East Cleveland native Brian F. Walker’s debut young adult book, Black Boy White School (HarperTeen, $17.99), may be considered fiction, but the author draws from his own experiences transitioning from a violent neighborhood where gunshots were commonplace to a small-town prep school in Maine where students could be kicked out for throwing one punch.
After prep school, Walker went to Ohio Wesleyan University where he graduated with a degree in journalism. Today, Walker is back on the prep school scene. He’s been teaching English for 19 years at The Cambridge School of Weston in Massachusetts.
“If I had the chance to do it over again, this is the school I would go to,” Walker says. “This is a prep school that doesn’t really spend a lot of energy on trying to stuff kids into a particular box. It’s got good education, ... but it still allows kids to be themselves.”
Q: Where did you get the idea for this story?
Prep school is not a guarantee that you won’t get caught up in the same stuff that a kid going to Shaw High might get caught up in. I also wanted to put out there that Cleveland exists, that East Cleveland exists. Not every compelling story comes out of New York or LA.
Q: How much of the main character’s story is based on your life?
There are a number of things that really happened, but I twisted them somewhat. Like, when I was in prep school, a bunch of townies dressed up like the Klan getting ready to march down the middle of our campus and plant a cross. I drew from a number of those incidents and put together a scene that was completely fiction.
Q: How do you hope this book affects young people whatever their race?
I hope it makes them think. I hope they consider looking beneath the surface in people and things and not jumping to conclusions about someone simply based on the color of their skin.