternal grandmother passed on to me over the years. All of this information was whirring around in my head as I constructed the outline and framework of this novel. The book went through three re-writes. It was difficult work, but it was a labor of love and well worth the effort.

You mention in your Kresge Artist Fellow video writing is a lonely craft. Can you tell us what motivates you to keep writing?

I feel strongly that my books should have a positive, life affirming impact on my readers. Therefore, I am more than willing to isolate myself in the writing process in order to create narratives and plots that are going to have that affect.

What are your marketing plans for the book?

As our society is still in pandemic mode, I anticipate that most marketing opportunities will be virtual, for the near future at least. But my marketing plans include events with the usual suspects: schools, libraries, bookstores, book fairs.  Earlier this year, I ventured into the realm of Pinterest as a book marketing tool (@jelsterwrites). I have also started an Instagram account and entered the world of #bookstagram. My Instagram handle is @jeanaliciaelster.

The Wayne State University Press marketing team is fabulous and they have assembled a robust marketing plan for How It Happens on their end.

What’s next for you? Any events coming up, or new books in the works?

I’m always plotting my next book even while I’m editing and revising the current one. So I have a couple of future projects churning in my mind. In fact, one is already nailed down in a book proposal.

But I’m excited about my virtual book launch event for How It Happens on September 16 at 7p EST.  My reading will be accompanied by acclaimed jazz bassist Marion Hayden, followed by a conversation moderated by author/activist Desiree Cooper. I invite folks to enjoy the celebration and register at this link

On September 28 at 6p EST, I also have a virtual event scheduled with Source Booksellers, a dynamic indie bookstore located in the heart of Detroit’s Midtown area. In addition to a reading from How It Happens, there will be a conversation on how this latest book connects with Who’s Jim Hines? and The Colored Car,  followed by a time of Q and A with the audience. Register for this event here

Of course, please check the calendar page on my website for future events!

Copies of How It Happens can be purchased at your local indie bookstore or ordered  through Wayne State University Press at

A little bit about the book . . .

How It Happens is a story of race relations, miscegenation, sexual assault and class
divisions. A continuation of the plots begun in Jean Alicia Elster’s previous
novels Who’s Jim Hines? and The Colored Car, How It Happens is written for young
adult readers, beginning in the turbulent post-Reconstruction period and ending in
the post-World II industrialized North. An intergenerational story of the lives of
three African-American women, Elster intertwines the fictionalized adaptations of
the defining periods and challenges in her family’s history as these three women
struggle to stake their claim to the American dream.

A little bit about the author . . .

A 2017 Kresge Artist Fellow and a former attorney, Jean Alicia Elster is a
professional writer of fiction for children and young adults. She is the great-
granddaughter of Addie Jackson, whose family story is the basis of her young adult
novel How It Happens, published by Wayne State University Press and released in
September 2021. Elster is the author of Who’s Jim Hines? and The Colored Car, which
were also based on her family history and published by Wayne State University
Press in 2008 and 2013, respectively; both were selected as Michigan Notable
Books. Other awards include the Midwest Book Award in Children’s Fiction,
Paterson Prize Honor Book - Books for Young People, and the Governors’ Emerging
Artist Award – Art Serve Michigan. She is also the author of the “Joe Joe in the City”
series, published by Judson Press: Just Call Me Joe Joe, I Have a Dream, Too!, I’ll Fly
My Own Plane and I’ll Do the Right Thing.

In recognition of outstanding work, Elster was honored with a 2017 Kresge
Artist Fellowship in Literary Arts, awarded by Kresge Arts in Detroit, a program of
The Kresge Foundation. She has been awarded three residencies at the
internationally acclaimed Ragdale Foundation in Lake Forest, Illinois. In addition,
Elster’s essays have appeared in national publications including Ms., World Vision,
Black Child, and Christian Science Sentinel magazines.



  1. Hearty congratulations on the release of this labor of love! So happy for you. Can't wait to dig into this book.

  2. Congrats on Jean on her new book! It sounds like her publisher and she have some great marketing planned to promote her book.

  3. Many congrats, Jean! And enjoy working with the great team at Wayne State Univ. Press. Can't wait to read it, especially the post-Reconstruction setting. So glad your books are out in the world!