Nonkululeko Kunene Adumetey (also known as Nonku) is an award-winning author of “I Celebrate My Skin” and “I Celebrate My Voice.” Her passion is to inspire her children and all children to celebrate and understand that their differences are beautiful. Letting our children know that their diversity is a strength and believing that their voices should be heard is key to Nonku’s mission.
Tammy Gibson: What was your upbringing like growing up in the Kingdom of eSwatini?
Nonku Kunene Adumetey: I come from humble beginnings. I grew up on a farm in the rural parts of eSwatini. Living in the rural countryside, farming was a way of life for most people. We raised and sold livestock and crops as a means to provide for the family. As children, my siblings and I worked on thousands of acres of farmland during weekends and school breaks. Sometimes, we helped our neighbors if needed to make sure every family is successful and ready for the harvest season. We also had daily chores we needed to complete before and after school.
As a child, I remember always being outside all the time during the day. Life was simple, humble, but very different.
TG: What is the literacy rate in the Kingdom of eSwatini?
KNA: The literacy rate currently is about 88 %, and this is using data from 2018. It’s not too bad compared to other African countries. There are quality gaps in educational services and resources received by schools in the rural areas compared to their urban counterparts. Where I lived, we didn’t have a school close by. I had to walk several miles to school daily. I would wake up at 4:30 am to complete my daily chores and be out of the house by 6:30 am. It’s very common for children in rural areas to walk miles to school and get access to other social amenities. There are disparities in many rural areas that need to be improved.
TG: Who inspired you to be a writer of children’s books?
KNA: My children inspired me to be a children’s book author. My writing journey started with my father, who I admired. My father was my hero. When he passed away in 2017, it was the hardest thing I had to face. The pain of losing my father pushed me to write and let out what I was going through. My grieving process uncovered many past traumas, and writing was an outlet to express myself. I wanted to write a collection of diverse children’s books that will inspire and empower children to fall in love with themselves and their stories. I struggled with that growing up. While I was positive and always happy, deep down, I had a lot of insecurities. I believe writing children’s books and instilling positive messages for children at an early age is gold. It builds a narrative and a foundation that is strong and can sustain a child’s self-esteem for years to come.
TG: You are the author of “I Celebrate My Skin,” and “I Celebrate My Voice.” Why do you focus on children’s literature?
KNA: I focus on children’s literature for so many reasons. I write to heal, and the books I write are also messages to my inner child. I also focus on this because I am a mom of two young children, and I want them to grow up seeing people who look like them in books. I want them to learn the tools to love and embrace who they are from an early age. My father would always say, “umtsentse uhlaba usamila.” It’s a Swazi proverb referencing a very strong grass that gets deeply rooted during its early stages of development. You can’t bend or uproot this grass when it gets bigger. Like children, they learn so much during their early stages of development. My hope is to teach them self-awareness, confidence, and vital skills early on that will become a huge part of them as they grow up. Children are the future.
TG: Your books embody the principles of Ubuntu. What is the meaning?
KNA: Ubuntu means humanity” I am because you are.” We are here in this world, as humans, to work together because of our respect for humanity. This profound South African concept of Ubuntu embodies the deep connection of humanity.
My first book shows children that we are connected as humans to love and respect each other. We all have different skin colors, and when we come together, we are beautiful like a rainbow. Our collective contributions to this world are what make us stronger and better.
TG: As a mother of two children, how important is it to see themselves in children’s books? How does that impact a child’s confidence?
KNA: Diversity is imperative. Children need to learn about all cultures. We can’t learn empathy if we don’t know anything about other people’s way of life. All children, no matter what they look like, need to see themselves in books. When my children read my books and other diverse children’s books, it empowers them, and I see it every day in my children. I call my 2-year-old daughter Princess. When I introduce a new name like pumpkin or any other darling word, she will correct me immediately to let me know she is a Princess, not a pumpkin. My 4-year-old son and my daughter affirm themselves, and they uphold those positive affirmations. It truly does change the narrative, and it builds lifelong self-confidence that empowers them to embrace who they are.
TG: What is your favorite motto?
KNA: Anything is possible when you believe. That’s the motto that I go by. This is truly the foundation of all I do. I am a woman of faith and believe in all the goodness I have and want to create in this world. Having faith and dreaming about the life I want for myself and my family brought me to where I am today. I am a woman from rural Africa, a mom, wife, and a children’s book author in Chicago. I used to create the life I wanted for myself every day while walking miles to school or making early morning trips to the well to fetch water for the family. I dreamed, believed, and I am grateful for everything.
TG: What are you doing to give back through reading?
KNA: My mission right now is to donate 2000 books to children in underserved communities, especially in my country, the Kingdom of eSwatini. Growing up as a child, I didn’t own a book. There are so many children worldwide who don’t own and/or don’t have access to books. I launched a Kickstarter campaign last year to increase book donations. I am sending over 200 books to Africa and a local non-profit organization, Lurie Children’s Hospital. It is an honor to have this opportunity to give back, and I hope to continue doing more in the future.
TG: What’s next for you in the future?
KNA: I plan to do more community engagements and be more involved in equity, diversity, and inclusion initiatives. Within my healthcare career, I hope to advance and bridge equity gaps through leveraging data for more informed decisions. As an author, I want to continue improving access to diverse children’s books around the world. I plan to keep writing and provide tools that will help our children with Social Emotional Learning skills. The future is bright, and I am so excited about what lies ahead.
For more information to purchase books, go to https://nonkuscorner.com/.
Tammy Gibson is an author and black history traveler. Find her on social media @sankofatravelher.