“I am what shines from deep within,
To lose me would be tragic
If you find me you will find your power,
Your purpose and your magic”
– Princess Nylah and the Journey to the Magic Window
Susan C. Small was generally content in her lane. As a playwright, poet, producer, and recording artist, Small discovered and owned her creative gifts. A mom to four (a son and three daughters), Small’s gifts were often nurtured by quality time spent enjoying Disney movies with her daughters. It was during their time together that the nudge came to expand her creative lane. Her daughters, who were between the ages 8 and 11 at the time, noticed a lack of representation and immediately identified a solution.
“They were like, well, mommy, we think you could write something,” said Small. “I never even considered writing a project like a children’s production or a fairy tale in that sense.”
Small opened her notebook and immediately started writing. What unfolded was Princess Nylah and the Journey to the Magic Window, a tender and enchanting story that takes readers on a magical journey shaped by the physical, spiritual and emotional experience of serious illness. True to her creative roots, Small turned the body of work into a stageplay that launched in 2016. An added special touch was her eldest daughter, then a freshman majoring in music at The Philadelphia High School for Creative and Performing Arts, writing a majority of the music for the production.
“…it was incredible. I am still to this day, wowed at her ability to write like she did. I was like, ‘Jesus, I ain’t even know!’” said Small through laughter.
The production took on a life of its own, engaging the talents and voices of kids. True to any art form, Small’s stageplay quickly encountered an age-old question: Is art imitating life or life imitating art? In the first production, the main character was played by Deysha Nelson, a young actress whose brilliance Small celebrates.
“She [Nelson] had a cousin who had leukemia at the time, which is what the character in the book also has. And she [her cousin] was in the production with us. She came to the shows. And then the following year, you know, she passed,” Small said, her voice dropping an octave as deep as her reflection on the moment.
“We did the show again – we did a dedication, you know, to her with her family in the audience. And that was really, really cool.”
Much like the story, the moment mirrored the heartfelt, thought-provoking and empowering journey experienced by both the audience and creatives. It was insightful for her as a writer.
“It really helped me to gauge what kids are able to handle in terms of dealing with those type of topics and how to present it to them in a way that it doesn’t feel sad, or heavy or even grotesque in a way,” she said.
The stageplay became her most successful one to date with sold out shows every run.
From its conception, Small envisioned the story being a book. The success of the stageplay inspired her to write it.
“The ‘Magic Window’ in the book is the actual book. That’s the magic – that’s her way of traveling from world to world. That’s also symbolic, because that’s what we use books to do, right? To travel from world to world and place to place,” explained Small.
It was Small’s foresight of the stageplay eventually becoming a book that enabled her to lay the groundwork for the book’s illustration process. Small found and worked with talented illustrator, Adua Hernandez.
“The moment I saw the full character design, I’m like, ‘Oh, this is about to be good!’” exclaimed Small.
The shift from stageplay to book proved to be divine timing. Not long after her production wrapped, the pandemic unfolded. The book released in 2020 through her publishing company, Small House Publishing, which, after initially working with a traditional publisher, was created out of necessity.
“I wanted to make sure that I presented my book with a certain level of excellence and quality that sometimes is not represented. When we talk about diversity, you know, it’s not just about seeing our faces in books, but it’s also about creating products that are of quality,” she explained.
“And it’s important that in diversity, we see that level of quality in our work. It’s not good enough to just put the work out there with our faces on it…there needs to be a level of excellence attached to the work that we do that competes in, you know, these different arenas.”
She achieved that and more, empowering other creative women of color in the process.
From cover to close, Princess Nylah and the Journey to the Magic Window is designed and infused with intentional imagery, messaging and reflections. Whether it’s the celebration of Black culture and African spiritualism, the centering of vulnerability and intergenerational connection, or empowerment of underrepresented voices in age, race and gender – the book takes up its rightful space on any virtual or physical shelf.
“The mantra of the book is find your magic and the message of that being, you know: no matter where you are in life, where you find yourself, what experiences that you’re going through – we’re all here for a purpose. And that’s your magic.”
Small’s daughters saw their mother’s light in a way that she hadn’t considered, leading to the expansion of her creative lane and a journey to the Magic Window that we can now all open and experience for ourselves.
Learn more about Princess Nylah and the Journey to the Magic Window at https://www.princessnylah.com