Phoebe Sinclair began to write as soon as she could read, and she always wrote for kids. She says she “never graduated from the kids’ department,” either at her local library or in her choice of degree (creative writing at Emerson). She chose Emerson specifically for its courses in writing children’s books, and credits it with “changing her life.” One of her professors is a core member of her longstanding (20+ years) writers’ group, composed primarily of kids’ book authors.
The uncommon longevity of her writer’s group demonstrates another hallmark of Sinclair’s life: constancy. She began writing her debut novel, “Confessions of a Candy Snatcher,” nearly 20 years ago, and she’s worked for decades at the Maria L. Baldwin Community Center in Cambridge, where she is currently the co-executive director.
“Confessions of a Candy Snatcher,” a multifaceted coming-of-age story, lovingly creates the world of a middle-class Black family dealing with troubles of its own as 12-year-old Jonas deals with the joys and vicissitudes of life in the seventh grade. Beginning with a Halloween prank, it evolves into a poignant story about growing up populated by mean kids and kind kids, rich kids and poor kids, straight kids and queer kids, and enough middle-school peer pressure to go around. Sinclair’s depiction of Jonas and his friends includes all the hallmarks of the age: the affection, the pressure to conform, the occasional inarticulateness, the innocence, and the casual cruelty.
“Confessions” endured plenty of rejection along the way, but when Sinclair “got in front of the right person” — a chance encounter with a staffer at Candlewick Press — the process went smoothly. She connected with her editor, Katie Cunningham, and they had a shared vision of the book right from the start. Even Sinclair’s somewhat controversial decision not to include any quotation marks in the book was the result of a lengthy and respectful negotiation with Cunningham.
As for writing in the first-person voice of a young boy, Sinclair claims she doesn’t have a lot of choice in the matter. Her characters “just appear, as they are,” and if she attempts to fight with them, she inevitably loses. So she accepts them, and hopes she’s able to convey her empathy for every single one.
Phoebe Sinclair will discuss “Confessions of a Candy Snatcher” with Raul the Third at Porter Square Books in Cambridge on Oct. 25 at 7 p.m.
Betsy Groban can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.