The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air co-stars Karyn Parsons and Daphne Maxwell Reid spent Saturday talking about their literary ventures at the National Black Book Festival on Facebook Live.
Known for playing the iconic wealthy Black girl Hilary Banks on the hit ’90s NBC sitcom, Karyn has enjoyed a second career as a novelist and biographer managing a nonprofit geared toward bringing Black stories to life for kids. Daphne played the second rendition of Hilary’s mother, Vivian Banks, also known as Aunt Viv to star Will Smith’s character. She also mentioned her self-publishing experience.
Karyn, the founder and president of Sweet Blackberry Foundation focused on literary education, discussed her 2019 debut novel How High the Moon, a middle grade historical fiction novel set in the Jim Crow South.
“My mother grew up in Charleston, and she always talked about how happy her childhood was, how great everything was,” Karyn said during the panel. “Always a positive light. It took many years when it finally dawned on me the time that she grew up in and the location. So I started asking more questions.”
After pushing for more information, she said her mother grew up in a small town outside Charleston, South Carolina. The idea of the book came from her imagining if she grew up in the same location in the 1940s as a preteen Black girl. She added she was able to weave into the novel the true story of George Stinney Jr., a Black 14-year-old boy who was convicted and put to death in nearby Alcolu for allegedly murdering two White girls. He was exonerated in 2014, 70 years after his execution.
Along with the release of How High the Moon, Karyn also wrote a new children’s book titled Flying Free: How Bessie Coleman’s Dreams Took Flight with illustrations by R. Gregory Christie. It will be released in December.
The publisher of both books is Little, Brown Young Readers under the Hachette Book Group.
“I was just writing all day now that I didn’t have a show,” Karyn said about her writing hobby blossoming post-Fresh Prince. “I guess I was always writing, but I never thought of myself as a writer because I always thought of myself as an actor.” She added that a friend she had met after her famous TV role had become a literary agent and convinced her to write a novel to complement her work with Sweet Blackberry.
Her passion to bring Bessie Coleman, the first African American female licensed aviator, started with a Kickstarter project for an animated short that debuted last year at the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria, New York.
Daphne, who has self-published four photography books and a cookbook, said she’s working on her memoir.
“I’m still not a writer; I compile,” Daphne said. “What I started doing was taking photographs. I started this photographic journey, and from this journey, I was talking about the prints that I was making and what the relationship of the prints had to life. I was doing presentations before groups and talking a lot about the experience of taking the pictures. And finally I said, ‘I keep repeating the same thing over and over again,’ so let me write it down.”
Her photography books focus on doors from all over the world. “I was trying to encourage people to look at the details in their life. That was my main focus, so I wrote.”
Though she took the self-publishing route, Daphne said she may look for an agent for the memoir she’s working on.
The two actresses are not the only ones from the Fresh Prince world to become authors. Show producer and writer Maiya Williams, whose name also appears in the iconic green graffiti font in the intro, also became a middle grade author.
Karyn and Daphne can be seen on TV again with the Fresh Prince reunion airing Thanksgiving weekend on HBO Max.