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Confessions of a Writer

Transcending Guidance about Writing African American Stories

Poetry has always been easy for me to shell out. In 2003, I shocked myself by writing my first short story turned novella inside a coffee café in Dallas, Texas. I remember always making sure that I had some time to sit and write and I enjoyed the process. During this time, I was getting out of a relationship that was no longer healthy, getting ready to move to another city to get my Bachelor’s Degree in English-Creative Writing from the University of Houston, and growing as a woman. The story was written in a notebook – the original copy now sits in my storage in Texas. At the end of my stay in Dallas, I had the opportunity to introduce the story through a reader’s theater session at South Side on Lamar. Thereafter, it won the Sylvan Karchmer Fiction Award Honorable Mention at the University of Houston, 2005, and transitioned into my Senior Honors Thesis two years later. I then received a Baccalaureate Degree in English-Creative Writing from the University of Houston Honors College in 2008. I thought I was ready to take on the world and to have it published and then reality kicked in and I had to work or get a Master’s Degree. The self-publishing movement had gone into full overdrive. Later on in 2010, I entered into the National Novel Month Revolution and wrote another book to be published as is in the near future.

I began writing as a journalist and then moved into the role of editor in my mid-twenties and now scholarly as a librarian. The urge to return to my roots as an experimental fiction writer and poet and to share my work has never wavered. I just want to tell a good story with substance and have the opportunity to tell another story in the future. Therefore, I decided to send the first twenty pages of my novella to the Key West Literary Seminar Workshop in May of 2017 and received an acceptance letter in early September to attend. I was ecstatic when I found out that I was going to be able to share this story with writers from different parts of the United States and take part in a national literary writing seminar. Manual Gonzales led my workshop. He is the author of THE MINIATURE WIFE AND OTHER STORIES, which won the Sue Kaufman Prize for First Fiction and the John Gardner Prize for Fiction, and the novel, THE REGIONAL OFFICE IS UNDER ATTACK! A graduate of Columbia University’s School of the Arts, he now teaches creative writing for the University of Kentucky and the Queens University Latin American MFA. He lives in Kentucky with his wife and two kids. I take none of the feedback from him or any of the workshop participants lightly. I am in awe that they would take the time to read my work. At this literary retreat, I thought a lot about my career as a creative writer while sitting by the water on the island, in my hotel suite, and during my café con leche morning sessions. One major facet about my writing career has always been about surviving financially to have the time to write. I no longer want to have to think about this in my life going forth.

Many of my favorite African American writers have had the same issue as I have included Toni Morrison, Audre Lorde, Nikki Giovanni, and Alice Walker on this list after doing research. I have worked countless jobs to pay my bills in order to be able to write. By choosing to be a librarian and an entrepreneur, I believe that I am at the point where I will not have to worry about finances in ways that I have in the past. History has shown me that the great writers did not care what anyone thought; their mission is/was to write. I had the opportunity to watch Lorraine Hansberry: Sighted Eyes/Feeling Heart, a new documentary that debut earlier this month on PBS’ American Masters. Her life took me to another literary galaxy that I never knew existed inside of me. It seems as if I went in the same direction as she did and then there are literary turns in this journey that I have yet to make and want to as a writer. As a journalist, she wrote about the Black struggle and as a creative writer, she wrote one of the greatest plays in theater, A Raisin in the Sun. Lorraine Hansberry researched her subject (the plight of Black people in America), let her voice be heard in the community, organized funding for the Civil Rights Movement, and continued to write. One of the unique commonalities that we share and I believe that most writers in general is that we have to find an outside career to survive, have a benefactor, or obtain a grant to concentrate on what we love doing. I her case her husband made it possible for her to be able to write and have the opportunity to develop as a writer. Eventually, I understood that being a librarian was a major gift to my being and would afford me the lifestyle that I have desired (and to be able to write). Now do not get me wrong, I love my career as a librarian because writing and literacy play a major role in both professions. What is even more alluring is that I actually like being a librarian. However, I still know that writing will always be my first passion and nothing will ever change that.

These two happenings for me in these past few weeks have been a major revelation about continuing to write regardless of my circumstances. Once I returned from the writing workshop, I have gone so far as to find stories in my literary archive that I want to repackage and distribute again to my fan base. I want to tell more African American stories not because I can; I need and have too. It is a part of my DNA. Another story came my way this week about a writer recently re-discovered in a store that sells fishing gear and other memorabilia that average day people consider as junk. William Melvin Kelley was an African American fiction writer and essayist. He wrote about the Black struggle/thought and published a novel entitled, A Different Drummer. The woman who discusses how she found out about him says in her article in the New Yorker that she found a little black bound book for a dollar and read its inscription written by Langston Hughes. The dedication was to William Melvin Kelley and the book she had found disappeared after he had moved to Europe and ended up in a store with no name. During his career, he wrote four more novels and I hope to be able to read all of them in my lifetime. What is interesting about his story is that his father worked for years at the Amsterdam News, an African American newspaper based in Harlem, New York. The writer too had journalism genes and chose to go the route of creative writing, though he did pen a few essays during his writing career. Having produced a successful novel and social notoriety, William Melvin Kelley’s work never has been taught or studied in academia or literary circles.

In order to write stories – you must be able to tell them unapologetically never wavering about who is going to buy or read your work. In addition, you never know who is going to discover your genius, so it makes sense to write as if it is going out of style and let history meet-up with you. There is a lot that I got from these experiences that have come quickly for me in 2018 including beginning my DYI Writing Workshop, DYI MFA, and DYI Retreat. Taking care and handling my work in a different way and with more seriousness. I also know what genres that I want to add to my resume as a writer. After reading census documents, I have come to find that my 5th generation grandparents could read and write. I find that to be amazing and a big weight that I carry because their stories need to be told too. In the meantime, I guess this article is more about understanding that the gift of writing and that there is a place for my work and in history. It has something to do with not being afraid of what people will think or what questions they may have. It has something to do with me knowing that I can now answer those questions about my thought process, writing, and how it all came to be. Being able to see this book come to fruition is where I am in this moment and it will be a long time coming – the journey.

“Don’t get up. Just sit a while and think. Never be afraid to sit a while and think.” – Lorraine Hansberry

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About kreativeYoungmillionaire

Writer | Art Librarian | Creative Mixologist

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