Jael Richardson is the founder and executive director of the Festival of Literary Diversity (FOLD), the books columnist on CBC Radio’s q and an outspoken advocate on issues of diversity. She is the author of the nationally bestselling novel Gutter Child, which was a finalist for the Amazon First Novel Award and the Forest of Reading’s White Pine Award. She is also the author of The Stone Thrower: A Daughter’s Lesson, a Father’s Life, a memoir based on her relationship with her father, CFL quarterback Chuck Ealey, which was also published as a children’s edition. Jael Richardson received an MFA in creative writing from the University of Guelph. She lives in Brampton, Ontario.

Because You Are
Published by HarperCollins

Jael Richardson

Now that I’m older, I see that I am where I’m meant to be, and my only regret is that I didn’t spend more time writing and dreaming and less time feeling deficient.

Tell us about the book. What was the inspiration behind the story? 

My writing is always driven by things that are personal, and Because You Are is very much in keeping with that approach. I wrote it as a letter to myself because when I was little, I saw so many images of very thin, mostly white, models and actors. By the time I was in high school – a thick-bodied Black girl — I was somehow less than. I remember analyzing my appearance far too often. Now that I’m older, I see that I am where I’m meant to be, and my only regret is that I didn’t spend more time writing and dreaming and less time feeling deficient.

Why did you decide to write the book from the perspective of a woman writing to her younger self? 

I dedicated this book to my niece because she is such a phenomenal girl. I’ve seen early on how the things people say to young girls, in particular, and the things they see on social media and traditional media are creating a difficult space to navigate a sense of self-confidence. I think it’s hard to know these things when you’re young, but in retrospect I think many can likely see the things they wish they knew earlier. I suppose writing it this way felt the most authentic.

You’ve previously written a novel, a memoir, and a children’s book. Because You Are is your second children’s book. Has the process been different for this book? 

I feel like every time I write a book, I create an accompanying children’s book, in a way. Because You Are felt very much like a response to Gutter Child and I think keen readers might see connections to Elimina’s journey. The Stone Thrower was about my father, and this story is more specific to my experiences. In terms of the process, it’s been largely the same but I’m working with a different publisher on this one, and the team changed over the time of the project, but that’s actually been helpful. I’ve been able to work with a few people who have made me feel comfortable sharing this project that in some ways feels better suited to girls in grades 4-12 than kids aged 4-8.

In addition to being a published author, you are the founder and Executive Director of the Festival of Literary Diversity, and a book columnist on CBC Radio’s q. What attracted you to this career path? 

Most of it came about rather organically. I never planned to be a writer. I almost turned down the column at q. And FOLD was like a nudge forward from a higher power that I just keep doing because I feel it’s where I’m meant to be. It’s exciting to look back on my life and see how all of the jobs and work I’ve done in the past kind of culminates in this life I get to live. And I suppose Because You Are is about that as well – about trusting a journey that your story can make a difference in your community and perhaps in the larger world.

What’s next? What are you currently working on?

Honestly, too many things. My goal once these projects are done is to set up boundaries so that I don’t allow myself to overcommit to this level again. I’m saying this here as a first step of accountability and to remind others that doing less is not only helpful but essential for most. But to actually answer the question, my biggest project is a novel – a follow-up to Gutter Child. I have some other kid-centered projects that I can’t say a whole bunch about. But safe to say you’ll have an onslaught of projects by me over the next few years.

Scroll to Top