Success Story: Columbus Author Terreece M. Clarke's Potty-Training Triumph

Peter Tonguette
Terreece M. Clarke (center) with her family (from left): son David II, husband David and daughters Olivia and Gabrielle

From pregnancy to parenting, writer and author Terreece M. Clarke is often drawn to topics she herself is trying to learn more about.

“When I come up against an issue, or see something happening amongst my peers or what have you, and I go looking for more information on it and I don’t find it … I’m like, ‘Uh-huh—well, somebody needs to write something about this,’ ” Clarke says. “And don’t let me say that out loud.”

The Columbus resident confronted one such issue when her eldest daughter—Olivia, now 15—was about to embark on potty training. Clarke and her husband, David, found an abundance of children’s books on the topic, but none that appealed specifically to African American readers. “They had Elmo and they had Dora,” Clarke says. “But all of the other books that weren’t animals or licensed characters were white children, then mostly blonde-haired, blue-eyed white children.”

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After running into the same problem with her other children—Gabrielle, 12, and David II, 10—Clarke decided to take matters into her own hands: She wrote “Olivia’s Potty Adventures,”featuring a young girl (not unlike her oldest daughter) as she navigates outer space and pirate ships on her potty-training journey.

“People like to see themselves and/or their children reflected, and Terreece’s little one-liner for Oliviais: ‘Brown babies poop, too,’ ” says Rochon Perry of Cedar Grove Publishing, which released the book last year. For about four months, the title topped several categories on Amazon.

“Successful children’s book author”was not among the job descriptions first envisioned by Clarke, 42, a Toledo native. Her mother was a nurse’s aide and her father an employee of Ford. “The message wasn’t necessarily geared towards anything in the creative arts,” says Clarke, one of three children. “It was, make sure you get your education.” Literature was abundant around the house thanks to her mother purchasing volume upon volume of encyclopedias.

As a second-grader, Clarke experienced her first inkling of artistic ambition when she penned a play. “That was back when we had carbon paper, and that’s how you made copies,” she says. “I remember painstakingly writing the first one, and then retracing it over and over again so that everybody had their copy of this play.”

Yet Clarke still did not view writing as a potential vocation, in part because she had not yet found any authors with whom she could identify. “When you saw writers, they were always old white men—Hemingway and all that,” she says. “I never saw myself represented in the stories either, so it was almost as if in order to be able to write those stories, you had to be that demographic.”

After studying journalism at Ohio State University, Clarke fell into freelance writing around the same time she was working as a model. “A friend of mine … had a website for plus-models and she asked me to write for it,” Clarke says. “And she paid me, and I was like, ‘Oh, wait a second. Huh—this might be a thing.’ ”

Following a trip to Borders to purchase the book “Freelance Writing for Dummies,” a career was born. “Parent blogs are all over the place now, but at the time, moms’ experiences, and especially young black moms’ experiences, were overlooked,” she says. “I look at where voices aren’t being heard and try to elevate those voices.”

Clarke eventually transitioned from contract writing to digital marketing. “She definitely has a plan and how to go about it, but she also is comfortable saying, ‘I don’t know and who do I go to to get this information,’ ” says Lincoln Theater executive director Suzan Bradford. Clarke participated in the theater’s artist incubation program last year.

But her most unexpected transformation came with her entrance into the children’s book field. After pitching and receiving a go-ahead from Cedar Grove, Clarke had the pleasure of seeing her words interpreted by illustrator Seitu Hayden.

Then the book hit shelves, virtual and otherwise. “I was just tickled that you could search my name on Amazon and a book pops up,” says Clarke, who discovered by accident that the book had become a top seller. “[I] saw the little icon. I’m like, ‘That’s not what I think that is?’ ”

The book’s namesake is proud of her mother’s accomplishment, too. “People [ask], ‘Is she embarrassed that you’re talking about potty training with her name?’ ” Clarke says. “You obviously haven’t met Olivia.”

The only potential downside to the success of“Olivia’s Potty Adventures”? Clarke must now pen additional titles named for her other offspring. “I have to write at least two more books, or I’m going to be in trouble for the rest of my life,” she says.