Falling in love with an idea: A chat with author and educator Bethany Baptiste on her YA crossover novel, The Poisons We Drink by Briana Asmus
Briana Asmus, PhD is an Assistant Professor of Literacy in the School of Education at Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, MI. She received her PhD in English education from Western Michigan University. She has taught middle and high school English as a foreign language (TEFL) in South Korea, Japan, and China. She is newly returned to higher education after a 2-year hiatus teaching multilingual students from over 20 linguistic backgrounds at an urban high school.
At NCTE 2023, I sat on a panel entitled “First Impressions, Lasting Connections, and Real Change: What to Read First in High School English.” Attendees (mostly ELA teachers) listened to brief presentations arguing why certain texts would serve as good first choices in the high school ELA classroom. At the end of the panel, conference attendees were able to hear YA author and former teacher Bethany Baptiste discuss the compelling story of how her debut novel, The Poisons We Drink, came to fruition. This was no ordinary story, and no ordinary process, but instead, one shaped by Baptiste’s own dreams and realities, battles with mental illness, and her experience of a hostile, politically-charged landscape.
In her address, Baptiste opened the floor by taking the audience back to a time in our history that isn’t that far away, but in some ways feels like decades ago. Only seven years ago, the 2016 presidential election was rocking the world. Baptiste explained that it wasn’t just the election that shook her to the core, but the events that followed, including racially motivated attacks, incidents of police brutality, and xenophobic rhetoric coming from the top-down. As Baptiste writes in her letter from the author, “On November 9, 2016, I woke up in grief. Racism and hatred won on a political stage and killed my hope as a woman, a Black woman, and a Black American woman” (2023). What began as Baptiste’s grief journal, morphed into “a tribute of Black sisterhood, the struggles and strides of Black people, and the strength it takes to wake up early each day in a country that doesn’t love you” (2023). It was her experience and processing of this time in history that laid the foundation for The Poisons We Drink, an urban, Black fantasy/dystopian novel set in Washington DC.
What is this book about and who is it for?
What can we learn from Bethany Baptiste & The Poisons We Drink?
Bethany Baptiste is a slightly responsible grown-up living Jacksonville, Florida in a little brick house with her fiancé, three chaotic evil dogs, and too many books. When not prying a shoe from a Schnauzer’s jaws, she writes about Black kids with big hearts and little morals. You can visit her at bethanybaptiste.com or @storysorcery on Twitter. Bethany is represented by Andrea Morrison of Writers House.
Baptiste, B. (2024). The Poisons We Drink. Sourcebooks Fire.
Baptiste, B. (2020, October 25). The Tragedies of Trying to Get Agented. Bethany Baptiste. https://www.bethanybaptiste.com/
" EJ" in Focus: How Re-thinking Adolescence Helps Re-imagine the Teaching of English
ST Sarigianides, MA Lewis, R Petrone - The English Journal, 2015