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Fanbase Press Interviews Jonell Joshua on the Upcoming Release of the Illustrated Memoir, ‘How Do I Draw These Memories?,’ with Levine Querido

The following is an interview with Jonell Joshua regarding the upcoming release of her illustrated memoir, How Do I Draw These Memories?, with Levine Querido. In this interview, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief Barbra Dillon chats with Joshua about her creative process in bringing her story to life on the page, how she hopes that her own journey with mental health may impact readers, and more!

Barbra Dillon, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief: This month will see the release of How Do I Draw These Memories?. What inspired you to share your story with readers?

Jonell Joshua: When I think of all that I’ve overcome in my childhood, I’m so grateful for my journey and the incredible support system I had. I’m grateful for my family and the community that raised me. When me and my two older brothers were younger, we used to say, “We wouldn’t change our childhoods for the world,” because we had each other. We had the best moments and laughs together and we were raised with love.

Growing up, losing a parent at a young age was incredibly difficult. We were grieving the loss of our father and our mother was struggling with Bipolar Disorder. We were uprooted from Savannah, GA, to live in New Jersey, to live with our mother’s parents. Living in New Jersey presented many challenges. I didn’t want to go to school, I was held back, I was dealing with depression and grief. One of the ways I coped with everything was with art. In New Jersey, after being held back, I was still very quiet and struggled with making friends. My way of connecting with other children was by drawing kids’ portraits in the cafeteria. Kids would see my drawings and say, “Oh! Draw me next!” and I’d make connections and feel happy. My mother was my first inspiration for drawing. In her childhood home in New Jersey, I looked through her red rope portfolio and saw her drawings and illustrations. I was so in awe of her talent, and I wanted to draw just like her. So, I continued with art in school, eventually going to an art-focused middle and high school, which prepared me for enrolling in an art college. All of this training led to building my skill as an artist and making it to the point where I am today where I can make books like my memoir.

My grandmother Alice always told us growing up, “Tomorrow is not promised.” Losing a parent at such a young age, that was revealed to me early on, and I wanted to evoke all of these feelings and emotions in my memoir. While writing, I was inspired by nostalgia, faith, the preciousness of life, and unconditional love. I wanted to reflect on the significant symbols of my childhood, from dandelions and lightning bugs, to the various pets I had growing up. I wanted to paint the ‘colors of life’ with my illustrations and my words and draw the connection between things. With faith, I wanted to say to readers, don’t give up, even when things are difficult. Find what makes you happy and keep going after it. You will get through this! It was also a reminder to myself.

Jonell Joshua Bio Photo

In my memoir, I highlight the community that raised me, the support system I had along the way. As a child, I had not only my grandparents on both sides that helped raise us, I also had a mentor that gave me books to read and took me to the library. I had teachers that were caring and changed my perspective of school. I had neighbors that were looking out for me. As the saying goes…it really takes a village.

BD: In balancing the writing and artistic duties of the project, what can you share with us about your creative process in bringing this personal narrative to life on the page, especially in light of the multimedia storytelling formats that you utilized in its execution?

JJ: Writing and illustrating my memoir was incredibly challenging, but when I look at the finished product, it is so rewarding to see it come to life. It really feels like a scrapbook, with our memories all collaged together. I knew at the beginning of this project that I wanted my book to be a collaboration. I wanted to incorporate not only my memories, but the memories of my mother, older brothers, and my grandparents. I wanted them to share their perspectives from our experience. So, when you flip through the pages, you’ll see that reflected through storytelling, illustrated flashback spreads, and interviews. I wanted to incorporate traditional pros and balance that with illustrated spreads that felt like a dreamscape. I wanted readers to walk into the memory. I also knew that I didn’t want the entire memoir to be built like a traditional graphic novel with panels, but I did want some traditional comic panels incorporated as a nod to humorous moments in my childhood and nod to growing up reading manga. 

I also experimented with mediums, blending my illustrations, drawn by hand with graphite, incorporating digital color, while also painting with gouache for spot illustrations, and adding family photographs my grandparents took over the years. This was an incrediblly experimental process for me, and in the end it made me realize our stories can be told however we want them to be told, and a book doesn’t have to follow any standard formula. This is my art.

BD: At Fanbase Press, our #StoriesMatter initiative endeavors to highlight the impact that stories can have on audiences of various mediums. How do you feel that the story – and your willingness to confront topics like mental health – may connect with and impact readers?

JJ: My hope is that readers will see the love in our journey and the love poured out onto the pages. Navigating and understanding mental health as a child was incredibly challenging. We didn’t have the language, nor the conversation to really understand what was going on not only with our mom and her struggles, but also our own: grieving the loss of a parent, being uprooted to live in new locations, feeling depression, anxiety, and trauma. We each had our internal battles that we were dealing with. I want this book to be a reminder to readers to not give up on themselves when going through difficult circumstances. I want readers to lean into what brings them joy because it’s so easy to get caught up in the heaviness of the trials of life. I want this book to contribute to the conversations surrounding mental health, especially in the Black community. I’d keep secrets as a child out of fear and shame, but as an adult, I want readers to know that they’re not alone in what they are going through and what they may be feeling. I want this book to be a reminder to readers to lean on your community members, whether that’s your extended family, neighbors, teachers, mentors, or friends. Don’t think you have to go through your experience alone. Community is what uplifts all of us.

BD: What makes Levine Querido the perfect home for your story?

JJ: I couldn’t imagine this book being what it is with another publisher. My editor really guided me through the process of bookmaking and writing, and I didn’t feel like I was producing my art for a machine. Me and my editor Nick spent three years having conversations, carving away at the story and even the craft of the book, like what type of paper we’d use (matte or glossy coat?) and figuring out book size. I was involved in decision making for every part of the process. I was able to turn my handwriting into a typeface and design my first book cover, all incredible firsts for me for a dream project. They were so open and receptive to this experimental bookmaking all the way through, and they were an incredibly kind team to work with.

BD: Are there any other projects on which you are working that you are able to share with our readers?

JJ: I’ve enjoyed a nice break over the past few months since finishing my book, but I’m excited to move forward with new projects and ideas that I have bubbling in my head. I’ve recently applied to a residency, so, hopefully, I’ll be able to use that time to work on some fun personal projects. I will be producing the artwork for the Schomburg Center’s Literary Arts Festival this year, so I’m really excited about that and what incredible timing for it to follow the launch of my debut memoir! I’m also really looking forward to playing with traditional mediums more. I’d like to experiment with clay in the near future.

BD: Lastly, what is the best way for our readers to find out more about How Do I Draw These Memories? and your other work?

JJ: Readers can follow me on Instagram (@jonell.joshua) to stay up to date with events that I’ll have for How Do I Draw These Memories? You can also check out my website,, to view more of my work!

Barbra Dillon, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief




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