By Sarah Elisabeth Sawyer (Choctaw Nation), Artist in Business Leadership Fellow 2015
Traci Sorell (Cherokee Nation) writes fiction and nonfiction for children featuring contemporary characters and compelling biographies. She is an active member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), and gained literary representation by Emily Mitchell of Wernick & Pratt Agency. She holds a Master’s degree in American Indian Studies from the University of Arizona and a law degree from the University of Wisconsin. She and her family recently moved to Wagoner, Oklahoma.
Where are the children’s books about contemporary Cherokee people? Traci asked herself, combing through a stack of books at the library. Those kinds of books were nowhere to be found. How could she read aloud to her son about who the Cherokee people are—and who he is?
“I said, ‘okay, you better figure out how to write these books because there are clearly some holes here,’” Traci says. “Storytelling is huge in our Native cultures, and we need to tell the stories.”
And so she did. In September 2018, after years of honing her writing craft and networking with veteran Native children’s book authors, Traci’s debut book, We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga, was released by Charlesbridge Publishing.
Since the release, welcomed by starred reviews from Kirkus, School Library Journal, Horn Book Magazine, and Shelf Awareness, Traci has traveled to D.C. and New York to promote the book at conferences, libraries, and more with help from her 2018 First Peoples Fund Artist in Business Leadership program. She is also using the support to visit Title I (low income) schools within the Cherokee Nation in northeastern Oklahoma.
Through the busy launch season and family health challenges, Traci keeps writing. Two more of her children’s books are under contract, set to release in 2019 and 2020. She was pleased when the publisher chose an illustrator from the recommended list she sent. Marlena Myles (Spirit Lake Dakota), a 2017 FPF fellow, will illustrate Powwow Day.
Back home, Traci was thrilled to release her debut children’s book at the Cherokee National Holiday in September. Her people were the first to have We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga.
“We have to be grateful for the survival of our ancestors after the Trail of Tears,” Traci says. “We’re still here.”
While at the fair, newly selected 2018-19 Junior Miss Cherokee, Kaitlyn Pinkerton, came by Traci’s table to get a copy of the book. Kaitlyn plans to take it on school visits, excited to have a book she can read to children about contemporary Cherokee people. She now has what Traci couldn’t find for her son.
“I write for the child in me who never had books showing existing Native culture and people,” Traci says.
She is grateful.